Kovalchuk faced the Thrashers for the first time on Tuesday.
Whatever boos there were for Ilya Kovalchuk in his return to Atlanta on Tuesday should have turned to oohs and ahs for Martin Brodeur.
In Kovalchuk's first game against his former team, it was Brodeur who stole the show. He made 19 saves for his record 600th career victory and 110th career shutout as the Devils toppled the Thrashers, 3-0.
Dean McAmmond, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac picked up goals for the Devils, who scored in each period. Back-to-back shutouts by Brodeur have lifted them to consecutive wins following a three-game winless skid. They hope to take three in a row when they visit the Florida Panthers on Thursday.
Brodeur, who blanked Carolina on Saturday, leads the NHL with 43 wins and nine shutouts. He became the first goaltender in history to reach 600 wins.
"Especially with a team that was desperate early, we needed to come out and have a good effort in our own zone," Brodeur told MSG's Stan Fischler. "We did the right things, and when the game got out of hand for Atlanta, we didn't give up anything. Two shots in the third period – we played solid. The game back for Kovy against his old team, definitely, he wanted this to be a 'W' for us, and we got it."
The Devils (46-26-7, 99 pts.) moved two points ahead of Pittsburgh for first place in the Atlantic Division following the Penguins' 5-3 loss to Washington. The division's still up for grabs, but Jersey's Team clinched no lower than fourth in the Eastern Conference, guaranteeing home ice advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs.
With just three games remaining in the regular season, Brodeur looks to be peaking. He has allowed two goals over his last four starts, and has given up two goals or less in six of his last nine appearances. The all-time wins leader, Brodeur is dominating opponents with the form that produced five shutouts in 14 appearances from from Dec. 21 to Jan. 20.
Brodeur last recorded back-to-back shutouts in 2006, blanking Florida on Oct. 26 and Columbus on Oct. 28.
Though he didn't record any points in the game, Kovalchuk had every reason to smile. His current team defeated his old one, as the Devils took the season series with Atlanta, 3-1-0. Kovalchuk spent seven-plus seasons with the Thrashers, who drafted him first overall in 2001.
"I wasn't nervous, it was just kind of a weird feeling when you've played with a team for a long time," Kovalchuk said. "It wasn't a long time ago. I'm glad it's all over and I can move on."
Parise closing in on second straight 40-goal season.
Kovalchuk was dealt to New Jersey on Feb. 4 after failing to come to terms with the Thrashers on a contract extension, and has dazzled with nine goals and 14 assists in 24 games as a Devil. Niclas Bergfors and Johnny Oduya, who went the other way in the deal, have panned out for Atlanta.
Bergfors has eight goals and nine assists in 25 games since the trade, while Oduya has a goal and eight assists. Bergfors, among the NHL's leading rookie scorers, was held to just one shot on Tuesday as the Devils outshot the Thrashers, 27-19.
"We played a solid defensive game," said Kovalchuk, who has scored 40 or more goals in six straight seasons. "Our first line gave us a great game. Zach scored a huge goal and Travis gave us a three-goal lead."
As evidence of the Devils' scoring depth, they struck for three goals without so much as a shot on goal from the Russian left wing. New Jersey has scored eight times in three games since getting shut out by Boston on March 30.
"I feel very good," Kovalchuk said. "Back-to-back shutouts, that's what we're looking for. We want to keep the game very simple, but we've got a lot of talented guys who can score goals, so we've got no problem with that. But we have to play strong in our end."
Brodeur was tested early in the first period, then again late in the frame. He stopped Jim Slater from in tight after Slater got to the rebound of a knuckling shot from 48-year-old Chris Chelios at 4:27.
"Cheli came in and threw a knuckleball, I made a save and had to control it after," Brodeur said. "Most of the night, there weren't many rebounds. I was making the first save and the guys were right there helping me out."
Later, Marty Reasoner's fluttering shot off an Evgeny Artyukhin pass hit Brodeur in the mask with 1:37 to go. The play developed after Paul Martin, under pressure from Artyukhin, lost an edge in the corner. Brodeur later made a nice standing pad stop on Artyukhin's hard wrister from the right circle midway through the third.
McAmmond's first goal in 22 games put the Devils ahead in the first. McAmmond and Dainius Zubrus entered the zone 2-on-2 before Zubrus centered a backhand pass for McAmmond's seventh of the year at 15:28.
Zubrus has four points (1g-3a) in two contests since sitting out a game with the flu. Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, who notched the secondary helper, picked up his second assist in his last seven appearances.
Parise's 37th put New Jersey ahead by a pair with a deflection of Martin's point shot 51 seconds into the second period. Zubrus hit the right post behind Johan Hedberg moments before Parise tallied his second goal in as many contests. Hedberg had 24 saves in the loss.
Zajac notched his 24th of the year 10 seconds into the third. Zubrus's dump-in down the right side took a Devils bounce off a linesman into the middle of the ice to set up a 2-on-1 with Zajac and Parise. Zajac buried his first goal in five games from the edge of the right circle.
NJD NOTES Atlanta was eliminated from playoff contention with Philadelphia's 2-0 win in Toronto. … Defenseman Anssi Salmela, the Devils' other piece of the Kovalchuk trade, was scratched for the 12th straight game. … Mike Mottau was rested, allowing Mark Fraser to make a second straight appearance. He registered two hits. … The Devils improved to 14-5 against the Southeast Division.
1 - 0 NJD
2 - 0 NJD
3 - 0 NJD
Interference on goalkeeper