During the New Jersey Devils second half run last season, Ilya Kovalchuk took the then-injured Zach Parise's spot on the top line. During those three months, he scored seven game-winning goals and helped push the team to the brink of the playoffs.
Even with Parise back on the ice, Kovalchuk still showed he can lead the team to a win. The left-winger's third period goal proved to be the game-winner as the Devils defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-2, in an afternoon game at the Prudential Center.
Kovalchuk broke a 2-2 tie at 6:06 of the final period. Nick Palmieri carried the puck into the Hurricanes zone and sent it behind the net. Jacob Josefson collected the puck and sent a pass to Kovalchuk. The left-winger skated out from behind the net and wristed a shot that Cam Ward blocked. The rebound came out to the slot, where Kovalchuk fired a shot past Ward's glove for his first goal of the season.
Parise iced the victory his second goal of the game, an empty net, powerplay goal at 18:54 of the period to push the lead to 4-2.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer counted on his two best players to step up and break the tie.
"When you're 2-2 going into the third, those are the guys that you're counting on to step up and they did that," DeBoer told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record.
After a sluggish start doomed them against the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday night, the Devils jumped all over the Hurricanes in the opening period. Parise put the Devils ahead, 1-0, at 3:59 of the first period. Petr Sykora skated the puck into the Carolina zone and left the puck for Patrik Elias. The center moved to the slot and fired a wrist shot that Parise re-directed by Ward for his first goal of the season.
The two goals were for the first for Parise since October 23, 2010 against the Buffalo Sabres.
Alexei Ponikarovsky tied the game at one at 8:56 of the second period. Ponikarovsky re-directed a Tim Gleason shot from the point through teammate Brandon Sutter's legs and past Johan Hedberg for his first goal of the season.
Forty seconds later, Mark Fayne put the Devils back on top. Kovalchuk pulled up at the top of the left circle and sent the puck across the ice to a streaking Fayne, who shot the puck from the top of the right circle that went off the left post and behind Ward. It was the defenseman's first goal of the season.
Chad Larose tied the game, 2-2, at at 12:47 of the middle period. Larose flew past Devils' defenseman Henrik Tallinder on a rush into the zone and let go a shot from the top of the right circle. Hedberg, surprised by the shot, watched it sail past his blocker for Larose's first goal of the season.
Hedberg, making his first start of the season, stopped 24 shots. He's 4-0-0 against the Hurricanes dating back to last season.
Ward stopped 23 in the loss. Carolina has dropped their first three games of the season by a score of 13-7.
After getting off to a slow start last season, New Jersey wanted to get out of the gate quicker this season. The win today helped them erase the bad taste of their loss to Philadelphia.
"Winning is always good," Parise told Gulitti. "It's always a good feeling. I just think you can tell tonight was just a better team effort for us. We were hungry on the puck. We were winning a lot more battles and by doing that we were able to get a lot more offensive zone time. You can tell when we're playing well, we're doing things right: our D are jumping in at the right time, our forwards are covering for the D. We're not throwing the puck away. If we can identify that that's when we have all our pressure we'll be all right."
Kovalchuk finished with three points...Palmieri finished with two assists...Through two games this season, Elias has six penalty minutes. He received a two minute goaltender interference penalty after running into Ward during the third period...The Devils penalty kill remained perfect on the season after killing off five Carolina powerplays.
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