NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer never worries when Ilya Kovalchuk goes into a goal-scoring drought.
Kovalchuk gets his chances every game, and sooner or later the puck starts going in the net.
Kovalchuk snapped a six-game drought with a short-handed goal late in the second period and the Devils won their third straight game with a 4-2 victory over the slumping Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.
“I wasn’t worried about Kovy, it’s just a matter of time with him,” DeBoer said. “Kovy could have had four goals tonight had he not been trying to set everyone up. But that’s him and all the guys in the room appreciate what he is about.”
The go-ahead goal was a perfect shot. Kovalchuk intercepted a pass by defenseman Sami Salo near the Devils blue line and skated into the Lightning zone on a 2-on-1 with Travis Zajac. The Russian used his center as a decoy and snapped a shot from the dot in the left circle low into the corner of the net against a defenseless Anders Lindback at 17:34.
“Kovy is Kovy and he loves to score goals,” said Martin Brodeur, who had a relatively easy night facing 19 shots. “He gets his share. Big-time goal scorers get big goals. Hopefully, he’ll be able to celebrate a little bit more the next time.”
Kovalchuk finished the game with a team-high five shots on goal and only some good saves by Lindback prevented him from scoring more than his third goal of the season and second short-handed.
“I’ll take that. Hopefully I’ll do better,” Kovalchuk said.
Andy Greene and Patrik Elias iced the game with power-play goals 14 seconds apart with less than 5 minutes to play as the Devils (6-1-3) sent the Lightning to their third consecutive loss. Elias also had two assists, while Adam Henrique scored for the second game in a row.
“We have to respect their offense, so we had to keep it simple,” said Elias, who has six points in the last two games. “They have a lot of firepower and score a lot, so to give ourselves a chance, we had to play tighter defensively. They came in going through a good streak scoring goals. They got chances, but we took advantage of our chances. It’s good to have a lot of people chipping in.”
Nate Thompson and Matthew Carle scored for the Lightning, who have five goals during their losing streak. Tampa Bay scored 37 times in starting the season 6-1.
Lightning coach Guy Boucher thought his team played well, except on the power play.
“We don’t seem to capitalize on our chances and it has been hurting us the last three games,” he said.
New Jersey, which came in having killed off 15 straight penalties, was 4 for 4 on the penalty kill, with Kovalchuk tallying after the Devils got an unsportsmanlike penalty when someone — not DeBoer — said something that referee Chris Rooney didn’t appreciate.
“It’s tough to give up one off the power play but we didn’t take advantage on the power play for ourselves,” said Lightning leading scorer Steven Stamkos, who missed an open net in the third period on a rebound with his team down a goal.
Brodeur made the mistake that allowed Tampa Bay to tie the score 1-all a little more than 4 minutes earlier. Usually an outstanding puckhandler, he misplayed a pass from the crease off the sideboards. Martin St. Louis intercepted the pass and found Thompson between the circles for a shot into the top of the net.
Henrique, who missed the first five games of the season while recovering from thumb surgery, had put New Jersey ahead earlier in the period thanks to a mistake by Lindback. The 6-foot-6 goalie thought he had caught a shot from the point by defenseman Anton Volchenkov. The puck, however, slipped out of his glove and Henrique pounced on the loose puck and backhanded it into the net for his third goal in five games.
Greene scored with 4:48 to go with the Devils on a two-man advantage, and Elias capped his second straight three-point night seconds later with another goal with a two-man advantage.
“I didn’t see any penalties,” Boucher said. “I didn’t see anything. I just watched the video again and didn’t see anything. I guess I’ll have to look at it another 20 times.”
Carle scored with the Lightning down three goals.
Before the game, the Devils decided to play first-round draft pick Stefan Matteau, marking his sixth game of the regular season. The decision means that the first year of his contract kicks in for this lockout-shortened 48-game season. The 18-year-old can still be sent down to play junior hockey, but his entry level contract is now active.
NOTES: With blizzard advisories in the northeast, the Lightning are heading to Boston for a game on Saturday. The Devils will play at home against the Penguins. … Devils LW Dainius Zubrus was scratched with an upper body injury sustained Tuesday against the Rangers. … Brodeur played in his 1,199th NHL game. … The crowd of 14,802 was the Devils’ first non-sellout in five home games.
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