Kovalchuk was one of three Devils with three points on Saturday.
Make some noise for the 2009-10 Atlantic Division-champion New Jersey Devils.
They were relentless on Saturday night, thrashing the New York Islanders, 7-1, to sew up their second consecutive division title in front of a sellout crowd at Prudential Center.
It's the fourth division crown in five seasons for Jersey's Team, who clinched courtesy of Pittsburgh's 1-0 loss in Atlanta.
Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk each had a goal and two assists for the Devils, who got goals from six different players. Patrik Elias tallied twice and Travis Zajac matched a career high with three assists.
Martin Brodeur’s bid for his third shutout in four games was broken up by Matt Moulson’s power-play goal with 6:50 left in regulation. He finished with 18 saves to capture victory No. 601.
The Devils (47-27-7, 101pts) overcame an injury-plagued season to clinch their ninth Atlantic championship, but they aren't done yet. They can secure the second seed in the Eastern Conference – and home ice advantage through the postseason’s first two rounds – with one point versus Buffalo in Sunday’s finale.
“Very happy,” said head coach Jacques Lemaire. “I think the guys all along played well. Many times, we didn’t play at our best, but we found a way to win in different games. I think it shows good character. Now I think we’re playing probably our best hockey lately.”
A non-stop New Jersey attack produced three goals in a 4:54 span of the first period, followed by two in the second, and two more in the third. The Devils shelled New York’s Martin Biron with 37 shots.
Brodeur said first place in the division means plenty to a team that prides itself on its commitment to winning.
“It’s a competitive division,” Brodeur said. “Big rivalries, teams are close by, so it’s always something when you’re able to win a division. We have to be really happy about what we’ve accomplished.”
Brodeur joked about having a relatively easy night, commenting, “It was all right. I got hit by 18 pucks.” He has allowed just six goals in his last six games, including two shutouts.
“It was definitely nice, no doubt about it,” said Brodeur, the League leader with 44 wins and nine shutouts. “The Islanders came in with a lot of injuries, a lot of younger players and stuff. But we’ve been snakebitten the last few weeks with teams like that, so today was good. Right from the start we got ourselves going, scored some goals. I think it was good for everybody’s confidence that everybody touched the puck, made plays and did the right things.”
Parise finished with a game-high seven shots on goal and needs two goals Sunday to record his second straight 40-goal season. He was sniffing around the net all game long, and was originally credited with the goal that was later changed to Elias’s first of the game.
With 81 points, Parise is the first Devil to collect back-to-back 80-point campaigns. He had a career-high 94 last saeson.
“It’s nice for us to get a lot of scoring from a lot of different people,” Parise said. “I thought we played well. All the lines played well and did a good job of generating offense. Everyone knows if you want to go far in the playoffs, that’s what you need, and we got that tonight.”
New Jersey’s offensive assault began midway through the first. Paul Martin’s shot from the blue line drifted wide, but Zubrus pounced on the rebound for a sharp-angle shot off traffic in front. Zubrus’s shot caromed off Biron, and as the netminder tried to recover, the puck rolled up his catching arm. It was gloved over the line by Isles’ defenseman Bruno Gervais.
Parise got his 38th to make it 2-0. Colin White blasted the puck from the point, and Parise deftly slid the puck past Biron as he fell to his knees at 14:18.
It was 3-0 just 1:30 later. McAmmond carried down the left side, fired sharp angle shot between Biron’s pads for his eighth of the season, second in the last three games.
Elias’s power-play goal added to the barrage in the second to put New Jersey up, 4-0, at 11:16. His slap pass from the right point was originally credited to Parise after it appeared he had redirected it past Biron. The shot deflected off an Islander in front and was later changed to Elias’s 18th of the season.
Rolston broke a six-game goal drought with his 20th. On the power play, he rocketed a Kovalchuk pass inside the left post with 49 seconds left in the middle frame.
Kovalchuk added his 41st at 8:47 of the third, tipping home an Andy Green shot. After Moulson batted a John Tavares pass to put New York on the board, Elias scored the Devils’ seventh. He got his 19th on a backhander from behind the goal line in the right corner that redirected off Andrew McDonald and beat Biron shortside at 18:24.
The Devils lost 253 man-games to injury this season, and survived long stretches without the likes of Martin, Zubrus, and David Clarkson. Lemaire said the rest of the team stepped up when it was needed.
"At that time you would have thought it was impossible, but there's a lot of guys that really played great at that moment. I look at Travis, and Zach, and Jamie [Langenbrunner]. These guys pretty much carried the team in the scoring at that time. The checkers, they did their job, too."
Brodeur said it starts with the organization's commitment to winning.
"We've grown to expect success here," he said. "We understand how hard it is, and trust me, we go through ups and downs. [The media] see it, but we live it every day with our coach, with our GM. They want us to play well every single day. For us to accomplish [the division title], it means a lot, but they expect us to do it, and we expect ourselves to do it. We understand how hard it is."
• With 10 goals, 16 assists in 26 games as a Devil, Kovalchuk is feeling right at home in the Garden State.
"I feel very good," he said. "I know the guys better now, the coaching staff. When we win, everybody's smiling and enjoying the time, so it's great. The playoffs are coming, so I'm very excited about it."
He's confident about the club's prospect for the postseason.
"I think we've got a great group of guys here," Kovalchuk said. "We have a lot of guys that have won the Cup already, and a lot of young kids, that include me, who are really hungry to win. That's a great mix."
• The Devils finished 14-8-2 against divisional opponents, with six of those wins coming in a series sweep of the Penguins.
"We dominated one team in our division: Pittsburgh," Brodeur said. "The other [series], the Rangers wasn't that good, Philly was awful, against [the Islanders] we were 4-2."
• Lemaire gave credit to his coaching staff of Mario Tremblay, Tommy Albelin, Scott Stevens, Jacques Caron and Chris Terreri.
"We've got a good bunch of guys," Lemaire said. "We have fun together and for us that's the main thing. Having fun and making sure that the players have fun."
He continued: "All my career, I've been very fortunate with all my assistants that I've had anywhere I've coached."
• Sunday's game will determine whether the Devils finish second or third in the conference, and Brodeur said he'd be ready to go if called upon.
"It gives you the opportunity, if you do pass the first round, to be home again," Brodeur said. "It's always important to have as many games as possible in your own building in the playoffs. You play all year to position yourself, and now it's going to be available to us [on Sunday] with a win."
• Despite Thursday's loss at Florida, the Devils have come through with dominant efforts in four straight games.
"We're doing a lot of good things," Brodeur said. "The power play clicked [twice] today. I don't know what kind of an indication you can put on that, but we played some decent teams that needed to play well. In Atlanta, it was a big game for them; we came in and dominated."
• Brodeur's bid for his 111th career shutout was broken up with less than seven minutes to go in the game.
"Games like that, sometimes it's going to happen, especially when you give them a power play," he said. "Five-on-five, I don't think they would've gotten anything on us."
Deflected shot -
1 - 0 NJD
Backhand shot -
2 - 0 NJD
Snap shot -
3 - 0 NJD