Wednesday, May 16, 2012

ASHMORE: Kovalchuk earns his money for Devils

For The Trentonian
NEW YORK - It's never enough for Ilya Kovalchuk.
No matter what the Devils star does, it seems he's never able to justify his lavish 15-year, $100 million contract in the eyes of many. Wednesday night, however, he showed the hockey world why he makes the big bucks.
Two nights after a disappointing Game 1, Kovalchuk set the tone for the Devils by scoring their first goal at 13:39 of the first period to help lead the Devils past the Rangers, 3-2, and tie the best-of-seven series at one game a piece. It was the kind of game that many expected in his first full season last year, but never seemed to get.

The 29-year-old Russian scoring machine was dealt to the Devils as part of a blockbuster deal with the Atlanta Thrashers midway through the 2009-10 season. But between a perceived lack of production -- he "only" scored 31 goals last season -- and a reported conflict with then-head coach John MacLean that was believed to play a part in the Devils great's dismissal from the bench, and New Jersey fans have wanted more.
Way more.
And Kovalchuk, who scored 37 goals and added 46 assists during a point-per-game regular season, delivered once again in Game 2.
"Kovalchuk has been a horse for us all year, and tonight was no different," said Devils fourth line center Ryan Carter, who scored New Jersey's second goal. "On the power play, he's a difference maker. He's got that shot, and I think he's the kind of guy that can carry us through."
Carter, of course, isn't just referring to the Stanley Cup Finals, but the fabled hardware itself. With the series tied heading into Saturday's pivotal third game, that certainly isn't as out of the realm of possibility as it may have felt after a disappointing series-opening 3-0 shutout defeat.
For their part, with all the talk of blocked shots making waves in between games, the Rangers made an uncharacteristic defensive gaffe to allow Kovalchuk to notch his sixth goal of the postseason. Marek Zidlicky's beautiful cross corner feed trapped all four Rangers on the wrong side of the ice, allowing Kovalchuk to walk in all alone. But it wasn't only the New York players who were surprised by that development.
"I think plays when we move it around well and we get shots, that opens up spots for other people and you get them running around," said Devils star forward Zach Parise, who picked up the secondary assist on the play.
"A lot of times on the power play, you don't score on the initial chance. You get it on the second and third wave, and that's what opened him up there and got him the goal."
And the goal was a beauty.
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is regarded as one of the best in the world in one-on-one situations, but had absolutely no chance on a point blank Kovalchuk wrister that was over the Vezina Trophy finalist's glove before you knew it.
"It's nice to score, it seems like whoever scores first wins the games so far," Kovalchuk said. "We were just a little more patient (on the power play), and we wanted to wait for them to lay down so we could take it and go around. That's what we did."
If the Rangers don't better defend Kovalchuk - the most skilled player on either team - he could lead the Devils right around them to a stunning Stanley Cup Finals playoff berth.
And that would be worth every penny.


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