Game 56 Recap: Sabres get ‘Kovaltricked’
(headline by @Dan_PF)
Over the course of the season, you guys have been tweeting and talking about how the Devils needed to play a solid, 60-minute effort. I think it’s safe to say they played a solid game for most of the night tonight. They still had occasional breakdowns, but they also have a goaltender named Martin Brodeur, who’s pretty good, and he cleaned up when the Devils needed him. They also have a guy named Ilya Kovalchuk. Tonight, he earned his 12th career hat trick, but first with the New Jersey Devils. He was simply dominant tonight, and he continues to carry the Devils up the Eastern Conference standings. The Devils have played eight games since the All-Star break and Kovy now has four 3-point games during that stretch.
The first period started out slowly. The Devils were a bit sloppy early on, but neither team really threatened in the opening minutes. Buffalo eventually generated a few chances, including a pair by Brad Boyes, but Brodeur stood tall. Marty made 8 saves in the first period. The Devils also had 8 shots in the first period, Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller didn’t stop all of them. Thomas Vanek went off for tripping late in the period, and the Devils cashed in on the power play. Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias spent most of the power play playing catch and throwing the puck across the ice. It didn’t work on the first chance, but once they entered the zone a second time, they worked a pretty tic-tac-toe play and Kovy buried it into a mostly open net. It was Kovalchuk’s 23rd of the season.
The Devils played a strong second period. Their puck movement was spectacular at times. Parise-Henrique-Kovalchuk looked fantastic all night. The third line of Ponikarovsky-Zubrus-Bernier was also very strong. The Devils played well defensively for a majority of the period, but a tough break resulted in Buffalo’s only goal of the night. Jason Pominville banked the puck to the front of the net from below the goal line to the right of Brodeur, and it appeared to go off of Vanek and in, but it actually deflected off Dainius Zubrus, who attempted to clear the puck. The goal tied the game, but Buffalo’s lack of discipline gave the Devils another chance to re-take the lead. Buffalo took four minor penalties in the second period alone, and seven on the night. After late penalties by two Sabres defensemen, Christian Ehrhoff and Mike Weber, the Devils took a 47-second 5-on-3 power play into the third period.
Buffalo didn’t give the Devils much in the first minute of the third period. The Devils were forced to dump the puck in with the two-man advantage, and couldn’t create anything with the 5-on-3, but they were able to strike 5-on-4. Kovalchuk fed Petr Sykora, who sent it to Adam Henrique, who returned it to Sykora. Sykora then wristed one far-side and it tucked right under the far corner to give the Devils a 2-1 lead. The significance of Henrique recording an assist on that goal is that he took sole possession of first place in the rookie scoring race. Henrique picked up another point as he came down the right wing, and fed Kovalchuk, who was crashing the net, and Kovalchuk deflected the puck past Miller to double the Devils’ lead. The rest was up to Martin Brodeur, who finished with 29 saves on 30 shots. Kovalchuk completed his first Devils hat trick when Zach Parise unselfishly sent Kovy the puck with the empty net. After his first empty net shot was blocked by a Sabres defenseman, Kovy found an opening between two Buffalo defensemen and iced the game. The Devils won it, 4-1.
Game notes: Brodeur continues his strong play. He’s 7-3-1 with a goals against average around 1.80 and save percentage over .920 in his last 11 games, including a shutout. Kovalchuk now has 16 points (6 goals, 10 assists) in 8 games since the All-Star break. He has cracked the top-10 in scoring league-wide and had 10:24 of ice-time on the power play alone tonight. Parise’s assist on Kovalchuk’s third goal gives him points in seven of eight games since the break. Patrik Elias also has points in seven of eight games since the break and 8 of his last 9 games overall. Adam Henrique also recorded his first multi-point game since January 10th in Calgary. Henrique scored his first point, via goal, against the Blues last Thursday. Parise and Kovalchuk each had 7 shots on goal tonight. David Clarkson has 5 shots on goal and Alexei Ponikarovsky had 3 shots. Clarkson recorded an assist on Kovy’s first goal tonight, giving Clarkson points in six of the eight games since the All-Star break. The Devils are 6-1-1 since the break.