Koval-Choke Becomes Koval-Clutch!

Devils 4 Edmonton 3           overtime

In the span of 48 hours, Ilya Kovalchuk experienced first hand why so many people love sports — the agony of heart-breaking losses, and the thrill of dramatic, heart-stopping victories. On Wednesday night when his New Jersey Devils lost to the Buffalo Sabres, Kovalchuk never got to take his shootout attempt because the puck jumped off of his stick blade as he was stickhandling — sending him to the locker room frustrated and embarrassed.

After a solid day of practice, he was ready to move on, “It’s all history. Today the sun is up and everything is good,” Kovalchuk said on Thursday with a fresh outlook. “Tomorrow we have to win because we don’t have a win at home yet; that’s embarrassing.”

Friday night at Prudential Center it was Kovalchuk who accomplished that mission when he scored the winning goal — in overtime, capping a rally that saw New Jersey get off the mat after falling behind 3-1 to the young Edmonton Oilers. Throughout the game the Russian sniper had a handful of shots that never reached the net and entering overtime, he had still yet to register a shot on goal.

Despite only having scored three goals in fifteen games and despite all of his recent lack of puck-luck, he continued to work hard and 2:15 into the five-minute o.t. he drew a penalty on Edmonton’s Dustin Penner who tripped him at center ice along the boards. The Devils coach, John MacLean, called a timeout and before a minute had elapsed in Penner’s penalty, Kovalchuk had won the game with a rocket shot past Oilers’ goalie Devan Dubnyk from the left circle. “It feels good. But we’re still, I don’t know, 14th or 15th in our conference,” said Kovalchuk, “which is not where we want to be.”

Before the game was ten minutes old, New Jersey found themselves down by two goals — thanks in large part to Edmonton’s Colin Fraser, who scored both. The Devils continued to fire shots at Dubnyk and 5:57 after Fraser’s second tally, rookie Alexander Vasyunov took a pass from Travis Zajac and scored his first career NHL goal on a nice redirection in front of the crease.

Sam Gagner restored the two-goal bulge for the Oilers when he scored on a rebound 5:11 into the second period, silencing the crowd at the Rock who came hoping to see the first home win of the season. The next ten minutes were frustrating for New Jersey as they fired shot after shot at Dubnyk and had nothing to show for it until Brian Rolston finally scored with 3:08 left in the period. On the scoring play, David Clarkson’s wraparound attempt was denied but the loose puck came right to Rolston who was standing in the blue paint of the crease. “It was just a good play, a hard-working shift by our whole line. Clarkie came around the net, wrapped the puck and I just got the rebound,” explained Rolston, “I was basically on top of the goalie so I didn’t have to shovel it too far.”

With 15:31 left in the third period rookie Mattias Tedenby (playing in his second NHL game) thought he had scored his first career goal, but was robbed by Dubnyk’s sharp glove hand. The 20-year old Swede finally got his first career goal when he tied the game with 9:00 left on the power play. Andy Greene fired a shot from the blueline that Tedenby deflected from the slot and under the Edmonton netminder. “I think it hit my (stick) blade,” said the diminutive rookie after the game. “It felt very good when I scored out there.”

Kovalchuk was able to complete the comeback for the Devils in overtime and for the second game in a row they scored four goals — perhaps a sign that they are coming out of their season-long collective slumps. “Obviously it was big,’ said Patrik Elias (2 assists) after the game. “I’m pretty sure he’s relieved and it was a big goal for all of us.” Kovalchuk concurred, adding, “We never gave up, it was a great team effort and a great comeback; we’re definitely going to build on this.”

Game Notes: Kovalchuk now has eleven career overtime goals, which ranks third in NHL history; his teammate Elias is tied for first all-time with 15. Rolston returned to the lineup after missing 14 games due to a sports hernia. Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney led all players with five blocked shots, led all skaters with 30:26 of ice-time and he also chipped in with two assists; Greene led the Devils in ice-time with 27:39. Elias led all players with six shots on goal, while Edmonton rookie Taylor Hall (last June’s no. 1 overall draft pick) led his team with five. Both captains didn’t play in the game due to injury — New Jersey’s Jamie Langenbrunner (soreness) and Edmonton’s Shawn Horcoff (thigh bruise). Fraser’s two goals were the first two of the season for him. New Jersey (5-10-2) is off until Monday when they play at Boston (8-4-1) while Edmonton (4-8-3) next plays Sunday afternoon at MSG against New York (8-7-1).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – gw/pp goal (4)

#2 – Colin Fraser (Edm) – 2 goals (2)

#3 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – 2 assists (9)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

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