NEWARK, N.J. — Brian Boucher had 23 saves in his first playoff start in eight years and the Philadelphia Flyers beat the New Jersey Devils 2-1 in Game 1 of their first-round Eastern Conference series Wednesday night.
Big Chris Pronger and Mike Richards scored second-period goals as the Flyers rode the momentum of claiming the NHL’s last playoff berth on the final day of the regular season to yet another win over New Jersey.
While the Flyers are the No. 7 seed in the conference, they won five of six games against the Devils in the regular season and second-seeded New Jersey had few answers in the postseason against a rock-solid Boucher.
With the win, the Flyers grabbed home-ice advantage, heading into Friday night’s game in the best-of-7 series, which also will be played at the Prudential Center.
The loss has to be a major concern for the Devils, who have been knocked out of the playoffs in the opening round the last two seasons.
New Jersey gave its unhappy fans some hope when Travis Zajac scored on a somewhat flubbed slap shot that seemed to bounce in front of Boucher with 2:43 to play.
Boucher, however, stopped Patrik Elias in close with about 10 seconds to go and the Flyers cleared the puck out of the zone on the ensuing faceoff.
The Devils’ performance was so inept that their fans were booing the Atlantic Division winners at the end of the second period and near the end of a 4-minute power play early in the third period, an advantage that resulted in two shots.
Boucher, who inherited the Flyers’ starting job because of injuries to Ray Emery and Michael Leighton, wasn’t overly tested. His best period was the first, when he stopped nine shots. The best of that bunch was a snapping glove save on a 25-footer by Ilya Kovalchuk and stops in close on Zach Parise and Zajac.
But Boucher’s play was similar to his rookie season in 2000 when he was in net for the Flyers-Devils conference final series. New Jersey won in seven games.
Other than that, Boucher’s only other playoff start was in 2002 for Philadelphia.
Pronger provided the go-ahead goal at 9:25 of the second period, scoring in front on a power play. Richards fired a bad angle shot at Martin Brodeur. Simon Gagne nudged the rebound in the crease and Pronger, who was acquired in a major trade with Anaheim last June, backhanded a shot off the skate of Devils forward Brian Rolston into the net.
Richards doubled the lead a little more than seven minutes later with a 35-foot shot that beat Brodeur low to the glove side. Ian Laperrierre set up the goal, taking the puck from Devils defenseman Martin Skoula near the blue line and finding Richards alone between the circles.
The Flyers iced the game killing off a double minor to defenseman Oskars Bartulis and another minor to Braydon Coburn. New Jersey was 0 for 5 on the power play.
Brodeur, who won 45 games in the regular season, faced only 14 shots, including two in the third period.