NEWARK, NJ - MAY 25: Ilya Kovalchuk (17) and Zach Parise (9) of the New Jersey Devils celebrate after defeating the New York Rangers by a score of 3-2 to win Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Prudential Center on May 25, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Ilya Kovalchuk's exercising his postseason demons.
Entering his 10th NHL season, Kovalchuk made the postseason just twice. Both of those runs ended in the first round, with Kovalchuk recording eight points in nine games.
With the lack of success, the popular "Kovalchuk curse" became a loud idea. With the Russian winger failing to match regular season success with advancing in the postseason, critics and fans spread the thinking that any team with Kovalchuk on the roster was doomed to fail in the postseason.
This year, Kovalchuk has emphatically shot down those rumors.
The New Jersey Devils left wing leads the league this postseason with 18 points in 17 games. He's collected 11 assists, also leading the league, and has adapted to DeBoer's aggressive forechecking system. The offensive success isn't anything new for Kovalchuk. He's a top-10 scorer all time.
He's adapted into a two-way forward, one that has helped lead the postseason charge and push New Jersey back into the Stanley Cup Finals.
Kovalchuk has moved so far from his supposed curse, he could garner Conn Smythe votes if the Devils win their fourth championship. He's moved between the first and second lines this postseason, and continues to play through a lingering back issue.
Despite leading the league in points, his contributions off the puck have made the biggest differences. The best example came in the Eastern Conference Finals, after the Devils blew a three-goal lead against the New York Rangers in Game 5. With the third period ticking away, Kovalchuk moved in on the forecheck with Stephen Gionta. He was first on the puck, jarring it loose and helping start the chain of events that led to Ryan Carter's game-winning goal.
He's still flexing his offensive muscle, but Kovalchuk has developed into a solid two-way player. It's that change that has freed him of his curse, and brought New Jersey just four wins away from yet another Cup.