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Kovalchuk's OT winner gives Devils first home win

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK, N.J. -- Ilya Kovalchuk feels there are times in life when you must hit rock bottom before beginning your ascent.

The New Jersey Devils are certainly hoping that's the case, particularly after Kovalchuk gave Devils' fans a reason to celebrate for the first time this season.

Two nights after being booed off the ice, Kovalchuk left the Prudential Center ice to cheers when his power-play goal with 1:33 left in overtime lifted the home team to a 4-3 victory over the Edmonton Oilers before 14,650 on Friday night.

After drawing the tripping penalty that led to the OT power play, Kovalchuk set up near the left faceoff dot and one-timed Henrik Tallinder's pass past Devan Dubnyk low to the glove side for New Jersey's first victory in eight home games this season.

"Sometimes you have to go all the way to the bottom before you start to feel better," Kovalchuk said. "We got a lot of guys back (from injury) and that helped. Our young kids played hard, but when the team is struggling, you need experience. On the winner, we were in a box (4-on-3) and moved into an umbrella and a seam opened up for me."

Kovalchuk heard the boos on Wednesday night after misfiring on a breakaway late in regulation and then whiffing on his shootout attempt that would have sent the game to a fifth round, he was in a much better mood after hearing the cheers following his first goal in eight games.

"That's nice to hear that," he said. "It was better than last game. I appreciate it because we really need our fans and we have to do it together."

Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who had sat out the previous two games with the bruised right elbow, finished with 21 saves to earn his first victory since Oct. 29 -- a 2-1 triumph in Anaheim. He was also happy to see his teammate break out of his slump.

"We're happy for Kovy," Brodeur said. "We see him work hard and going and trying to get those shots through. So for him to get that chance is great. I'm sure he's really happy."

Devils coach John MacLean hopes this will help get Kovalchuk untracked.

"Hopefully, this gets him going, and it's certainly one the team can build on," MacLean said. "Patrik (Elias) and Talli (Tallinder) showed a lot of patience, and Kovy getting into that spot was key during that power-play in the OT. I also thought Marty kept us in the game, enabling us to get going in the third (when the Devils outshot the Oilers, 12-3)."

The Devils twice rallied from a two-goal deficit to force the extra period.

Mattias Tedenby got the Devils even at 3-3 when he scored his first NHL goal, a power-play deflection at the 11-minute mark of the final period. Defenseman Andy Greene made it happen by whipping a shot from center point that tipped Tedenby's stick and went past Dubnyk.

Tedenby was the second Devils' player to notch his first NHL goal in the contest -- Alexander Vasyunov got his late in the first period.

"It's nice to see those guys working really hard," Kovalchuk said. "My countryman (Vasyunov) played well. I wanted him to get that confidence and maybe now he'll get it."

The Oilers took advantage of an ill-advised Devils line change early into the second to open a 3-1 lead when Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky broke in 2-on-1 against Tallinder. The veteran defenseman blocked the initial shot but Gagner positioned himself at the left post and knocked the rebound out of the air and past Martin Brodeur at 5:11 -- marking the Oilers' first three-goal effort in five games.

"They jumped on us; when you play young teams, you just never know," Brodeur said. "Their skill showed up right away but their lack of experience showed too in us coming back. We have to be happy about our third period. We were down, but stayed solid and really took it to them."

Brian Rolston, making his first appearance in 15 games after recovering from sports hernia surgery, scored his first of the season to pull the Devils within 3-2 at 16:52. Rolston gained position in the slot after some strong work against Edmonton defenseman Tom Gilbert before controlling David Clarkson's pass and backhanding a shot past Dubnyk at 16:52.

Dubnyk (35 saves) came up big just 1:19 later when he turned away a wrist shot by Travis Zajac with his right pad.

"I thought it was a good performance (by Dubnyk)," Oilers coach Tom Renney said. "He stood tall, looked big and controlled his rebounds. It was a nice performance by him."

In the opening period, Edmonton was able to play with a lead for the first time in five games when Colin Fraser scored his first of the season after batting home his own rebound at the right post at 4:34. The Oilers entered the game having been outscored 12-0 in the opening 20 minutes of the previous five games.

Fraser made it 2-0 on a defensive zone blunder by the Devils at 9:50. Rookie defenseman Olivier Magnan attempted to play a puck that was lofted into the Devils end, but was run into by Edmonton's Zack Stortini. Fraser alertly teed up the loose puck and beat a screened Brodeur from 30 feet.

The Devils, who now begin a three-game road trip in Boston on Monday, halved the deficit when Vasyunov connected at 15:43. Zajac collected a pass from Patrik Elias and curled around the Edmonton net, then fed an onrushing Vasyunov in the slot.

The Oilers conclude their five-game road trip at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon against the New York Rangers, Renney's former club.

"Our guys should be excited about going in there, playing their first NHL game," Renney said. "We want them to enjoy it ... just have a hell of time playing in a great venue against a good team. For myself, it's all about the Edmonton Oilers and trying to steal two points."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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