NEWARK, N.J. – Ilya Kovalchuk never got frustrated about his lack of scoring production since joining the New Jersey Devils.
“To me, it’s all about winning,” said Kovalchuk, who had a goal and two assists Friday night to help the Devils beat Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh 3-1. “It’s nice to score a goal and help others to score, but it’s more important to win. I think the way we’ve been playing as a team the last few games, I’m going to get my chances to score. I’m not worried about it. I’ll get my goals.”
Kovalchuk, who had three goals and five assists in his first 10 games since arriving in a trade with Atlanta on Feb. 4, assisted on the Devils’ first two goals, then fired home a wrist shot from the blue-line for his 35th goal of the season.
“I think he played real well,” Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. “It was good for him. He’s been trying to build some confidence. His passes were good, his puck handling was fine. If he keeps scoring goals, then his confidence will grow.”
Martin Brodeur made 34 saves for his 37th win of the season and 594th overall. He made 15 saves in the third period, many of which were acrobatic.
“Brodeur played as well as he can play,” Lemaire said. “He was on the top of his game and played very solid. He made some great saves in the third period.”
Brodeur helped the Devils beat the Penguins for the fifth straight time.
“He’s Martin Brodeur, so you can’t expect him not to play well,” said Penguins centre Sidney Crosby, who scored his team’s lone goal in the first period. “He gets up for games like this and gives a little something extra. Whether he considers it a challenge or not, I don’t know, but he just plays well.”
The Devils, who have outscored Pittsburgh 16-3 during the five-game run, pulled within two points of the Penguins for the Atlantic Division lead with 17 games to play.
New Jersey also tied Montreal’s NHL record for consecutive seasons with 40 or more victory with 13. Montreal won 40 or more games in 13 straight seasons from 1971 to 1983 – when regulation ties were not broken in overtime or shootouts.
Lemaire was asked about his team’s prowess against Pittsburgh.
“There is no explanation for it,” Lemaire said. “You need a little luck. But when you do well against one team, it builds confidence and you think you can play at that level all the time.”
Andy Greene and Patrik Elias also scored goals for New Jersey. Greene’s goal in the opening minutes of the third period snapped a 1-1 tie.
The Penguins have lost two straight after winning five in a row.
The Devils opened the scoring 1:43 into the game. Elias alertly collected the carom off Kovalchuk’s shot that bounced off the back boards and poked it past Marc-Andre Fleury. But the Penguins countered 42 seconds later, when Crosby skated in on a 2-on-1 off a steal and fired a shot that went through Brodeur’s pads.
In the second period, Penguins forward Craig Adams was whistled for a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for charging, but the Penguins killed off the power play with Fleury stopping seven shots. There were several pushing and shoving skirmishes in the period that featured 49 penalty minutes.
Kovalchuk was awarded a penalty shot with 1:49 left in the second period after he was pulled down from behind by Kris Letang on a breakaway. But Kovalchuk fired the shot right into Fleury’s pads.
“I’m now 50 per cent for my career in penalty shots,” Kovalchuk said. “I made one before and I missed tonight. But we won the game and that’s all that matters.”
The ferocious play continued just three seconds into the third period when Penguins forward Matt Cooke squared off in a fight with the usually reserved Rob Niedermayer. It continued a little while later when Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner tangled with Chris Kunitz, pushing Kunitz through the door of the Penguins’ bench.
NOTES: Devils rookie Mark Fraser, who was benched for making a mistake in a 6-3 win over the Rangers on Wednesday night, was a healthy scratch … The Devils have won four straight at home. … The teams will meet again Wednesday night at the Prudential Center. … Langenbrunner had no idea the bench door was open when he checked Kunitz into the bench. “I pushed him into the boards because he just slashed one of our guys,” Langenbrunner said. “But then he had a hold of my head and just pulled me into the bench. They were good about it, because they realized I wasn’t trying to do anything dirty. I was just sticking up for my guy. I think one of them said, ‘Get off our bench,’ and I was ready to oblige.”