"Our team (Atlanta) lost all four games in our only playoff appearance (in 2006-07), but I remember the great atmosphere in those games," Kovalchuk said. "But I'm still looking for first win in the playoffs."
The fact Kovalchuk had been winless in the postseason was of no concern to Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello when he pulled the trigger on a five-player trade with the Thrashers in February to acquire the perennial 40-goal scorer.
It's not the first time Lamoriello acquired a high-scoring Russian forward at mid-season either. Back in March 2000, he traded for Vancouver's Alexander Mogilny at the deadline and the 11-year veteran fit perfectly into New Jersey's defense-oriented system. Mogilny connected for just 7 points in the playoffs that year, but opened up space for his teammates en route to helping the organization win their second Stanley Cup.
While Kovalchuk adds a similar dynamic offensive presence for the Devils, not to mention a cannon for a shot, he also has an insatiable appetite to succeed at both ends and a powerful presence on the power-play. Kovalchuk has scored at least 12 power-play goals in each of the last six seasons.
"He's been very steady in his work," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said of Kovalchuk. "He's played hard since he's been here. He makes things happen either for him or guys' he's playing with."
"He knows how to make other people around him better, as you can see by the assists he gets. He can do things that a lot of people can't do."
-- Devils GM Lou Lamoriello on Ilya Kovalchuk
"The reason we got Alex Mogilny at that time was for similar reasons, what he could bring offensively with the shot he had. He could do that almost individually at given times but still be a team player," Lamoriello said. "I feel Ilya brings that sort of explosiveness."
Kovalchuk played in just four postseason games in his previous seven-plus seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers, producing 1 goal and 2 points with a minus-1 rating as his team was swept by the New York Rangers in 2007. He's connected for 41 goals and 85 points this season, including 10 goals and 17 assists in 27 games since coming to New Jersey.
"He knows how to make other people around him better, as you can see by the assists he gets," Lamoriello said. "He can do things that a lot of people can't do."
Kovalchuk is just the type of game-breaker the Devils will need to advance deep in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I think we have a great group of guys here," Kovalchuk said. "I've said a lot of times, there are guys on this team who have won the Cup already and a lot of young kids, including me, who are hungry to win so that's a great mix. I don't want to say anything but I'm very excited about the playoffs."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com