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Devils strengthen status as Cup contenders

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
The speedy Kovalchuk was often just a blur during Friday's skate.
The acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk makes one thing clear: the Devils and President/CEO/GM Lou Lamoriello want to win now.

An unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, Kovalchuk adds an Alex Ovechkin-like presence to both the Devils' power-play and five-on-five attack. New Jersey shipped Johnny Oduya, two youngsters: rookie Niclas Bergfors and prospect Patrice Cormier, and a first-round pick to Atlanta on Thursday in order to reel in their big fish.

The clubs also exchanged second-rounders.

After a consecutive first-round exits in the postseason, the stakes this year have been raised even higher. Kovalchuk might have spoken for the entire team at his press conference when he talked about, "the opportunity to do some damage in the playoffs."

With Kovalchuk, the Devils (35-18-2) hope to contend for what would be their fourth Stanley Cup and first since 2003. For right now, though, they'd like to shake off the recent slump that has seen them lose eight of 11 coming into Friday's game versus the visiting Maple Leafs.

"The message has been sent of what management thinks this team is capable of," captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "You don't go get a player like that unless you feel that expectations should be high. It gives us that excitement, it gives us that ability to really go for it. You're adding a guy that can change games and does change games quite often."

Langenbrunner added, "By that, Lou is saying he believes we did a lot of good things in the first half. This recent skid aside, we're still a good team. This is a piece that you can't add every day. These players don't become available every day, and he feels we have a team that has earned that right to go for it and give it the best shot it can. Putting a guy like him in your lineup definitely helps."

Martin Brodeur agreed.

"We're there for the long haul," he said. "We're not there to be a flash. We want to make sure we play well as a team and dominate. Just that extra cushion of the offense that he will bring is, especially right now, what we need. Something that in the long run, is going to be a big luxury for us."

Langenbrunner had no idea that the Devils would add a player of Kovalchuk's profile. He first learned of the deal after receiving a call from Brodeur, who found out in a text message.

"You heard rumors, you heard New Jersey in the rumor mix, but for the most part, when you hear New Jersey's name in rumors, it's definitely not true," Langenbrunner said. "We were definitely surprised."

And very excited.

"You're adding a world-class player," he said. "It gives us a new dimension and something that going forward, puts that much higher focus on what we're trying to accomplish."

Still, the Devils are taking nothing for granted. Six games remain before the two-week Olympic break. After that, the playoff contenders will continue to battle for seeding during the regular season's home stretch.

Jersey's Team hasn't won anything yet, but they know they're well-positioned for the hunt.

"Washington's making a statement now, but we're going to do our thing," Brodeur said. "Regardless of where we finish up, we want to get into the playoffs playing well. We have to get into the playoffs first. The competition will be hard. We're definitely happy about the addition."

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