Kovalchuk fired a game-high seven shots in Friday's win.
It was a night for the Devils’ stars to shine.
None glittered more brightly than Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored his first goal as a Devil to break a 2-2 tie at 8:24 of the third period Friday at the Rock. The Devils stormed the visiting Nashville Predators with a 5-2 victory to snap a three-game winless streak.
Kovalchuk, who later assisted on Zach Parise’s insurance goal on the power play, was one of five Devils to post multipoint games. Kovalchuk and Parise joined Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac with a goal and an assist each. Jamie Langenbrunner, who scored into the empty net with 42 seconds to go, chipped in with two assists for a three-point outing.
Each of the Devils’ Olympians – aside from Martin Brodeur – scored in their last home game before the Olympic tournament begins next week. New Jersey (37-20-3) plays its final game before the break Saturday in Carolina.
Kovalchuk had gone three games without a point since posting two assists in his Devils debut one week ago. His 32nd of the season brought some relief, but more importantly for him, a Devils triumph. Jersey's Team fell behind 2-1 in the second before responding with four unanswered goals.
“It was a welcome goal and I appreciated it," said Kovalchuk, who was acquired from Atlanta on Feb. 4. "It’s always nice when the fans are behind you and want you to score a goal."
Langenbrunner forced a Nashville turnover, and Elias found Kovalchuk cutting toward the middle of the offensive zone. He collected the Elias feed and ripped it low past Pekka Rinne’s glove side to make it 3-2 and bring a shower of hats down from the fans.
“We have to win, that’s the most important thing,” Kovalchuk said. “We worked hard the last three, four games, but we got some bad bounces against us. Tonight, I think we played completely a great game. Marty made some big saves in the third and we won the game.”
Sure, it was cap night at Prudential Center, but no Devil could recall ever seeing hats thrown on the ice for one goal.
"The linesman came over and asked, 'That wasn't a hat trick, was it? Am I missing something?'" Langenbrunner said. "The fans are definitely excited to have him here, as are we. We're excited to see him get that first one, and I'm sure that won't be his last."
It was a spontaneous outpouring of support by a pumped up, sellout crowd in Newark.
“I’m sure next time they’ll give them out after the game,” Brodeur said. “Good thing it wasn’t pucks.”
Parise, who returned after missing one game with an upper body injury, offered his own theory on the hats.
“We hadn’t scored three goals in awhile,” said Parise, who will be an alternate captain for Team USA.
To Parise, it was only a matter of time before Kovalchuk found the back of the net. Kovalchuk also blasted a Langenbrunner pass off the crossbar 1:03 into the game.
“He’s been playing really well, you can tell,” Parise said. “He’s getting a lot of shots every game. He hit the crossbar in the first, and you could just tell he was going to break through.”
Brodeur recorded 19 saves for his 34th win, tying Evgeni Nabokov and Jonathan Quick for the League lead. Despite falling behind, the Devils shut the door after Nashville’s second goal.
“That was important,” said Brodeur, who will start Saturday against the Hurricanes before representing Team Canada in the Olympics. “We had a hard time doing it as of late, not that we were really bad. We allowed three goals and just couldn’t get going defensively in some of the games. We were tight in games, just on the wrong side of it. It’s definitely nice to come back from a 2-1 deficit and win the game.”
Langenbrunner said it felt good to put away a team in the third period. New Jersey had blown a pair of 2-0 leads to the Flyers in their previous two contests.
"We've been playing a lot better as of late and haven't gotten the results," the Devils' and Team USA captain said. "It starts to weigh on you a little bit, you start to second-guess a little bit. We had some good meetings (Thursday) just to talk about staying relaxed and keep playing our game. Tonight's a good job of sticking with it and really battling for a full game."
Zajac put the Devils on top first with his 19th of the season. Langenbrunner took a Parise pass in the neutral zone and sped into Nashville territory. He blazed across the slot, drawing three Predator defenders – and Rinne – away from the front of the Nashville net. The captain dropped the puck back for Zajac, who popped an easy one into the empty cage at 9:49.
Zajac scored for the second time in as many games, and has four points on his three-game points streak (2g-2a).
"Our top players were better than their top players," head coach Jacques Lemaire said. "They pretty much all scored. They played well. I think we moved the puck better, and even got a goal on the power play."
The Devils missed a chance to make it 2-0 on a two-man advantage in the first. They had a five-on-three power play for 1:26, but managed just one shot. Parise had the best opportunity, banging a Kovalchuk pass wide across the goalmouth at 11:29.
Nashville responded with the next two goals to take a 2-1 lead. With Dainius Zubrus in the box for tripping, Colin Wilson set up Cal O’Reilly’s power-play wrister from the slot that beat Brodeur’s catching glove with 1:30 left in the first. Jordin Tootoo put the Preds ahead 46 seconds into the second period, using Andy Greene as a screen to sneak a wrist shot by Brodeur’s blocker.
Elias answered with his first goal in four games since coming back from injury. He blasted a perfect shot into the top right corner of the net for his 11th of the year at 2:30 of the second. That snapped a streak of six games in which the Devils had allowed three straight opponent goals.
“That was a rocket,” Elias, the Czech Republic captain, said. “I don’t usually get those, but that was a rocket.”
Elias was switched to center on a line with Kovalchuk and Langenbrunner in the third, and the move paid off with two of the Devils' last three goals.
"I'll play anywhere, and I think (coach) knows that," Elias said. "With it 2-2, he just wanted to maybe change something to give us a fresh look. That's why he moved me there and it worked out."
After Kovalchuk had potted the go-ahead goal, he helped jumpstart the Devils’ power play. His centering pass from the left side caromed in front to Parise, who banged home his 27th at 13:08. New Jersey had gone scoreless in their first four opportunities of the night, and entered the contest with four tallies in their last 53 chances.
"It's good that they scored, because now they'll feel better," Lemaire said. "Hopefully, they'll keep playing the same way."
Jay Pandolfo rested and did not play. He was replaced by AHL call-up Matt Corrente, who started the game at right wing on a line with Brian Rolston and Rob Niedermayer. … Andrew Peters was a healthy scratch. … Cory Murphy was recalled from Lowell (AHL) and played in his 12th game of the season, and first since Nov. 16. … Rob Davison returned to Lowell after playing Wednesday vs. Philadelphia. … Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond was placed on injured reserve. … Anssi Salmela missed his second game (upper body).