FIVE THINGS TO KNOW
FLYERS (39-21-7--85pts) at DEVILS (39-24-5--83pts)
1. TOO CLOSE TO CALL
The Flyers and Devils are neck and neck in the standings heading down the stretch for the playoffs with neither team backing down… Just two points separate them in the standings… The Flyers have 85 points, while the Devils have 83 points… Both teams trail the Penguins (87pts) and Rangers (91pts) for the Atlantic Division AND Eastern Conference lead.
BOTH the Flyers and Devils are playing the second half of games on back-to-back nights… The Flyers earned a 1-0 shootout victory in their game last night at Toronto, while the Devils posted a 2-1 win over the Islanders… The Flyers have won FIVE straight games, while the Devils have won THREE in-a-row to keep pace.
3. SEASON SERIES
This is the fourth meeting of the season between the Flyers and Devils… The Flyers own a 2-1-1 record with both of their wins coming in New Jersey… The two teams will conclude the six-game season series on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
4. Player to watch DEVILS: Ilya Kovalchuk
Kovalchuk has a three-game point streak in which he has four goals and six points… He has recorded at least a point in five of his last six games and in the season series with the Flyers, has five points (1G-4A) in four games.
5. Player to watch FLYERS: Claude Giroux
Giroux leads the season series with the Devils in scoring, posting three goals and six points through four games… Last night's shootout goal was Giroux's fourth of the season on six attempts for a percentage of 66.7 percent… Giroux also has two goals and 15 assists for 17 points in his last 11 games.
Ilya Bryzgalov is showing why he was so coveted by the Philadelphia Flyers last summer.
The New Jersey Devils have found out first-hand.
Bryzgalov should get a 12th consecutive start Sunday night as the Flyers look to continue surging behind their mercurial goaltender when they open a home-and-home set with the Devils at Prudential Center.
Bryzgalov is 8-2-0 with a 1.95 goals-against average and three shutouts while starting Philadelphia's last 11 games. He's posted a 0.99 GAA and two of the shutouts during the Flyers' current five-game winning streak.
That success should be a major relief to the Flyers (39-21-7), who acquired Bryzgalov from Phoenix in June in the hopes that he would make them a bona fide Stanley Cup contender.
He struggled to live up to those lofty expectations for most of the season, and his 2.59 GAA on the season is the second-highest of his career to the 2.98 he posted in 2008-09.
"We knew it was just a matter of time before he stepped up his game and played like (the guy) we signed for nine years and big money," left wing Scott Hartnell said. "He's a big money player and it's good for him to get going right now. And hopefully that continues in the playoffs."
Philadelphia seems likely to stick with Bryzgalov again after he made 29 saves through overtime and two more in the shootout of a 1-0 victory at Toronto on Saturday.
Bryzgalov has dominated the Devils (39-24-5) this season, winning both of his starts - one of them a shutout - while yielding one goal on 59 shots over three meetings.
Backup Sergei Bobrovsky has lost his last three starts with a bloated 5.12 GAA, and hasn't played since getting pulled 3:03 into the second period of a 6-4 loss to Pittsburgh on Feb. 18.
Philadelphia is 4-1-1 in its last six visits to Newark, winning both this season by a combined 7-1 score.
That's partly why the Flyers are fifth in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of sixth-place New Jersey and two behind Pittsburgh in fourth.
The Devils are putting together their own strong stretch, having won four of five and three in a row including a dramatic 2-1 road victory over the New York Islanders on Saturday. Goals from David Clarkson and Marek Zidlicky 14 seconds apart in the final 1:39 kept New Jersey surging.
"We showed character. We played hard," said Johan Hedberg, who had 23 saves. "We knew if we kept pushing, something good would happen."
Clarkson has been a big part of New Jersey's success all season, with career highs of 28 goals and 40 points. The rugged right wing has netted seven of those tallies over his last 11 contests, and has one goal and two assists in his last three meetings with the Flyers.
Ilya Kovalchuk has one goal and four assists in that span versus Philadelphia, and enters this meeting red hot. The Devils' All-Star left wing has 10 goals and 18 assists in his last 20 games, including four goals and two assists in his last three.
These teams will conclude their season series Tuesday in Philadelphia.