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Kovalchuk continues to silence critics

Wednesday, 05.9.2012 / 3:55 PM ET / Features
By Mike G. Morreale  - NHL.com Staff Writer
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Kovalchuk continues to silence critics

PHILADELPHIA -- Ilya Kovalchuk was all smiles as he began answering the countless questions that came at him in rapid fire long after the New Jersey Devils had just eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center.

He talked about the excitement of advancing to the conference finals and playing with the team that made it all happen. Kovalchuk did, however, give a few lingering reporters an idea of what exactly he had endured prior to this marvelous run he is now experiencing in his third season in New Jersey.

"For the first time in nine years, I'm not going to the World Championship, so it's fun," the 29-year-old Russian said.

For Kovalchuk, that about sums up a career that had been incomplete -- until this season.

"For Kovy, it's a breakthrough season," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said. "He's scoring important goals in the hockey game. For him, it's probably a monkey off his back a little bit. He hasn't been on a successful team in his career and it took a while, but now he's getting rewarded. He's making a little push and I'm sure it's nice for him."

Kovalchuk produced his third multiple-point game of the playoffs on Tuesday, and second against the Flyers after notching a goal and one assist in a 3-1 victory. He now has a team-leading 12 points on five goals and seven assists, which is pretty amazing when you consider he entered this year's tournament with more penalty minutes (25) than points (eight) in nine playoffs games prior to this season.

"It's tough because he spent a lot of time in Atlanta where they didn't really make the playoffs for all those years so he never really had an opportunity," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "But he's played great. After healing his injury and getting healthy again, and now this break he'll get, he's been a big part of our team right now."

Kovalchuk was ruled out of Game 2 against the Flyers when he was suffering from a herniated disc in his lower back, but has had two goals and six points since returning to the lineup for Game 3.

"I thought he's played really well and the other teams notice him when he's out there," Devils forward Dainuis Zubrus said. "I think he's bought into the way we play. We try to push the pace and he's in on the forecheck and goes in and finishes his checks all the time. He creates a lot on the power-play too. He's been nothing but great in the locker room and on the ice."

Parise said Kovalchuk's power-play rocket that went top shelf on Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov at the five-minute mark of the third period was certainly clutch. The goal gave the visitors a 3-1 lead.

"It was a huge goal," he said. "I think the excitement when we saw that one go in … that was great and after him taking that game off and getting himself healthy again, he just came back and has been dominant. Once again he got a goal and set up another, and he's played really well."

Devils forward David Clarkson believes Kovalchuk has already silenced anyone who still had doubts of how dominant a player he could be when it mattered most.

"I think he answered it by the way he plays," Clarkson said. "He's scored big goals all playoffs. He's been one of our best players all season I think, and now we just have to keep pushing."

The veteran of 10 NHL seasons led New Jersey in multiple-point games and established an NHL record for game-deciding goals in the regular season -- two areas that led you to believe 'Kovy' was due for a postseason breakout.

"It's obviously better than last year," Kovalchuk said. "It all starts with winning. You can't be happy with yourself even if you score as many goals as you want. You try your best every night, but when the team is winning and everybody is doing well, it helps a lot."

When asked if it felt gratifying to produce in such a big spot, Kovalchuk wouldn't take the bait.

"It feels good, yes, but this is a team effort," Kovalchuk said. "We have played really well to now. But we're not finished. We still have more work to do and we're looking forward to it."

The odds of Kovalchuk becoming the first Russian player to score 500 career goals are pretty strong, considering his contract with the Devils runs through 2025. While that would be quite an accomplishment, it's the big prize he's obviously hoping for in the end.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 252 192 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 221 189 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 262 211 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 242 203 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 252 230 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 235 221 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 238 215 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 221 210 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 213 211 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 206 223 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 236 250 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 215 234 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 181 216 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 188 226 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 211 262 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 161 274 54

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
A. Henrique 75 16 27 -6 43
M. Cammalleri 68 27 15 2 42
P. Elias 69 13 21 -20 34
S. Gomez 58 7 27 -10 34
S. Bernier 67 16 16 2 32
T. Zajac 74 11 14 -3 25
A. Larsson 64 3 21 2 24
A. Greene 82 3 19 1 22
E. Gelinas 61 6 13 -2 19
M. Ryder 47 6 13 -1 19
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Schneider 26 31 9 .925 2.26
K. Kinkaid 6 5 4 .915 2.59