NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils coach Jacques Lemaire can take pride in the fact that after all the line tinkering, he may have finally uncovered a keeper.
That's because the trio of Zach Parise, Dainius Zubrus and Patrik Elias combined for 2 goals and 6 points on Friday to lead the Devils to a 5-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers and even their best-of-7 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal at 1-1.
Elias notched three assists, Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and 3 points and goalie Martin Brodeur made 26 saves, including 11 in the second and 10 in the third. The series now shifts to Philadelphia's Wachovia Center for Games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Tuesday.
The Parise-Zubrus-Elias line played the key role on the game-winner with 4:04 remaining. After nearly a full minute of cycling and pressure in the Flyers' end, Zubrus and Parise both whacked away at a rebound, with Zubrus getting his stick in front of Parise's and swatting the puck into the net to break a 3-3 tie.
Zubrus wasn't actually sure if he or Parise should have gotten credit for the goal -- and, really, it made no difference.
"I haven't seen the replay but I was trying to shoot it and Zach took a whack; his stick was in front of mine," Zubrus said. "I thought he actually scored the goal, I don't know. It really doesn't matter to me. We're tied 1-1 going into their building, and it's a lot better than being down 0-2."
On the game-winner, the sustained Devils pressure forced the Flyers' young defensive pair of Oskars Bartulis and Ryan Parent to remain on the ice for an extended shift.
"You're going to get caught out there some times," Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger said. "They played good and they played well. Unfortunately, they're out there for the end of that goal. That game could have gone either way. This series is going to be a battle."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was disappointed with the loss but is glad his team was able to gain home-ice advantage by taking Game 1.
"We need to tie up sticks a little better (on the game-winner)," Laviolette said. "We were in position but got outmuscled a little bit. We are looking for matchups, but you can't always get them (on the road). We can't look for a whistle or reboot; we've got to trust some of our players on the ice. I'm a little irritated that we lost a hockey game, so it's a little tough to tell you that I'm happy that we split two games and have home ice."
Kovalchuk, who went home a winner for the first time in six career playoff games, scored into an empty net with 33 seconds remaining to seal the deal for the Devils.
"It's nice (to get the first win)," Kovalchuk said. "That's what the playoffs are about. I knew I was going to win at some point. When we come to the rink tonight, we had no doubt in our minds we were going to win. We battled hard; we were down a goal twice and came back to win."
In addition to Brodeur, who notched his 99th career playoff victory, Philadelphia's Brian Boucher (28 saves) remained strong despite the barrage of rubber he faced throughout the course of the game. Brodeur kept the game tied at 3-3 midway through the period when he stopped Daniel Carcillo and Ian Laperriere on his doorstep.
Boucher made a pair of splendid stops with 1:50 left in the second and his team trailing 3-2 when he denied Parise on a snap shot from low in the left circle before moving quickly sliding to his left to stifle the rebound attempt by Elias.
"I think Boucher played well again," Parise said. "He made good saves and stopped Kovy on a 2-on-1 late in the game. He played well, but we challenged him a little more (Friday). We had more traffic and had more rebounds."
With Devils defenseman Andy Greene off for interference late in the second, the Flyers, who finished 2-for-7 with the man advantage, needed just 38 seconds to pull into a 3-3 tie. Pronger screened Brodeur while defenseman Kimmo Timonen took a slap shot from the point. The puck skimmed off the 6-foot-6 Pronger and into the net.
Greene gave the Devils their second lead of the game, putting them ahead 3-2 at 13:25 of the second period when he set up between the circles and deflected home a feed from Elias for New Jersey's first power-play goal in eight chances in the series. With Claude Giroux off the ice for high-sticking at 12:39, Kovalchuk circled just inside the Flyers' blue line before feeding Elias at the top of left circle.
The Devils trailed 2-1 after one period but tied the game at 3:44 of the second on Colin White's wrist shot from the left circle, a stoppable shot that went through Boucher's legs. It was White's first postseason goal since 2000. Jamie Langenbrunner was charging the net from the left circle when White's wrist shot hit Boucher inside his right pad and trickled over the goal line.
The Flyers took their first lead of the game with 4:30 left in the first when Matt Carle's rip from the far left circle was tipped in front by Giroux through Brodeur's pads -- Philadelphia's second goal on its fifth shot of the opening period. The Flyers were given their man advantage after David Clarkson was whistled for tripping Arron Asham's semi-breakaway attempt down his right wing with 5:44 remaining.
Asham had pulled the Flyers into a 1-1 tie 9:33 into the first when he banged home a Giroux feed from low in the right circle. The Devils had a chance to regain the lead when Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn was sent to the box for hooking at 12:37, giving the home team a 4-on-3 advantage for 1:18. Despite some good chances by Parise, who was stationed in the slot looking for rebounds, Boucher remained strong.
The Devils took their first lead of the series and sent the 17,625 in attendance into a frenzy 2:45 into the first when Parise lofted a backhander over the outstretched glove of Boucher on a shorthanded breakaway. With Kovalchuk in the box for elbowing Carcillo, Carle was unable to control a swing pass at the point from Pronger. Elias controlled the puck in the neutral zone and sent a pass over Carle's stick to Parise, who sped past Pronger and roofed his shot.