From Comcast SportsNetNEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils have started the lockout-shortened season in playoff form. The Philadelphia Flyers seem to have missed the opening bell.Brodeur made 24 saves for his 120th NHL shutout, Ilya Kovalchuk scored on a short-handed penalty shot, and the Devils won their home opener in front of an enthusiastic sellout crowd with a 3-0 victory over the winless Flyers on Tuesday night.It was the first meeting between the long-time divisional rivals since New Jersey eliminated Philadelphia in five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Devils again had the Flyers' number and beat them for a fifth straight time.Travis Zajac and David Clarkson scored first-period goals to provide all the offense Brodeur would need en route to his 10th shutout of the Flyers."It was a long time coming," Brodeur said. "I thought we had a great run in the playoffs, and our fans were great. With the lockout, we didn't know how these fans would respond. They showed tremendous support."I thought we played pretty good and gave them some excitement. Hockey is back in New Jersey, I guess."The Flyers dropped to 0-3, matching their worst start since they also lost their first three games in the lockout-shortened 1995 season.Philadelphia rebounded that year to win the Atlantic Division, and the Devils won their first Stanley Cup championship that season with Brodeur in goal."It's not time to panic, but we have to tighten the screws," Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov said. "After the bad start we can't keep losing games anymore because you will never get out from the bottom of the standings because you don't have enough games."That's why we have to be with the attitude that's it's the playoffs."The 40-year-old Brodeur was in postseason form, especially in the first period when he stopped all nine Flyers shots."It shows how good an athlete he is," Clarkson said of Brodeur. "Marty is one of the best athletes I've played with. It's impressive to see him at that age doing what he's doing and having fun doing it. He makes us a better team every night."The Devils had only three shots in the first period, but Zajac and Clarkson scored. That duo also had goals in the Devils' 2-1 season-opening win over the Islanders on Saturday."They only had three shots so I don't think we played bad hockey," Flyers forward Max Talbot said. "The only thing we can do is keep working hard. It would be easy to panic. It's about work ethic. Yes, it's three games and we don't have a point but we need to keep working and battling."Kovalchuk, who played in Russia during the lockout and was a little late in getting back for training camp, brought the crowd of 17,650 to its feet on the Devils' fourth shot of the game early in the second period. He was hooked by defenseman Kimmo Timonen on a semi-breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot at 2:44.The 29-year-old Kovalchuk wasted no time once the puck was put down at center ice. He skated quickly at Bryzgalov and beat him with a backhander to the upper part of the net for his first goal of the season."It's a 50-50 chance and I was fortunate to score," Kovalchuk said. "He's a big goalie and I knew he would go down if I faked him. I beat him this time, but it's a long season."The only question after that was whether Brodeur would add to his career-leading shutout total. Wayne Simmonds had the best scoring chance with a shot from the right circle that had Brodeur out of position. However, the 19-year veteran slid across the crease and made a pad save.It must have frustrated Simmonds because he bumped Brodeur after another glove save later in the period, sparking a little melee. Clarkson and Simmonds traded punches in a third-period scuffle."I didn't hit him too hard," Simmonds said. "I just gave him a little push that I kind of thought he over exaggerated, and it worked. He is one of the best goalies who ever played. He can do whatever he wants in this league."The Flyers held New Jersey without a shot for a 12:25 span in the first period but still trailed 2-0.Zajac gave the Devils the lead after only 67 seconds. The center who signed a 46 million contract last week, stopped a point shot by Bryce Salvador right at Bryzgalov's doorstep and tucked the puck around the goalie into an open net.Clarkson extended the lead to 2-0 with 24.9 seconds left in the opening period with a fluky power-play goal. He centered the puck from the side of the net, and it hit off the stake of Flyers forward Ruslan Fedotenko and caromed into the net.Brodeur had three excellent saves in the opening 20 minutes. He made a skate save on a point shot by defenseman Andrej Meszaros, stopped Fedotenko on a rebound, and made a one-on-one stop against Scott Hartnell with the Flyers coming at him in waves.Notes: Brodeur also has 10 shutouts against the Islanders. ... Kovalchuk's goal was the Devils' first short-handed, penalty-shot score since Zach Parise had one on Oct. 21, 2011 vs. San Jose. ... Kovalchuk has scored on three of four penalty shots in his career. ... New Jersey is 17-8-5 in home openers. ... Tye McGinn, recalled from Adirondack of the AHL on Monday, made his NHL debut for the Flyers. He replaced Zac Rinaldo who sustained a cut to his right thigh against Buffalo on Sunday. ... Philadelphia RW Danny Briere missed his third straight game. He broke his left wrist playing overseas during the lockout. ... Former Islanders D Bruno Gervais, who signed as a free agent during the offseason, made his Flyers debut.
