Did the Devils play an A-plus game? No. I'd argue they played a couple better overall games during the 10-game winless streak. But the important thing is the streak is over and the Devils are back in the win column thanks to a few superlative efforts. It likely won't get the Devils back in the playoff chase, but a couple wins over the last 10 days would be important for their confidence heading into the offseason. Some thoughts...
It's over: Everyone can breathe a big sign of relief. The winless streak is finally over and it didn't even take Ilya Kovalchuk returning to finally stop it. Of course, like I said above, this wasn't a perfect game. They struggled to put pucks on net in the first and had difficulty finishing in the second before Ryan Carter snapped one of Ilya Bryzgalov's shoulder. But the important thing was the Devils kept working in two very important areas: the neutral zone and below the Flyers' goal line. The Devils did a good job in long stretches of stopping the Flyers at the blue line and both of the Devils even-strength goals came as a result of their work in the neutral zone. As for the forecheck, it was strong almost all night long. The Devils generated a ton of chances off their pressure below the goal line and it eventually wore down Philly's defense. While the Devils aren't talented enough to out-skill teams, they are dedicated and strong enough to out-work them. It's a long shot, but wins like this are the kind of victories that send a team to length winning streaks. The Devils worked their way past an inferior opponent to a streak-busting victory and were rewarded after several games in which they played well but didn't win.
CBGB, baby: There were individual players that played well in certain aspects of the game, but there was only one line that showed up from start to finish. The CBGB line (Carter, Steve Bernier and Stephen Gionta) had one of those games that made Chico Resch reminisce about last season's playoff run. The Carter goal was a total group effort, with Bernier digging the puck out in the neutral zone and feeding it to Gionta, who raced into the zone and delivered a beautiful setup to Carter. But it wasn't just on that goal the trio was evident. Gionta, for one, was all over the ice -- as he has been for most of this season. Honestly, if you had to pick a player who's played the best from start to finish this year, Gionta would have to be in the conversation. No, he doesn't score 20 goals or dipsy-doodle around defensemen, but he constantly outraces and outworks opponents twice his size. Tonight, he raced in and put the puck on net, but instead of giving up on the chance, Gionta crashed behind the net to force the Flyers into a bad play and then picked the puck off in the crease for an excellent scoring chance that went off the post. Carter, meanwhile, continues to be about the best fourth line winger in the Eastern Conference. I don't think he or Bernier will ever be more than that, but that's OK, because the three of them give the Devils' the best fourth line on a nightly basis, which is a huge advantage when DeBoer can use them in that manner. A lot of times this season the Devils have been too short handed to make that happen, but with the roster filling out (somewhat), they've been able to return this line to it's usual minutes and expectations and they've yet to disappoint.
Marty and the boys: As much as the CBGB line took care of business tonight from the blue line up, Martin Brodeur was strong in net and kept the Devils in the game and in the lead on several occasions. But it wasn't a solo performance for the Devils tonight. No, the Devils got some excellent work in the defensive zone from guys like Peter Harrold, who single-handedly stopped at least three or four scoring chances. The Devils as a team had very active sticks tonight in their own end and it showed in New Jersey's 13 blocked shots. What won't show up on the stat sheet, however, is the number of pucks the Devils deflected out of play or out of harm's way, like when Bernier swiped his stick around to deflect a cross-ice pass headed directly to Flyers captain Claude Giroux. Instead of Giroux getting a clean look at the net with Brodeur going side to side, the puck ended up in the netting and the Devils moved the puck along after the draw. Yes, there were some excellent saves by Brodeur among his 23 stops, but tonight was definitely a team effort.
Confidence game: The good news: the Devils finally won. The bad news: The Jets and Rangers did, too. Still, by winning tonight the Devils are one step further from being mathematically eliminated. They're also running out of time. As I said above, wins like this have been known to send teams on winning streaks and with two games left against the Rangers, they're still alive. The key for the Devils will be to build off this win and that means beating the Panthers in regulation Saturday night ahead of a potentially brutal four-game final week. With the losing streak monkey off their back, that's a very possible fact. The Panthers got run over by the Rangers tonight and are basically playing an AHL team that's just trying to get to the end of the season. I'm not saying it's gonna happen. But I'm saying there's a chance.
Notes: Ilya Bryzgalov is going to get amnestied by the Flyers this summer or next and then he's going to make Philly regret it. That's not to say he shouldn't be amnestied. That contract is abysmal and the Flyers should take every chance they can to get out from under it. However, Bryz is being made out to be the bad guy in a town that just DESTROYS goalies and he doesn't really deserve all of it. He played well tonight behind a swiss-cheese defense that isn't even NHL-caliber. You almost feel bad for the guy. ... How about that play by Jacob Josefson in the neutral zone to set up Matt D'Agostini's goal? That's the kid of talent the Devils thought the kid always had. Now, if he could only do that on a semi-regular basis the Devils might have something. ... I'll admit, with the way the Devils were going in the first period, I thought this one was was destined for a fluky Philly goal and a deflated Devils team taking an 11th goal. Thankfully, the Flyers are pretty much the only team that makes scoring look harder than the Devils. They are bad. ... Speaking of which, I'm still wondering what Matt Read was waiting for on that 3-on-1 break in the second period. ... Out of three power plays, the Devils looked competent on one. Well, it's better than none, right? ... I wonder if Andy Greene will get a call from the NHL for his hit on Scott Hartnell, which should've drawn at least a two-minute penalty, I think. Oh, and that call on Tallinder a minute after? Make. up. call. ... I'd ask whether you thought that empty-net goal from Adam Henrique would get him going, but we've been down this road before, haven't we?