Tedenby celebrates after notching his eighth. GETTY IMAGES
Given that the Devils’ season will end far short of its objective, it’s easy to see why Ilya Kovalchuk would downplay an individual achievement.
But even in a team-first environment, Kovalchuk's career numbers stand apart.
He had a goal and an assist Wednesday to reach the 30-goal mark for the eighth straight season and pick up point No. 700 in his 700th career game.
The Devils beat the visiting Maple Leafs 4-2 to snap a two-game skid.
“That’s OK, I know I can be better,” Kovalchuk said. “What else? I didn’t get a lot of points this year, maybe that’s the reason we didn’t make the playoffs. One of [the reasons]. I’m definitely going to be better next year.”
Martin Brodeur made 22 saves to improve to 23-25-3. The veteran of 18 seasons has never finished below .500, but could have a chance to reach it if he starts the remaining two games. Jacques Lemaire said he would “probably” stick with Brodeur to the end.
He’s up there with some of the best players that ever played the game. I think that’s something to be proud of.- Travis Zajac on Kovalchuk's 700 points in 700 games
The Devils (37-38-5) visit Madison Square Garden on Saturday and close out 2010-11 at home against Boston on Sunday. They hold the longest active streak of consecutive .500 seasons in the four major sports and hope to extend it to 19.
“When you look at how bad our first half of the season was, it would be quite an accomplishment,” Travis Zajac said. “We just want to make sure we’re playing well to end the season and take some of the positives out of the second half here.”
After Kovalchuk’s first-period power-play goal had opened the scoring, Mattias Tedenby and Henrik Tallinder struck in the second to give the Devils a 3-0 lead.
The Maple Leafs rallied on special teams in the third. Phil Kessel answered on the power play, and Tyler Bozak notched a shorthanded goal while the Devils were on a 5-on-3 man advantage. Patrik Elias scored an empty-netter for his 20th with 9.7 seconds to go.
Tallinder's goal held up as the game-winner. GETTY IMAGES
“Tonight I was happy except that little time we had on the power play, the 5-on-3,” Lemaire said. “It’s hard to take because first of all, we struggle on the power play. When you do get a goal, it makes it worse. It changes the game.”
Nick Palmieri came inches from giving the Devils a lead at 11:24 of the first. His snap shot from the left circle beat James Reimer off the crossbar, then off the right post before kicking away from the goal line. The horn sounded but replays showed the puck never crossed the goal line.
Kovalchuk made no mistake on the power play, zipping a shot over Reimer’s left shoulder to make it 1-0 at 13:47. He has scored at least 30 goals in every season since his rookie campaign, when he notched 29.
Still, he acknowledged that his numbers aren’t where they should be. His streak of 40-goal seasons will end at six.
“[Thirty goals] didn’t mean much for me, especially when you didn’t accomplish the goal that you put in front of you at the start of the season,” he said.
Lemaire knows Kovalchuk can be more productive.
“He’s at least a 40-goal scorer,” said the coach. “I think he started very slow, that’s why he only has 30 at this time.”
Zajac, Kovalchuk’s linemate, was impressed by his points milestone.
“That’s pretty amazing when you think about it,” Zajac said. “He’s up there with some of the best players that ever played the game. I think that’s something to be proud of.”
The goal revived the Devils’ power play. It was their first tally with the man advantage since Kovalchuk struck in Boston back on March 22, ending an 0-for-17 drought that had lasted more than six games.
Brodeur had a big save on Bozak from the right circle less than two minutes later.
“You could tell the level of interest in that game was so-so, and we took over the game in the second,” Brodeur said. “We scored two big goals in the second half of the [second] period and were cruising.”
In the middle frame, Kovalchuk set up Tedenby’s eighth: a one-timer from the right circle that beat Reimer’s catching glove at 14:29. Only 1:05 later, Tallinder gathered an Adam Mair pass and blasted his fifth past Reimer, who was relieved by J.S. Giguere to start the third.
Reimer’s night ended with 18 saves on 21 shots. Giguere stopped 11 of 11.
Kessel made the Devils pay for their only penalty of the game, Jacob Josefson’s holding minor at 5:05. Kessel got the front of the net to swat a Joffrey Lupul pass through Brodeur for his 31st at 6:18.
Toronto would march to the box three times in the third, but Bozak’s marker was the only one to come out of back-to-back Maple Leaf penalties. With Nikolai Kulemin off for interference, Dion Phaneuf’s elbowing minor handed the Devils 29 seconds of a 5-on-3.
David Steckel won the offensive zone draw back toward the point, but it took Bozak eight seconds to jump on the loose puck and outrace everyone down the ice.
He beat Brodeur on the backhand for his 15th at 12:42.
“On a 3-on-5, that’s a first,” Brodeur said, who recalled giving up a goal this year in Detroit nine seconds after a draw.
“That’s twice we get scored on off of a draw on the other side [of the ice], and within nine seconds, it’s in the back of our net,” he said.
Notes Dainius Zubrus did not return after he was boarded by Joey Crabb midway through the first period. … Zach Parise missed his second straight game since returning to the lineup on Saturday. … Colin White and Anton Volchenkov remained sidelined by lower body injuries. … The Devils had a goal waved off after David Clarkson slid into the net and collided with Giguere, knocking the net loose before Rod Pelley put in a loose puck at 4:13 of the third. … Kovalchuk is seventh among active players in points per game, according to hockey-reference.com. Sidney Crosby is first at 1.388, followed by Alex Ovechkin, Teemu Selanne, Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Joe Thornton.
– Brodeur fielded questions about his status beyond next season.
“It’s been a rough year this year and hopefully we’ll have a great season [next season],” Brodeur said. “From there I’ll be able to make a better educated decision for me and my family. It’s been a good ride. I have a lot of fun playing the game, still, especially games like today when you feel good and you make an impact in a game. You feel that you still got it a little bit, which is kind of nice.”
Lemaire said it’s ultimately up to Brodeur how many more seasons he plays.
“One year at a time,” said Lemaire. "I don't know. It depends on how he feels. Not only tonight, he's been really good lately – really good. He's had at least two great months."
– Kovalchuk spoke highly of the young Swedes, Tedenby and Josefson.
"[Tedenby] played unbelievably, both of them: him and JJ," Kovalchuk said. "They've improved a lot from when they just came here. That's very nice, and Palmieri, all those guys, they're young kids who are still learning and next year they'll be only better."
1 - 0 NJD
2 - 0 NJD
3 - 0 NJD
3 - 1 NJD
3 - 2 NJD
4 - 2 NJD
Too many men/ice - bench