GAME: New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyers.
PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference quarterfinals; Flyers lead 1-0.
TIME: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.
Maybe Robert Esche is the answer to the Philadelphia Flyers' long-standing playoff problems in net.
He was at least for one game.
Esche again looks to stymie the New Jersey Devils and outplay reigning Vezina Trophy winner Martin Brodeur as the Flyers try to grab a 2-0 lead in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
"Esche has a lot of pride in himself so we knew he was going to come out and play well," Flyers winger Jeremy Roenick said after Esche made 37 saves in Wednesday's 3-2 victory over the Devils.
Despite having talented teams in recent years, Philadelphia hasn't been to the Stanley Cup finals since 1997 and remains without a championship since 1975. It has been widely felt the Flyers' lack of a reliable goaltender has held them back.
Following the likes of Roman Cechmanek, Brian Boucher and Garth Snow - among others - Esche was named the team's top goalie for the playoffs despite going 0-3-1 with a 3.80 goals-against average in his final four regular-season starts.
In his first NHL playoff start, the 26-year-old New York native showed he can handle the pressure.
"He's a really competitive guy who wants the ball. We're going to ride it out with him," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said.
Esche made several outstanding stops late in the first while the Devils were on a power play, including a point-blank shot by Jamie Langenbrunner and a backhander by John Madden. Esche stoned Turner Stevenson on a power play early in the second, kicking away a shot while sprawled on the ice.
"I felt fine. I felt great, actually," Esche said. "I knew what I had to do, that was stop the puck."
Brodeur, meanwhile, was not his usual dominant self, as he gave up three goals on 26 shots.
A 10-year playoff veteran who last season backstopped New Jersey to its third title since 1995, Brodeur suffered his fourth straight loss to the Flyers after losing only once in his previous nine starts against them (6-1-2).
The Devils, however, were not discouraged by the defeat. They refused to quit despite facing a 3-0 deficit early in the third period, with Patrik Elias and Jan Hrdina scoring twice in a 35-second span.
"I'm certainly not disappointed in the way we played," Devils coach Pat Burns said. "I'm satisfied. I thought we pressured pretty well. The chances we got proved that."
New Jersey won 10 more faceoffs than Philadelphia, outshot the Flyers in every period and allowed only one opportunity to a Flyers' power-play unit which finished second in the league.
"I don't think we'll take it as a bad loss," Devils forward Jeff Friesen said. "It's a tough loss, but we can take some good things from it."
It remains uncertain when or if All-Star defenseman Scott Stevens will return. Considered the heart of this Devils' franchise, Stevens has been out since early January with post-concussion syndrome, but the team was hopeful he could return for this series.
Game 3 is Saturday night in New Jersey.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Devils - 100 points; 6th seed. Flyers - 101 points; 3rd seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Devils - Elias and Hrdina, 1 goal; four with 1 assist; six with 1 point; Scott Niedermayer and Sean Brown, 2 PIM. Flyers - Simon Gagne, Roenick and Keith Primeau, 1 goal; Kim Johnsson, 2 assists; Primeau and Johnsson, 2 points; Sami Kapanen, 4 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Devils - Power play: 0 percent (0 for 4). Penalty killing: 0 percent (0 for 1). Flyers - Power play: 100 percent (1 for 1). Penalty killing: 100 percent (4 for 4).
GOALTENDERS: Devils - Brodeur (0-1, 3.00 GAA); Scott Clemmensen (no appearances). Flyers - Esche (1-0, 2.00 GAA); Sean Burke (no appearances).
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Flyers, 3-2-1. The Flyers went winless in their first three meetings with New Jersey (0-2-1) before winning the final three. The last two came in March, with Philadelphia winning 3-1 at New Jersey on March 9 and 2-1 at home four days later. Esche got the best of Brodeur in both games. The Devils outscored the Flyers 9-4 in the first three matchups.