Kovalchuk's Return Plays Crucial Role in Devils' OT Victory

Written by Frank Castaldi on .

"You're adding our leading scorer, one of the top five scorers in the League, so I think it can't do anything but help."

Boy, Devils head coach Peter DeBoer was pretty spot on with his assessment at Thursday morning's media session of the return of Ilya Kovalchuk, wasn't he?

Kovalchuk was reportedly hindered by a herniated disc in his lower back since midway through New Jersey's first-round series with Florida. He sat out Game 2 of the Devils' second-round series with the Philadelphia Flyers with what the team described as a "lower-body injury."

Tonight though, he returned for his team's third tilt in front of the home crowd in Newark with a bang.

The Russian sniper had a hand in all three of New Jersey's goals, including a long stretch pass to Alex Ponikarovsky on the game-winning goal with just over two minutes to play in the first overtime session.

The Devils, who defeated the Flyers, 4-1 without their star winger in Game 2, needed extra time to outlast Philadelphia tonight. But Kovalchuk almost prevented the game from even getting that far. With New Jersey clinging to a 3-2 lead, Kovalchuk carried into the Philadelphia zone and fired a shot past Ilya Bryzgalov and off the iron.

The near-goal, which would have given the Devils a 4-2 lead, would have been Kovalchuk's fifth goal in nine games thus far in the 2012 postseason.

Just second later, Danny Briere, who seems to be the only Flyers' forward not seemingly still hungover from their long layoff after ousting the Penguins in the first round, scooped up a rebound off James van Riemsdyk's shot and tied the game roughly midway through the final period of regulation.

Just 20 seconds after helping set-up Patrik Elias' game-tying bomb on the power play in the first period, Kovalchuk took a feed from Travis Zajac in the middle of the Flyers' zone and blistered a wrist shot passed Bryzgalov's glove, giving the Devils a 2-1 lead.

The Devils, who hold a 2-1 series lead over the Flyers, take to the Rock again on Sunday, as they look to put a stranglehold on their state-line rivals.

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