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Kovalchuk hits, scores -- and wins

by Mike G. Morreale
NEWARK, N.J. -- Please excuse Ilya Kovalchuk if his emotions sometimes get in the way of his spectacular moves and blistering shot.

"I'm an emotional guy and I should stay away from some of that stuff in front of the net, but you have to play tough so sometimes things happen out there," Kovalchuk said.

Players and fans of the New Jersey Devils saw another side of their prized midseason acquisition on Friday night in a 5-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Round at Prudential Center.

Kovalchuk not only produced an empty-net goal, a pair of assists and a plus-2 rating, he also took a game-high six minutes in penalties on the way to earning his first Stanley Cup Playoff victory in six career games.

"It's nice," Kovalchuk said of leaving a playoff game as a winner for the first time. "That's what the playoffs are about. I knew I was going to win at some point. When we come to the rink tonight, we had no doubt in our minds we were going to win. We battled hard; we were down a goal twice and came back to win. It was great teamwork and everyone battled so hard and Marty (Brodeur) made unbelievable save in the third period and (Dainius Zubrus) scored a great goal.

"This is why we play playoff hockey; I can't wait to play another game."

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Russian was in rare form during a second-period hit-fest by both teams. On two occasions, Kovalchuk almost dropped the gloves with Flyers captain Mike Richards. He did go to the box for roughing after slapping a headlock on Darroll Powe and bulldogging him to the ice with 2:28 left in the second.

It was further proof that Kovalchuk is not only a perennial 40-goal scorer but can hold his own when the game gets physical. He was completely involved -- and the 17,625 in attendance were feeling it.

When asked if he wanted to drop the gloves with Richards, Kovalchuk grinned and said, "We'll never know."

Perhaps that battle is to be continued Sunday night in Philadelphia.

"I don't mind the fighting part; it's part of the game," Kovalchuk said. "I think a lot of European guys play very physical, so if players want to play that way, we can do the same thing."

Kovalchuk's teammates were also proud of his effort in a game they needed. The victory got the Devils even at one win apiece in their best-of-7 series, which resumes in Philadelphia on Sunday evening.

"He was great," Devils wing Zach Parise said. "He was getting involved and getting physical … and getting penalties. But that's good. For him to seal the win with that empty-netter was really great. It was a great feeling on the bench."

Devils goalie Martin Brodeur (26 saves), who was splendid throughout, was happy to see Kovalchuk garner his first playoff victory.

"If you only have four games' experience, it means you didn't win too many usually," Brodeur said. "I think it means a lot for him to be here. I think a lot of people are almost talking of him like he is a kid, but he's not. I mean, he's a guy that has a lot of experience, has scored a lot of goals and has played a lot of minutes. He was responsible for a whole organization for eight years or so, and now he's here and it's a different step in his career.

"So for him to get that monkey off his back was important because people will talk about it all the time when you don't perform in the playoffs or you're not on the winning side."

The future Hall of Fame goalie was also glad to see Kovalchuk get physically engaged.

"He showed what type of player he is," Brodeur said. "He was all over the ice and he was aggressive. It looks good for us when you see a top player getting himself involved like that."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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