After seven full NHL seasons, Ilya Kovalchuk is still looking for a taste of playoff success. He hopes to achieve that as a Devil.
Kovalchuk was acquired by New Jersey in a trade on Feb. 4 with Atlanta, which missed the postseason six times while he was there. The Thrashers finally made it to the playoffs in 2007, but were swept by the Rangers in the first round. He had a goal and an assist in the series.
In his eighth season, Kovalchuk, the first overall pick in 2001, is going back to the playoffs as a two-seed.
“It feels good,” he said after Sunday’s 2-1 win over Buffalo. “But we need to get a good start in the playoffs. We have to prepare ourselves.”
He’s admittedly pumped up.
“[I’m] very excited,” he said. “That’s a great opportunity for me.”
Unlike some of his Devil teammates, Kovalchuk did not watch the Flyers-Rangers shootout that locked Philadelphia into the seventh seed. Brian Boucher stopped Olli Jokinen to seal a 2-1 shootout win.
“I knew they won when they showed it on the [scoreboard],” he said. “But to us, it doesn’t matter. I know some people think they beat us the last three times, but it’s regular season and the playoffs is totally different.”
To Kovalchuk, the series should come down to the Devils executing their game plan, regardless of opponent.
“I don’t really care who we play against, we just have to play our game,” he said. “If we play solid, I don’t think a lot of teams can beat us.”
Kovalchuk finished 2009-10 with 41 goals and 44 assists for 85 points. He collected 10 goals and 17 assists in 27 games as a Devil.