PHILADELPHIA – Ilya Kovalchuk’s fists outshone his team’s sparkling special teams.
Kurtis Foster scored a pair of power-play goals, and the New Jersey Devils held on for a 6-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.
Kovalchuk, Dainius Zubrus, Zach Parise and Alexei Ponikarovsky also scored for the Devils, who have won three in a row. New Jersey’s special teams scored three times on the power play and once short-handed.
But Kovalchuk was the talk of the locker room after the three-time all-star flattened Brayden Schenn in a rare fight.
“Bad decision by Schenn,” Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg said. “He’s a big man and not afraid.”
Kovalchuk dropped the gloves after he saw Parise get taken down.
“Hopefully the word spreads you don’t want to mess with this guy,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. “He’s a big, tough, strong man. I like why he fought. It wasn’t for himself, but for Zach.”
Down 6-0 to start the third period, the Flyers stormed back to make it close. Wayne Simmonds, Jaromir Jagr, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek had Philadelphia’s goals.
The Flyers were 14 for 14 on the penalty kill against the Devils in the first three meetings this season. The road team has won each of the four games between the teams.
“We have to look at specialty teams and see what we can do better,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said.
Sergei Bobrovsky allowed a career-worst six goals on 23 shots before he was replaced by Ilya Bryzgalov in the second period.
The Devils scored four goals in a span of 2:34 from the end of the first into the second, building a 5-0 lead.
Coming off an impressive 4-1 win that snapped Nashville’s five-game winning streak, the Flyers were looking to move ahead of the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers with a pair of wins this weekend. They’ll look to rebound against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
The injury-depleted Devils improved to 7-3-1 in their last 11 games, but they almost let this one slip away.
Kovalchuk’s knockout punch on Schenn seemed to fire up the Flyers instead.
“It’s part of the game,” Kovalchuk said about dropping the gloves. “I don’t really care about that.”
Giroux and Voracek scored 51 seconds apart to cut the deficit to 6-4. But the Devils shut Philadelphia down over the last 6:29.
“You always believe you can come back,” Jagr said.
Foster scored on a one-timer during a two-man advantage to get the scoring barrage started.
New Jersey’s special teams then grabbed control late in the period when Kovalchuk scored a short-handed goal. Zubrus set it up by stealing the puck from Giroux in the Devils’ zone and starting a 2-on-1 break. Kovalchuk fired a wrister past Bobrovsky for a 2-0 lead with 57 seconds left in the period.
Laviolette was irate that a penalty wasn’t called on Zubrus for tripping Giroux. He screamed at a referee from the bench.
“I’m pretty sure it’s a penalty,” Giroux said. “It killed the momentum.”
Laviolette’s frustration was reflected in the chippy play of his players. But the Devils took advantage, with Zubrus lifting a backhander past Bobrovsky late in the period to give New Jersey a commanding 3-0 lead.
The Devils opened the second period on the power play as Scott Hartnell was called for high-sticking at the end of the first. Parise knocked in his own rebound on the man-advantage to make it 4-0.
Ponikarovsky tipped in a behind-the-net pass from Steve Bernier less than a minute later. Foster sent Bobrovsky to the bench after scoring on a slap shot midway through the second.
“First two periods, I was embarrassed to be a Philadelphia Flyer,” Hartnell said. “We came out with no energy, no intensity.”
Simmonds started Philadelphia’s comeback with his 16th goal. Jagr then scored his first goal since Dec. 29 to cut it to 6-2.
NOTES: The Devils weremissing defencemen Henrik Tallinder (leg) and Adam Larsson (back) and centres Travis Zajac (Achilles), Ryan Carter (hand) and Adam Henrique (groin). … The Flyers again were without Danny Briere and James van Riemsdyk. Both have been sidelined with concussions. … Patrik Elias has 32 goals and 41 assists in 74 regular-season games against Philadelphia. … The Devils lead the NHL with 12 short-handed goals, including three from Kovalchuk. … Hedberg has started in place of Martin Brodeur the last five times the Devils have played in Philadelphia. He’s 9-10-1 vs. the Flyers. … Brodeur started New Jersey’s previous seven games. … Simmonds tied a career high with his 16th goal. He had 16 for the Los Angeles Kings in 2009-10.