Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Devils Must Make Push without Kovalchuk Lift

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Devils Must Make Push without Kovalchuk Lift

Article excerpt

NEWARK - The booming voice coming from the players' lounge Friday afternoon at Prudential Center was easily recognizable.

It belonged to right wing Ilya Kovalchuk, who was there to do rehab work on his injured right shoulder and was calling out to defenseman Anton Volchenkov, "Volchie!"

The door to the practice locker room opened and Kovalchuk appeared ready to enter before he was quickly herded back into the lounge by a member of the Devils' staff.

Unfortunately for the Devils, rare Kovalchuk sightings such as that one - injured players usually are kept out of view - are all they've got right now. Maybe he'll be at Prudential Center tonight to watch their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs - as he was for Monday's 3-1 loss to the Islanders, but there's still no exact timetable for his return to the lineup.

Devils coach Pete DeBoer expects Kovalchuk to return before the end of the regular season, but how many games he'd be back in time to play is unknown.

"I can't put a number on that yet," DeBoer said Friday. "I can tell you he's making great strides and I'm optimistic he'll be able to help us down the stretch. For me, that means more than the last couple games."

The more the better for the Devils, who haven't won a game since Kovalchuk was injured March 23 against Florida, going 0-3-2. They scored nine goals in those five games, but four came in their 5-4 shootout loss in Tampa Bay last Friday. They've scored only three times over their past three games.

Thursday's 1-0 loss in Boston - the first time the Devils were shut out this season - knocked them into ninth place in the Eastern Conference and out of a playoff spot with 11 regular-season games remaining.

The Devils weren't winning or scoring consistently before Kovalchuk was injured either, but it's clear they miss him and all he does, whether it's killing penalties, manning the point for all two minutes of every power play or sometimes double shifting at even- strength.

"There's no hiding the fact he's one of the best players in the world and a key piece for us," DeBoer said. …

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