Ilya Kovalchuk’s best game as a Devil put Jersey’s Team back on top in the Atlantic Division.
The Russian sniper had a goal and three assists on Tuesday, helping the Devils strike for three power-play tallies in a dominant 6-3 win over the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets.
Kovalchuk assisted on both goals by Travis Zajac. Zach Parise had two goals and an assist, including a highlight-reel move that restored a three-goal lead in the third. Paul Martin added a goal and an assist, and Patrik Elias had three helpers as the Devils won for the sixth time in seven home games.
Kovalchuk welcomed a new baby boy to the family on Sunday and had even more to celebrate with his first four-point game since arriving in New Jersey via trade from Atlanta last month.
“Hopefully, I have better games ahead of me,” said Kovalchuk after netting his 37th goal of the year. “It’s a big game, but we’ve got 10 more games in the season before the biggest games start.”
The power play, which had gone 0-for-17 over the previous six games, came alive and matched the Devils’ best output of the season. The Devils scored three power-play goals at Ottawa on Nov. 7.
“It’s gotten better and better, and finally tonight it came through,” said Parise, who potted his 34th and 35th of the season. “We got three of them. It was rewarding for a lot of the work that we’ve put into it.”
Martin Brodeur made 19 saves to capture his 40th win of the season, extending his own NHL mark to eight campaigns with 40-or-more victories. No other goaltender in history has had more than three. He surpassed Patrick Roy for the career wins record last season, when an elbow injury shelved him for 50 games.
“Last year, if I would’ve played more I would’ve gotten (to 40 wins), hopefully,” Brodeur said. “It’s always nice to hit it and get it over with. Not a lot of people are talking about it because it’s my own record that I’m breaking, not somebody else’s. But it’s still an accomplishment to try and raise the bar for the next (goalies) coming, that’s for sure.”
With 597 career victories, Brodeur needs just three more to become the first goalie ever to reach 600.
“I’ve thought about it,” he said. “I know there’s lots of games left to be able to do it. Hopefully it will happen; eventually, it should happen.”
New Jersey (43-25-4) tied idle Pittsburgh for first place in the division with a game in hand. The Devils snapped a two-game winless skid (0-1-1) and will close out the homestand against the Rangers on Thursday.
“It’s always good when you win because tomorrow morning everybody’s going to be smiling and feel good,” Kovalchuk said. “We can’t stop for a second. We have to work even harder to be better because we have so much talent, so much experience in that group. We can be one of the best teams in the NHL, that’s for sure.”
The Devils took a 1-0 lead in the first period on Parise’s 34th. That gave head coach Jacques Lemaire the start he was looking for.
“We got some breaks,” Lemaire said. “I mentioned last game that we have to work harder and get more support on the ice. I think they did that tonight.”
Parise got the Devils going on the first of two power plays in the first period. He rifled a Jamie Langenbrunner rebound past Steve Mason’s glove side for a 1-0 lead at 13:01 of the first period. Mason had 24 saves in the loss.
It was important for the Devils to get the offense going again after scoring just once in losses to Toronto and St. Louis.
“It was great,” Parise said. “To get the goal outburst – we needed it. I think we played pretty close to a full game and that’s important for us, too, right now, just to feel good about ourselves and about our special teams. It was a rewarding win.”
A fan celebrates Brodeur's eighth 40-win season.
The Blue Jackets’ march to the penalty box continued in the second period and the Devils took control. With Kristian Huselius off for hooking, Martin buried an Elias rebound from the bottom of the right circle at 1:14. Martin’s second of the year was his second in four games since returning from injury.
New Jersey's power play finished 3-for-6.
Antoine Vermette’s slapper from inside the blue line cut the New Jersey lead to 2-1 at 3:40. Huselius’s trip on Martin negated a Columbus two-man advantage, and he was still in the box when Kovalchuk made it 3-1 at 12:32. Parise set up Kovalchuk’s power-play wrister from the left circle, his sixth goal as a Devil.
But Kovalchuk wasn’t done in New Jersey's four-goal middle frame.
He threw a shot on net from the slot that deflected off Zajac for his 22nd of the season at 15:40. Kovalchuk then picked up the secondary assist when Mike Mottau’s floater from the right point went off Zajac for his 23rd of the year with 52.1 seconds left.
Zajac, who didn't get a stick on either play, capped his fourth career two-goal effort and first since Dec. 12, 2008.
“I should’ve played that period without a stick,” Zajac said.
The Blue Jackets got the next two to climb within a pair at 5-3. Jakub Voracek scored off a Derick Brassard pass with 19.2 seconds to go in the second. Huselius tapped in a Vermette feed at 6:00 of the third.
But Parise's 35th sealed it with 7:08 to go. Alone in front, Parise collected a pass from Langenbrunner, spun to his forehand, and roofed it shortside over Mason’s glove at 12:52.
“It was a good play by Jamie,” Parise said. “I was just trying to get him to lean the other way and try to get him to think I was going to my backhand. I ended up getting it over his shoulder, so a lot of things went right on that one.”
It was all goal scorer’s instinct.
“It’s more reaction than anything,” he explained. “You don’t really practice those types of things. It’s just messing around on the ice. When it comes, reactions take over. It’s not like I was planning on doing that. It just kind of happened.”
NJD NOTES Kovalchuk didn’t grab the puck from his goal for Artem, his newborn son who arrived Sunday.
“He’s going to get enough pucks when he’s old enough,” Kovalchuk said.
The Russian winger settled in nicely on a new line with Zajac in the middle and Brian Rolston on the right side.
“When you play with those kind of players, it’s easy to find chemistry," said Kovalchuk.
Elias was moved between Parise and Langenbrunner.
"Patrik played hard," Lemaire said. "I think it's his best game since he's been back (on Feb. 6). He moved the puick well, skated, went at the net, played in traffic. He did a lot of good things."
• A scrum developed at 8:57 of the second period after Dean McAmmond took what looked like a high hit from Mike Blunden, then dropped the gloves and landed some punches on the Blue Jacket. McAmmond was handed a double-minor and a 10-minute major, while Blunden never dropped his gloves.
"He said, 'Do you want to go?'" McAmmond recounted. "I'm a little confused. It didn't look like he wanted to fight."
Said McAmmond: "The guy comes back and asks me to fight, and then I end up with a double-minor; they ended up with two guys involved in it. I don't get it."
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, out on the same shift, was challenged by Jared Boll, who had his gloves off, but did not receive a penalty. Only Derek Dorsett was penalized, receiving a roughing minor.
Letourneau-Leblond and Boll fought later in the period. Boll left the game after taking some heavy lefts from the Devils' rookie.
"He let me switch to my left and I had him against the boards," Letourneau-Leblond said. He battled Cam Janssen in a memorable bout on Saturday, and was playing in his third straight game.
"I guess it means they want more from me," he said. "I know I can do it against those guys and I feel good now that I'm getting more ice time and more games. I just want to help the team win some more hockey games."
• Before Tuesday, the Blue Jackets had been the only team never to have visited Prudential Center.