After their impressive 4-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, the New Jersey Devils get to host the next two games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Most impressive about the Devils' victory against their heated rivals was the fact that they did it without their star player, Ilya Kovalchuk.
After a miserable performance in Game 1, Kovalchuk sat out Game 2 with a mysterious lower body injury. He is listed as a game-time decision for the third game in the series tonight, but the Devils' staff should ask themselves if they really need to rush him back.
The Devils were forced to shift their lines around a bit in light of Kovy's absence, and head coach Pete DeBoer seemed to have hit all the right buttons. Third line defenseman Peter Harrold was shifted to forward, while rookie defenseman Adam Larsson dressed for his first career postseason game. DeBoer's makeshift lines paid off when Larsson scored the pivotal game-tying goal that sparked the Devils' four-goal third period. Harrold had an assist on the goal.
Kovalchuk, the Devils' usual right-winger on the first line, was replaced by hard-nosed David Clarkson. That move paid off as well as Clarkson netted the game-winning goal halfway through the third.
Kovalchuk is also a key contributor to the Devils' highly-touted penalty kill. The team showed in Game 2, however, that they can get the job done without him as they shut the Flyers' high-octane power play down.
At the end of the day, however, Game 3 is not going to be like Game 2. The Devils out-hustled the Flyers all night, and that is not something the Flyers are okay with. Expect a determined and bitter Philadelphia squad to come out of the tunnel at The Rock tonight. The Devils showed that they can play without Kovalchuk. Now, if Kovy comes back tonight, they'll need to play with the same effort. If Kovy can't, then he should stay out.