Kovalchuk Hits 30 as Devils Top Toronto

Devils 4 Toronto 2

One hundred million dollars can buy you a lot of things; the New Jersey Devils chose to invest their $100 million into Ilya Kovalchuk, one of the NHL’s most lethal goal scorers. In his first full season with the Devils Kovalchuk has disappointed, amazed, awed and disappeared (in that order), but he reached a number of milestones in his team’s 4-2 win over the also-eliminated Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center on Wednesday night.

Playing in his 700th NHL game, Kovalchuk scored his 30th goal of the season, giving the Devils a 1-0 lead 13:47 into the game, assuring that he wouldn’t match his career-low in goals for a season; he scored 29 in his rookie season with Atlanta in 2001-02. In the second period he had the primary assist on Mattias Tedenby’s goal at 14:29 (making it 2-0) for the 700th point of his nine-year career.

At 15:34 of the second period, 65 seconds after Tedenby’s tally, New Jersey defenseman Henrik Tallinder made it 3-0 with a blast past Leafs’ goalie James Reimer from the slot. Reimer, who has been splendid for Toronto in his rookie season, had no help really from his teammates through the first two periods was mercifully pulled by coach Ron Wilson to start the third period and the move seemed to spark his sluggish club.

Phil Kessel got the Leafs on the board with his 31st of the season at 6:18 on a power play, whipping a one-timer past Martin Brodeur after collecting a nice centering pass from Joffrey Lupul. Jean-Sebastien Giguere made eleven saves in total during the period for Toronto and Tyler Bozak cut the lead to 3-2 when he scored a 3-on-5 shorthanded goal at 12:42. Devils’ center Travis Zajac kind of won the face-off on the play, but both Kovalchuk and Brian Rolston were unable to corral the puck as Bozak raced past Rolston and roared in on Brodeur. Bozak scored on his backhand, slipping the puck between Brodeur’s stick and right leg pad. “I kind of gave that guy the puck,” admitted Zajac. “It was a bad play by me there; other than that we played pretty good.”

New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire called a timeout and eventually his team settled down for the final 7:18, limiting the Leafs to only seven shots on goal for the whole period and 24 for the game. “I thought we played well (after the shorthanded goal,” said Lemaire. “The guys came back to their game; tried to put pressure on them. We skated, we moved the puck, I thought we did very well.” Patrik Elias scored into an empty net with 9.7 seconds left, giving him 20 goals for the ninth time in his 13 seasons with the Devils.

“It’s been a rough season this year,” said Brodeur after the win, “hopefully we’ll have a great season next year.” Lemaire knows he couldn’t have asked for more down the stretch from his star netminder. “He’s been really good lately; really good. He’s had at least two great months.”

Game Notes: Kessel’s goal extended his point streak to nine games (3g-7a); Elias has a five-game point streak (4g-4a). Devils forward Dainius Zubrus left after a collision along the boards in the first period and did not return. “My head’s okay, I really think I’ll be fine,” said Zubrus in the locker room after the game. “We’ll check it out a little more tomorrow, but everything’s coming back right now so I’ll be okay.” Zach Parise sat out his second straight game after returning from knee surgery on Saturday; the Devils offered no update on his condition or why he was out of the lineup. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 28:42; Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf led his squad with 26:27. Kovalchuk led all players with six shots on goal, while Kessel led the Leafs with five; Tallinder was the only player that was +2.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – goal (30), assist (28)

#2 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – goal (20), assist (41)

#3 – Mattias Tedenby (NJ) – goal (8)

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

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