Devils 5, Islanders 1
NEWARK, N.J. -- Ilya Kovalchuk
is close friends with Evgeni Nabokov, but he wasn't sure if the Islanders' goalie would be in any mood to have a postgame chat Thursday night.
Kovalchuk lit up Nabokov for his second hat trick of the season and Martin Brodeur
made 29 saves to lift the Devils to a 5-1 victory against the New York Islanders at Prudential Center. After going a season-high nine games without a goal, Kovalchuk now has four in the last 120 minutes -- and the Devils have come out of a six-game funk with back-to-back multiple-goal victories over the New York teams.
They also beat the Rangers by a 4-1 margin on Tuesday, when Kovalchuk had a goal and an assist to go along with eight shots. The Devils' second straight win kept them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 81 points.
"I got here to score goals and make plays for my team and try to make my team win. Right now we feel very comfortable," Kovalchuk said after recording his second hat trick in 23 days after going two years without one. "The Rangers game was a big test for us … and after those games you have the extra jump, that's for sure."
The Islanders faint playoff hopes took a significant blow. They are in 14th place with 65 points, seven back of eighth before the Winnipeg Jets got going in Vancouver late Thursday night.
Islanders coach Jack Capuano said the team had far too many passengers.
"We didn't have good gap with our D; we didn't execute a breakout," Capuano said. "We had some guys, without naming names, who watched the game."
Kovalchuk needs just one more goal for his ninth straight 30-goal season and just two to reach 400 goals for his career. He scored a goal in each period Thursday, including two on blistering one-timers. His hat-trick goal was off a 40-foot one-timer.
"It was some great shots he made," said Devils captain Zach Parise
, who had the primary assist on Kovalchuk's first and third goals. "His one-timer is a world-class shot."
scored his 23rd goal of the season and David Clarkson
continued to set a career-high with his 27th goal. Kovalchuk's linemates, Parise and Adam Henrique
, each had two assists. So did defenseman Marek Zidlicky
. They were his first points in his seventh game as a Devil since coming over from Minnesota via a trade late last month.
Zidlicky set up Kovalchuk for his second goal, a short-side one-timer from the left circle 3:33 into the second period.
"I thought he was very good again," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said of Zidlicky, who also had a strong game against the Rangers earlier in the week. "He's moving the puck more comfortably. You can see he has that edge, where he can play defensively and be hard to play against and yet he has that vision to move the puck up the ice and make plays. You're seeing his more complete game the more comfortable he's getting."
Kovalchuk admitted after the Rangers game Tuesday that he was making it a point to shoot more. He had eight shots on goal that night and four more against the Islanders, though he had a total of nine attempts at the net. Two of his shots were blocked and three missed the net.
He had a combined 12 shots on goal in the four games prior to the one against the Rangers and was averaging less than four per game in the nine games he went without a goal. He is over four per game for his season average (251 shots on goal in 62 games).
"Our message in general to the team has been not to pass up shots," DeBoer said. "We have fallen into that trap and maybe he took that message to heart personally and is shooting more."
Parise also said he's noticed Kovalchuk looking for his shot more often in the last few games.
"We all want him to have that scoring confidence and we know how dangerous he is when he gets hot," Parise said. "He has such a good shot that he should be shooting all the time, but he's an underrated passer, too."
The Islanders only goal was of the fluky variety. With 3:39 to play in the second period. Andrew MacDonald fluttered a knuckler toward the net from roughly three feet behind the goal line on the left side; the puck hit off Brodeur's right arm and went in to slice the Devils lead to 2-1.
New Jersey answered in the third with goals from Kovalchuk and Elias in a 64-second span. It was 4-1 with 11:51 remaining. Clarkson capped the scoring almost eight minutes later.
"Especially when (Kovalchuk) gets one early he's going to be feeling good the rest of the night," Parise said. "He picked those clean, those one-timers. There are not a lot of players that can pick a long pass like that clean and beat a goalie clean at the same time. I thought he was really good. He was making good passes, too, all night long. We couldn't score when he found us, but he was finding the back of the net so it was good."
Kovalchuk will try to do it to the Islanders again on Saturday at Nassau Coliseum. It's the third time in seven days the two teams will be facing each other.
The Islanders took the first one this past Sunday by a 1-0 count behind 24 saves by Anders Nilsson. The Devils got their revenge Thursday thanks to Kovalchuk's hot stick.
"It's nice on the coaches because of prep time, we get a bit of a break that way. We're not starting from scratch and studying a new opponent," DeBoer said. "The prep will be easier, but it's another big game. You know they're going to bounce back. They're at home and they played a great game there the last time we were there."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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