Ilya Kovalchuk has the New Jersey Devils gaining significant
ground on the Carolina Hurricanes and the rest of the Eastern
Conference’s playoff contenders. The return of Martin Brodeur could
bring them closer still.
Kovalchuk and the hard-charging Devils look to beat the
Hurricanes for the third time in less than two weeks Saturday
New Jersey (24-30-4) was a whopping 27 points out of playoff
position after losing 2-1 at Philadelphia on Jan. 8. An incredible
14-1-2 stretch since has brought the Devils from the Eastern
Conference cellar to the outskirts of postseason contention.
They’ve cut the deficit to 12 points behind eighth-place
Carolina (28-23-8) with 24 games to play. Kovalchuk has 11 goals
and eight assists during the 17-game hot streak, including seven
goals and four assists during a season-high nine-game point
“We are believing,” center Jason Arnott said. “We know it’s a
long shot and it’s still far away but belief is everything. We have
a lot of confidence going in here.”
Kovalchuk kept that confidence high by scoring on a breakaway in
a 1-0 win over the New York Rangers on Friday, giving him a goal in
four consecutive games and extending New Jersey’s longest winning
streak of the season to six.
The right wing has five goals and nine assists in his last nine
meetings with the Hurricanes. He scored against them in a 3-2 win
Wednesday, after getting an assist in a 3-2 overtime victory Feb.
Those two games were both in New Jersey. The Devils have dropped
five of their last six visits to RBC Center, including a 6-3 defeat
Jan. 1 that saw Brodeur get pulled after 8 minutes for allowing
three goals on seven shots.
Returning from a sprained right knee may give Brodeur a chance
to redeem himself. He’s missed five games with the injury, but
acted as Johan Hedberg’s backup Friday.
Hedberg made 16 saves against the Rangers to win his fifth
consecutive start with a 1.17 goals-against average in that
stretch. Brodeur was 8-1-1 with a 1.92 GAA in his last 10 starts
prior to getting hurt.
“My partner is the best goaltender to ever play the game, so if
they want to play him I can’t argue with that,” said Hedberg, who
allowed four goals on 49 shots while winning both matchups with
Carolina this month.
The Hurricanes are only 3-4-2 in their last nine games, but
extended their lead over Buffalo and Atlanta for the final playoff
spot in the East to four points Friday, when Erik Cole scored with
3:03 remaining to secure a 3-2 win over conference-leading
“We’re trying to prepare ourselves for the ups and downs of what
playoff hockey is like,” Cole said. “Momentum can change within a
shift to a 5-minute span, a 10-minute span, a period, a game,
whatever. You just have to be able to have a short memory and just
continue playing the same way.”
Cole has three goals and one assist over his last four games,
but didn’t get a point versus the Devils on Wednesday, extending
his drought against them to seven contests.
Rookie center Jeff Skinner had two goals in each of his first
two matchups with New Jersey, but failed to score in Wednesday’s
New Jersey has allowed two goals or fewer in all six games of
its winning streak.