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Kovalchuk Comes Through in the Clutch

Posted By Matt Pellicane On Mar 5 2011 @ 12:39 pm In New Jersey Devils | No Comments

Ilya Kovalchuk is certainly earning his keep these days.  Kovalchuk’s 23rd goal of the season came with 24.9 seconds left in overtime to propel the Devils past the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-1.  Kovalchuk’s game-winner was his second in a row, and ninth of the season.  With the win, the Devils now sit nine points behind eighth-place Carolina.

The first period ended without either team finding the back of the net, but the period was not short on action.  New Jersey’s Travis Zajac and the Penguins Kris Letang, neither of whom are known for fighting, dropped the gloves in the first period.  The fight left a lot to be desired, but it did prove critical over the course of the game.  During the scrap, Zajac pulled Letang’s jersey over his head.  The NHL rules state that if  a player’s jersey is not tied down, it will result in a game misconduct.  Only six minutes had been played and the Penguins were now without arguably their best defenseman for the rest of the game.

Travis Zajac got the Devils on the board first with a great individual effort early in the second period.  Zajac corralled a loose  puck at center ice, sliced through Penguins defensemen Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin, and beat goalie Brent Johnson with a backhander to make it 1-0.

The Devils lead did not last long, as Tyler Kennedy tied the game about two minutes later after a turnover by Kovalchuk.  Kovalchuk attempted to clear the puck out of the Devils zone, but his pass hit the skate of one of the linesman and bounced right to Kennedy.  Kennedy unleashed a quick wristshot that beat Martin Brodeur high over the glove.

Nick Palmieri rang a shot off the post in the third period, and Johnson denied rookie Jacob Josefson and Patrik Elias at the end of the third period and in overtime, respectively.  It was only fitting that Kovalchuk was the one to score the game-winner, as he atoned for his mistake that led to Kennedy’s tying goal.

Kovalchuk said he only had himself to blame for the second period giveaway.

“I can make a better play,” he said.  “I should just chip it out and don’t try to pass it to the middle guy.”

“I really tried to do something to get that back and finally we did,” he said.

What he did was secure two crucial points for a team that can’t afford to let any slip away.  The Devils are one point behind the Atlanta Thrashers for 11th place in the Eastern Conference.  They have to make up ground on three teams before they can set their sights on the eighth and final playoff spot.

The Devils return to action on Sunday for a 3 p.m. matinee in Long Island against the New York Islanders.

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