The Flyers got Pronger to give their defense some brute force, to keep sharpshooters like Kovalchuk from beating them.
In a move that played out several times in Game 1, Lemaire sent Kovalchuk on the ice just as Pronger was at the end of a shift.
Turns out it didn't matter. Kovalchuk played as though he wanted to make up in one night for all the seasons he spent with Atlanta watching the playoffs.
On a night when Pronger had a goal, Kovalchuk had a frustrating game. At times, he appeared to be trying too hard. He wasn't buying it.
"That would be an excuse," he said after the Flyers held on for a 2-1 win, with Game 2 here Friday night.
Kovalchuk expressed the prevailing feeling in the Devils' locker room after the game: They played solid defensively, holding the Flyers to 14 shots, and had plenty of chances to score on goalie Brian Boucher, but they just couldn't put the puck in the net.
"I think we had good energy and played with a lot of patience and created a lot of chances, but we just didn't put it in," Kovalchuk said. "So if we work the same way, we'll get it in."
Kovalchuk, who turns 27 Thursday, created some moments of excitement with his turbocharged skates, but he often shot wide of the net. Midway through the second period, he practically screwed Blair Betts and Matt Carle into the ice as he juked them on an end-to-end rush. But he didn't finish, as his shot went far wide of the net. In frustration, Kovalchuk punched the glass as he skated back to the bench.
The Devils failed on all five of their power plays, including a double minor on Oskars Bartulis for high-sticking David Clarkson early in the third period.
"We know it's a very important part of the game, especially in the playoffs," Kovalchuk said of the power play. "We had chances, but we have to shoot the puck more."
Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said his team has to play with a little more desperation.
"We have to keep doing what we did defensively," he said. "We did a great job limiting their chances. We've got to find a way to elevate our play a bit, be a little more desperate in some areas, go to the net a little harder, and capitalize on the chances.
"We just have to go out and play the next game."
Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.