NEWARK — If the New Jersey Devils could play the Philadelphia Flyers all the time, they wouldn’t have to worry about making the playoffs.
They might have even clinched a postseason spot by now.
Ilya Kovalchuk capped New Jersey’s three-goal first period with his NHL-leading fourth short-handed goal, and the Devils beat the mistake-prone Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 on Wednesday night.
It was the Devils’ third win over Philadelphia in three games in the lockout-shortened season. New Jersey owns a six-point lead over the Flyers, who have lost four of five.
The teams will play again on Friday night with Philadelphia finally getting a chance to be the host.
“It will be tough to play in their building, but we usually have success against them,” said Patrik Elias, who also scored in the first period along with Adam Henrique. “We stuck with it again. It’s nice that they’re looking up at us in the standings.”
Andrei Loktionov had the prettiest goal for New Jersey, with a toe-drag move that left goalie Ilya Bryzgalov at his mercy. The win was the second straight and third in four games for the Devils following a six-game losing streak that dropped them close to the eighth-place cutoff for the playoffs.
They are now tied for sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
“Obviously, we had a tough stretch there,” said Henrique, who added a second goal in the third period, closing out the scoring for New Jersey. “We talked in here. We’re a confident group. We just needed to stick to our systems and play our game. We knew eventually it was going to turn around.”
Johan Hedberg had 23 saves for New Jersey in making his 10th straight start because Martin Brodeur is still sidelined by a sore back.
“I think we had done a lot of good things, even though we were losing,” Hedberg said. “We weren’t rewarded but we stuck with it. Sometimes when you’re not winning, it’s a matter of pushing a little too hard. I think that was the case. We were trying so hard to get those goals.”
Jakub Voracek and Scott Hartnell scored for the Flyers.
“This one hurts. It stings,” Hartnell said. “You can use any adjective you want, but tomorrow is a new day. We have to come to the rink with a new attitude and get through this. This is frustrating hockey.”
The Flyers were their own worst enemy, giving up two goals with bad pinches, another that went in off the skate of Matt Read, and another on a giveaway behind their net.
“To be honest, I have no idea what to say to you guys,” Bryzgalov said. “I’m just tired of losing. Another disappointing loss. We’ve been doing this all year long, and we just continue.”
There were blank stares in and out of the locker room as the Flyers packed up and headed for home.
Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren, who might have to make a move or two before the trade deadline, walked in and out of the hallways in the bowels of the Prudential Center, looking as puzzled as his team. Holmgren declined a request to speak with the media.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t sure if this was rock bottom for his team.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “We have to put it back together. There’s a letdown here. We need to eliminate the breakdowns.”
Philadelphia defenseman Andrej Meszaros got the Devils going, giving up the puck behind his net in the opening minutes. His pass up the middle of the ice was weak, and Steve Bernier got the puck. The rebound of his shot went to Henrique, who took a backhander that caromed to Elias for a tap-in goal.
Voracek tied it 1-1 on a power play by scoring his 13th goal. Wayne Simmonds set it up with a pass from beside the net to Voracek, who was alone in the left circle.
Henrique gave the Devils the lead for good 36 seconds later with a shot from the side boards that deflected past Bryzgalov off Read’s skate.
Kovalchuk made it 3-1 late in the period when Read made a bad pinch on a power play. It led to a breakaway by Kovalchuk, who scored his 10th of the season and second short-handed against Bryzgalov. He also scored a short-handed goal on a penalty shot in the season opener.
Loktionov stretched the lead to 4-1 early in the second period, taking advantage of another bad pinch to lead a counter attack. He fooled Bryzgalov and scored his fourth goal.
Henrique made it 5-1, scoring on a power play for his ninth of the season.
Hartnell closed out the scoring late for the Flyers.
The Devils, who defeated the Flyers in five games in the second round of last season’s playoffs, are 3-0 against Philadelphia this season. New Jersey has scored in the opening three minutes of each of those games.
Perhaps stirred by the loss, Philadelphia leaders Danny Briere and Claude Giroux feverishly worked on exercise bikes with their heads down.
NOTES: This was the first time the Devils scored four goals since a 5-3 win over the Flyers on Feb. 15. ... Flyers D Luke Schenn was scratched because of the flu.