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Ponikarovsky Jersey's hero

Buries rebound to give Devils 2-1 series lead

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NEWARK, N.J. -- The Philadelphia Flyers better start worrying about the New Jersey Devils, and soon -- real soon.

Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and two assists in his return to the lineup and set up Alexei Ponikarovsky's tally with 2:39 left in overtime as the Devils defeated the Flyers, 4-3, Thursday night to take a 2-1 lead in this Eastern Conference semifinal series.

"Winning this game in overtime is a big plus," said Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who made 25 saves. "We tried to keep serve, I guess. We play another big one, and we can really put the pressure on them in the next game if we play well. It's a good team on the other side, and we have to be cautious about the way we're going to have to approach our game."

New Jersey will look to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series here Sunday.

The Devils have the series edge because they've scored 11 goals in three games, and their penalty kill -- No. 1 in the NHL during the regular season -- has been outstanding. It erased two penalties in overtime and has limited the Flyers to two goals on 16 extra-man chances overall. Philadelphia was 12-for-23 against Pittsburgh in the opening round.

"We're really confident with our penalty kill. It's been good all series," said Zach Parise, who also scored for New Jersey along with Patrik Elias. "They've got great players on the power play, but we're finding a way to make it tough on them. We had to remind ourselves that we had the best penalty kill all year, and that was for a reason."

The Devils' short-handed unit was so good in overtime that the Flyers never threatened in those four minutes.

Kovalchuk, who missed Game 2 with a lower back injury, then made a pass from his own end that sent Ponikarovsky into the Flyers' zone on a 2-on-1. Ilya Bryzgalov stopped his initial shot but the forward snared his first goal of the post-season on a backhander that Bryzgalov's left side.

"I didn't have time to celebrate because everyone jumped on me right away," Ponikarovsky said, "but I had a great time in the pile."

But Kovalchuk, clearly, was the Devils' top player in Game 3.

"You feel pressure," Kovalchuk said. "The guys played so well, and you don't want to get back in the lineup just because you want to play."

Danny Briere, Matt Carle and Brayden Schenn tallied for the Flyers. Bryzgalov had 27 saves.

"We're down 2-1, the pressure is on us," Flyers forward Claude Giroux said. "There is no guy on this team that is going to quit. It's going to be a wake-up call.

"We have a good series now."

Schenn nearly won the game eight minutes into overtime with a deflection in front and then the Devils' penalty kill did an outstanding job after a controversial boarding call against Dainius Zubrus with 11:37 left in the overtime and a delay-of-game penalty against Bryce Salvador. New Jersey had problems with its short-handed lines in Round 1 vs. Florida, but the unit has regained its form.

"I think the power play won us a lot of games this year and tonight wasn't the case," Giroux said. "We have to do a better job."

The Devils have now won three of four overtime contests this post-season, including Games 6 and 7 vs. Florida, when facing elimination.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2012 C2

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