Kovalchuk’s OT Winner Lifts Devils Past Leafs

With one-third of the NHL season left, the New Jersey Devils are trying to pull off an improbable push for a playoff spot — the same Devils team that was once 28 points out of a postseason berth. After Thursday night’s 2-1 overtime victory in Toronto, New Jersey finds itself 13 points behind eighth-place Carolina with 27 games left in the season; they also play the Hurricanes twice over the next nine days.

Ilya Kovalchuk won the game with a brilliant rush up ice as the final seconds ticked away in overtime, his 18th goal of the season came with 24 seconds left in the hockey portion of the game.  He raced towards the net with both Maple Leaf defensemen in front of him (Dion Phaneuf and Keith Aulie) and fired a lightning-quick shot that goalie James Reimer got a piece of, but not enough to prevent the winning goal.

Both goalies were phenomenal in the game as Reimer (37 saves) and Johan Hedberg (31 saves) made key stops in limiting their opponents to one regulation goal each. Hedberg’s only mistake of the night came 5:18 into the second period when he was beaten by Nikolai Kulemin’s rising shot in front of the crease, his 21st goal of the season.

Toronto maintained the 1-0 lead until 3:23 into the third period when Dainius Zubrus deflected Mark Fayne’s long shot past an unsuspecting Reimer, after some great work by Zubrus to maintain puck possession in the offensive zone.

The win was especially special for coach Jacques Lemaire because it was the 600th of his career, a feat only accomplished by seven other bench bosses. During the postgame on MSG he seemed very happy, almost shocked, “I only heard about this last week” he joked, but the look on his face told you he was very proud of the accomplishment.

Dan’s 3 Stars of the game:
#1 — Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) — gw goal (18): Clutch players make clutch plays.
#2 — James Reimer (Tor) — 37 saves, ot loss (1): Forget Jiggy and the Monster, this kid is the Goods.
#3 — Johan Hedberg (NJ) — 31 saves, win (8): The Moose was solid again, which Devs need in Brodeur’s abscence

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