Thursday, March 3, 2011
Kovy powers Devils past Lightning
Every game is big when you're eleven points out of a playoff spot, but yesterday was particuarly important for the Devils - since they not only had a critical home tilt with the Lightning, but would also get word on whether injured star winger Zach Parise could begin light skating. Doctors gave Parise a thumbs up before the game, and the twelve thousand plus at the Prudential Center gave the Devils team applause after another tight 2-1 win that pulled the team back to within nine points of the eighth-seeded Canes with a game in hand. Almost as importantly the Devils finally jumped a team in front of them, passing Florida to get into 12th place. In spite of our 18-2-2 run that's pulled the team to within three games under .500, we hadn't yet gone back above 13th place until last night.
If we're missing one star though, others are still sparking this run - particuarly Ilya Kovalchuk, whose 22nd goal of the year at 10:10 gave him yet another late winner during this run where he's already had about three or four similarly crucial goals that tied or won games after the start of the third period. Remarkably, Kovy's so far removed from his early-season problems coach Jacques Lemaire actually cracked a joke after the game, saying: “He’s got a knack for scoring and making plays. He’s got a touch. That’s why he is making so much money.” Lemaire barely could contain his laughter after the last line, referring to the well-known $100 million of Kovy's deal.
And HOF goalie-to be Martin Brodeur hasn't missed a beat, allowing only one goal in each of his two games since returning to the net Sunday in Florida. Yet tonight, and most of this run has been a team effort. And last night, we needed just about everyone to be on the top of their game. As much as Tampa didn't impress me in January when we skated around their defense to the tune of eleven goals in two games (right at the start of our great run), they've earned my resepect the last two games - both tight, patient 2-1 playoff-type games. Could the trade for Eric Brewer really made that much of a difference? Lemaire certainly alluded to it in the postgame as something that's made their D better.
Despite outshooting Tampa every period, the tone of the night was set when Dwayne Roloson robbed Nick Palmeri several minutes into the game with a quick glove save. For the second straight game against us, Roloson played well making 25 saves. Yet, for most of the game it was hard to break through Tampa's reconfigured defense. If we were getting chances, they weren't quality chances for the most part - except in the case of Palmeri early and Brian Rolston later. Rolston put seven shots on net last night, including a breakaway attempt in the second period where it looked as if he was hooked ever so slightly, just enough to cause him to misfire the puck. Despite not scoring, Palmeri and Rolston were among the better players last night, as both were all over the ice creating chances.
Still, both teams tried to out-patient the other, but it looked as if special teams would prove decisive in this one early. While our power play continued to flounder with its two chances, Tampa struck gold on their first try at 4:41 of the second period. After a delay of game by Anssi Salmela gave Tampa the man advantage, a Pavel Kubina shot deflected off Dominic Moore's skate for the ex-Ranger's eleventh goal of the year. Most disturbingly, Tampa got men to the net every chance they had on that power play while as usual we're averse to getting men in front during the man advantage. For all of Jacques' great work with the team so far, our own power play needs to get better and could have been costly last night.
Yet, as has been the case a few times during this run the Devils managed to come from behind after giving up the first goal. After some sustained pressure in the Lightning zone, Henrik Tallinder took a Kovalchuk pass and slapped it through a crowd past Roloson at 18:45 of the 2nd to tie the game and awaken the tense crowd. At first, the jumbotron operator throught Vladimir Zharkov tipped the puck in but Tallinder was given the goal, and Zharkov got a secondary assist on the play. Despite tying the game I still felt a bit of a sense of doom when Anton Volchenkov took a charging penalty late in the period, with the memory of how efficient Tampa's power play was earlier that wasn't the way I wanted to start the third.
However, our penalty killers did a much better job killing this power play off, forcing several Lightning offsides and the game settled down again. When the game got under ten minutes left and was still tied, it was time for Kovy to do his thing in the clutch again. Also typically, Travis Zajac was a key figure in Kovy's eventual winning goal, feeding the left winger a perfect pass that Kovy rocketed past Roloson with a one-timer in between the dots at 10:10. Now in front, it was the Devils who could afford to play patient. Despite a possible missed boarding call when Danius Zubrus got shoved into the boards headfirst, the Devils turned the table on a Lightning team who'd won its last two games by that same 2-1 score. As Tampa coach Guy Boucher would say afterward:
“We lost a patience game,” Lighting coach Guy Boucher said. “We won a patience game back home and lost one here. It was who was going to make the last mistake and we did. We turned it over and they capitalized on us.”
With 60 points now and 19 games left in the season, if the Devils are going to get back into things it needs to be now. Five of our next eight are at home, all against other non-playoff teams or teams that are struggling (Pittsburgh, Washington) right now. Not to mention ninth-place Buffalo's only on the second game of its seven-game road trip, the seventh-place Rangers have their own issues as Derek's pointed out and we just beat Carolina three straight times, though they haven't lost too many other games lately.
As the cliched slogan we've adopted says, one game at a time. Our next one-game season is Friday against the Crosby and Malkin-less Penguins, in front of what could be a sold-out or very near to it crowd.