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Frustrated Kovalchuk gets needed goal

NHL.com @NHL

NEWARK, N..J. (AP) -It was hard to tell what was going to snap first, Ilya Kovalchuk's goal drought or the struggling forward's frayed nerves.

Kovalchuk was traded in February to the New Jersey Devils, who were seeking a pure scorer to aid in their pursuit of a fourth Stanley Cup title. Through two games of the first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Devils and Kovalchuk were anxiously waiting for him to find the net.

He put up his first points of the series, setting up two goals and then scoring an empty-netter from center ice to seal the Devils' 5-3 victory over the Flyers that tied the series 1-1 on Friday night.

The frustration was mounting for Kovalchuk, who had no points on four shots in the series-opening 2-1 loss. He assisted on New Jersey's second and third goals Friday but hurt the Devils with a series of penalties.

Kovalchuk was whistled for elbowing Philadelphia's Daniel Carcillo in the head in the first period, a penalty that actually produced a short-handed goal for the Devils.

In the second period, Kovalchuk engaged in a jousting match with Darroll Powe before a faceoff. Once the puck dropped, he turned his attention to Mike Richards and delivered a slash to the back of the ankles of Flyers captain Mike Richards, an action that also landed him in the penalty box.

Kovalchuk wasn't done there.

At the end of a scrum in front of the Philadelphia net, Kovalchuk was entangled with Powe again and ended up falling on top of the Flyers forward. They both went to the box and were there when the Flyers scored the tying goal that made it 3-3 late in the period.

Kovalchuk had an opportunity to be the hero in the third when he streaked into the Philadelphia zone on a 2-on-1 rush, but his drive sailed over the top of the net. The game remained tied, but not for long as Dainius Zubrus scored moments later to put New Jersey in front for good.

Kovalchuk scored at least 40 goals in each of the previous five seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers and he had 31 at the time he was traded. One thing he lacked was playoff experience.

He helped the Devils win the Atlantic Division and secure the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with 10 goals and 17 assists in 27 games after the trade.

Before this series against Philadelphia, Kovalchuk had played in only four postseason games - all losses for Atlanta in a first-round sweep at the hands of the New York Rangers in 2007. Kovalchuk did little to help the cause then as he had only one goal and one assist.

Kovalchuk has lots on the line this time. He is trying to make his mark on a new team that has known great playoff success. If he doesn't hit his full stride soon it could damage the Devils' chances at a long playoff run and in turn lessen his value on the free agent market this summer.

The Thrashers didn't have the financial wherewithal to keep Kovalchuk in Atlanta. They offered him a 12-year, $101 million extension this year that was rejected. Once that happened it was just a matter of time until the Thrashers cut their losses and dealt him away.

Whether the Devils, or any other team for that matter, is willing to meet the Russian star's price remains to be seen.

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