Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Suddenly Happy

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Suddenly Happy

Article excerpt

NEWARK - That was some "magic" the Devils' doctors and trainers performed on Ilya Kovalchuk's bad back.

After missing one game, Kovalchuk returned to the lineup Thursday night with an inspiring effort in a 4-3 overtime victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Prudential Center.

Kovalchuk had a goal and two assists in the game, including the brilliant stretch pass to Alexei Ponikarovksy that led to Ponikarovsky's winning goal with 2:39 left in the first overtime.

Kovalchuk's pass from inside the Devils' blue line caught the Flyers in a line change and sent Ponikarovksy in on the right side on a 2-on-1 with defenseman Andy Greene on his left. Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov stopped Ponikarovsky's initial shot from the right circle, but Ponikarovsky backhanded home the rebound for his first goal of the playoffs.

Ponikarovsky, 32, said it was the biggest goal of his career.

"And it's a terrific feeling to get it in overtime for this team," he said.

The Devils, who killed off two Flyers power plays earlier in the overtime, had been 0-3 against Flyers in playoff sudden death games, including a 4-3 defeat in Game 1 on Sunday, but now are 3-1 in this postseason in sudden death. More important is that they hold a 2-1 edge in the series with two days off before Game 4 on Sunday night at Prudential Center.

"Of course we're much happier being up 2-1 than down 2-1, but there's still a lot of hockey to be played and we're not going to get ahead of ourselves too much," said Devils captain Zach Parise.

The Devils defeated the Flyers, 4-1, in Game 2 on Tuesday in Philadelphia with Kovalchuk remaining in New Jersey to nurse his ailing lower back. They wouldn't have been able to win Game 3 without him, though.

"When you're around him every day, you realize what he's capable of," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "He was very motivated to get back in and not disrupt the lineup and what the guys accomplished in Game 2, and I knew he was going to have a positive effect on the game."

Kovalchuk's injury had been bothering him since "the first couple of games" of the team's first-round series against Florida. …

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