NEWARK, N.J. -- Ilya Kovalchuk turned out to be everything you would expect of a world-class athlete in the second season of the 15-year, $100 million contract he signed in September 2010.
"In my NHL career, it was the most successful season for me and I'll take a lot of good things from the year and move on. You got to lose before you win something big. Hopefully this will help and we'll be even stronger next year."
-- Ilya Kovalchuk
But there's no denying the fact a lower-body injury that Kovalchuk aggravated at some point in his team's opening-round playoff win against the Florida Panthers took its toll in the end.
"I don't have the exact answer [to how limited Kovalchuk was], but I can tell you he was quite a bit under 100 percent," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said Wednesday. "I could tell you that, but I can't give you [an exact percentage]. A back injury is not like a broken bone where you have a handle on it … he wasn't close to 100 percent."
Kovalchuk, DeBoer and the rest of the team discussed the season that was Wednesday at Prudential Center during the team's breakup day. It will be a long two months of reflection on what could have been.
Still, it was a season Kovalchuk admitted he never will forget.