The truth will reveal itself beginning Saturday at 11 a.m. in Chicago, but the Lincoln-Way East Griffins may finally be hitting their stride just in time for the postseason.
A team of 115 players from two high schools assembled on the fly in January said all the right things over the summer, that team chemistry was flourishing and that the common bond of football had naturally brought them together following the closing of nearby Lincoln-Way North High School.
The reality was the unique transition was going to take time. Calling out blocking assignments, throwing routes, and calling out defensive assignments to teammates who you didn’t know existed six months earlier didn’t happen overnight, and no amount of time spent in the film room or on the practice field could have simulated what it would be like under the Friday night lights. For the more than 50 North transfers, learning an entirely new scheme as well as the tendencies and tempers of a new coaching staff provided their own challenges.
Throw in the fact that all eyes were going to be on the Griffins this year – both because they were chosen as CSN’s Drive team and because they were expected to be among the state title contenders in 8A – and that learning process was only expedited further.
Head coach Rob Zvonar was honest in his assessment of his team following their impressive 28-0 victory over Lockport, admitting that he wasn’t sure if his group was ready for the postseason. It certainly wasn’t an indictment on his team, nor was it a coach being uncertain about his team’s potential.
“I don’t know if we’re ready, to tell you the truth,” he said. “But I know this team can still do more than we’ve done. And I truly believe we haven’t had our best out here, and the challenge for us is to get our best out next week.”
The Griffins accomplished plenty in nine weeks. A deep offense with three threats at running back and four versatile receivers averaged nearly 40 points per game behind Jake Arthur, with dual threat Max Shafer spelling him when he wasn’t running routes. A defense found its identity behind a scary-good defensive line and playmakers in the secondary.
Their low points were a double-edged sword. The two losses they suffered in the regular season came at the hands of Homewood-Flossmoor and Bradley-Bourbonnais, two teams that finished the year with perfect records; the 8A Vikings are the most dangerous No. 4 seed in the state, and the Boilermakers are the top seed in 7A.
The other side of that reality is those were the Griffins’ only real tests in the regular season. Their seven wins came against teams that finished the regular season a combined 27-29. Then again, Zvonar’s group can only play the teams on their schedule. And they more than took care of business against those teams, as they were expected to do, outscoring their opponents in seven wins 308-62, or an average score of 44-9.
But the majority of those teams will be on their couches this weekend. And while Illinois’ largest playoff class is never an easy one, Class 8A will be an absolute nightmare to get through for whichever team eventually hoists the trophy Thanksgiving weekend in Champaign. On last Saturday’s Playoff Pairing Show on CSN, preps analyst Dave Bernhard said the 8A bracket “may be the most powerful class we have ever seen.”
Seven teams finished with undefeated records, while 10 others went 8-1. That slotted the 7-2 Griffins, ranked by Edgy Tim as the No. 13 team in the state, as the No. 18 seed in the 8A bracket.
A whopping 17 of Edgy Tim O’Hallaran’s top 25 teams in this week’s preps rankings are in the 8A field, including the entire top five and 13 of the top 16. The Griffins found a little bit of luck on their side of the bracket thanks to the seeding procedure, as No. 1 Loyola, No. 2 Homewood-Flossmoor and No. 3 Brother Rice are all on the other side of the bracket. Still, a likely path to Champaign would pit the Griffins against the likes of No. 5 Hinsdale Central, No. 18 Barrington and No. 4 Palatine.
“Wherever we go we’ll have to be at our best or we’ll be talking about turning in our pads,” Zvonar admitted of what he called a “juggernaut” of an 8A field.
So why are the Griffins ready for the postseason and ready to make a run at their second state title?
The Week 9 trashing of Lockport was a good start. But earlier in the week the team held a players-only meeting to get back on track and get back to the fundamentals that made them the top-seeded team in the state when the season began.
“We regrouped,” junior defensive lineman Devin O’Rourke said. “We had a great team meeting, and now I feel like everyone is really buying in to what we’re doing here. I think that’s great.”
The team also made a vow to each other, that Friday’s senior night against Lockport wouldn’t be their final home game of the year. They’ll need to beat a talented Taft team to return home in the second round of the playoffs, but the fight they’ve shown in both overcoming adversity and responding to early-season deficits has them in the right frame of mind as they begin their second season.
“(We’re ready for the postseason) because we’re fighters,” quarterback Jake Arthur said. “We’re going to fight every down, every play for the rest of the year. We know we’re not going to make it our last game until Champaign.”
Jim Miller joins Pat Boyle as they discuss the return of Jay Cutler as he gets ready to face one of the toughest defense’s in football. Plus, the key to a Bears win on Halloween night.
Listen to the latest Bears Talk Podcast here: