Kovalchuk helps out with big hit

Ilya Kovalchuk delivers big hit on Game 5-winning goal for New Jersey Devils.

One of the NHL's accepted truisms is that Ilya Kovalchuk is a preeminent sniper.

The fact he's scored 406 goals in 779 games, including nine consecutive seasons of 30 or more goals, is proof enough that Kovalchuk knows how to put the puck in the back of the net.

But the biggest play Kovalchuk made in the Devils’ 5-3 win over the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden wasn’t scoring a goal. Instead, it was Kovalchuk delivering a hit while skating with fourth-liners Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter.

The superstar left wing leveled Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto with a thunderous check that set up Carter’s winning goal with 4:24 left in regulation. It was a play that will not show up in the box score, but it was as important as any made on the Garden ice Wednesday.

Except it probably should not have happened.

“I believe it was a line-change situation. I believe that's what led to it, but I can't even be sure on that,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said during his media availability at the Prudential Center Thursday. “We (do) double him up sometimes with the fourth line. I think it was a line-change situation where two of the guys came, and he just hadn't come (to the bench) yet.”

Kovalchuk finished Game 5 with two assists and a plus-two rating in 19:19 of ice time.

• Martin Brodeur is one win from exorcising an 18-year-old demon.

Brodeur and the Devils, you might have heard, lost in Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals to the Rangers on Stephane Matteau’s wraparound goal in the second overtime session. The Rangers went on win their first Stanley Cup since 1940, beating the Vancouver Canucks in seven games.

Almost two decades later, Brodeur is the only remaining active player from that series.

“I don't even think about '94. In '94, I still had hair. It was that long ago,” DeBoer said. “That plays no part in what we're doing. Part of it is he's very impressive. He's an impressive guy. He's calm. He's been there before, and he's a calming influence on our team and in our dressing room. That's why he's the best of all time.”

• John Tortorella has routinely spoken about the maturation process the Rangers have gone through as both individuals and as a collective whole during his tenure as the team's head coach.

The Rangers’ first extended playoff run during Tortorella’s term has the coach feeling positive about the franchise’s present and future heading into its win-or-go-home-for-the-summer Game 6 at the Prudential Center on Friday.

“It's a good group. It's a group that stays with it. They showed that (Wednesday) night through a little adversity early on. So there's not a lot of panic there. They just go about their business and we're a pretty good hockey team,” Tortorella said during his afternoon news conference at Madison Square Garden. “This is all really good stuff for our team as you go through (the growing process). This is how you gain experiences by going through (the adversity inherent in the Stanley Cup playoffs).

“We've played a number of games, a number of playoff games. Some guys have thrived in it, some guys haven't. These are all situations you look at as an organization as far as what guys are in these types of situations. So the more you're in it, the more situations that you go through, the better. That's how you gain experience.”

You can follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman

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