The milestone came with 2:40 left in the second period and the Devils on a power play with Zenon Konopka off for kneeing. Marek Zidlicky dished a pass from the right point across the ice to Kovalchuk, who one-timed a rocket over Ben Bishop’s right shoulder for what turned out to be the game's only goal.
Without even raising his arms, Kovalchuk waited for his teammates to come to him for a subdued celebration.
"It wasn't much of a celebration, so hopefully when I score my 500th it will be a little more exciting," Kovalchuk said in his only display of emotion the whole night.
"I tried to not think about it and that's when it's going to go in. When you try to much you'll get a bad bounce or hit the post or something."
Kovalchuk's goal was all the support Johan Hedberg needed, and Kovalchuk gave his goaltender credit for the win.
"It’s always exciting when you score, especially when it’s a big game for us," Kovalchuk said. "I think (Hedberg) was outstanding and the reason why we won."
It was Kovalchuk's 24th goal in 35 career games against Ottawa. He is the 87th player in NHL history to reach the 400-goal mark, and he did it in just 771 games.
Hedberg, who gave Martin Brodeur a night off after Brodeur played Monday in New York, stopped 34 shots for his fourth shutout of the season and improved to 5-0-1 in his last six starts. He had to survive a pair of late power plays, including a 5-on-3 disadvantage for 25 seconds.
"I’ve never seen anybody work harder than (Hedberg) in practice," Kovalchuk said. "Every day he shows up and when he get a chance he plays unbelievable."
Bishop, who had no chance on Kovalchuk's goal, stopped 33 shots in his seventh consecutive start. He is 3-2-2 since being traded to Ottawa from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline.
In a game where chances were scarce, Devils coach Peter DeBoer was happy to get on the board first.
"It seemed like whoever was going to get the first goal was probably going to win the game," he said. "Thankfully we got one and it was big."
Ottawa was without the services of first-line center Jason Spezza, who was pulled out of the lineup just prior to the game due to illness. The Senators dressed Bobby Butler in his place, and Kyle Turris centered the first line, playing between by Milan Michalek and Daniel Alfredsson. But the newly formed trio had little luck, and the seventh-place Senators still find themselves three points back of the Northeast Division-leading Boston Bruins and five behind sixth-place New Jersey.
The Senators’ best chance came at the 14-minute mark of the first, when Eric Condra was awarded a penalty shot after being tripped by Anton Volchenkov on a breakaway. Condra skated in on Hedberg and attempted to go five-hole, but Hedberg closed his pads with plenty of time to spare.
"(Condra) has wheels," Hedberg said. "I didn’t think it would end up being a breakaway. (Volchenkov) made a desperation move. I saw (Ottawa) skating over to the bench, and I remembered that they had scored two five-hole goals on me in the shootout earlier in the year, so I kind of had that in my mind that they were going to try that. And they did."
Condra insisted that he didn’t receive any advice on where to shoot on Hedberg.
"No ... I mean, guys watch the shootouts on highlights," he said. "It looks good if you score the five-hole; if you don’t, it doesn’t look so good."
Ottawa got another choice opportunity with a minute left in the first. Michalek fed the puck to Alfredsson, who was speeding out of the Ottawa zone and down the left side. Erik Karlsson caught up to Alfredsson and created 2-on-1 at the Devils' blue line. Alfredsson fed Karlsson, the NHL's highest-scoring defenseman, who one-timed the shot toward Hedberg`s five-hole – but Hedberg stopped the shot with his right pad.
The Devils nearly got on the board with just under five minutes left in the second, when Bishop left his net to play the puck in the corner, only to see it snatched up by Dainius Zubrus. Bishop got back just in time to make a right skate save on Zubrus, who tried to bury the puck in the right corner.
It was the second 1-0 game in the last four games for the Devils, who have a longstanding reputation of playing low-scoring hockey. Ottawa forward Nick Foligno admitted that when the Senators didn’t capitalize on their chances, they got burned.
"They like to trap it up and make it a difficult game," he said. "We just weren’t able to get one past Hedberg tonight and he played pretty well for them. It was a funny game where we weren’t able to generate much offense. (The goals as the season goes on) get dirtier and harder to get – we understand that. We need to get to the net as much as possible. Sometimes we pass up good opportunities to shoot, and it’s something that’s going to be real important as we go down the stretch."
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