It looked like the much anticipated debut of Ilya Kovalchuk was bound to end in disappointment for the New Jersey Devils after a sloppy first 56 minutes, but the final three-plus minutes provided one of the most exciting finishes in New Jersey Devils’ regular season history. In those final minutes the Devils overcame a late 3-1 deficit by scoring three goals to beat Toronto 4-3 in electrifying fashion.
The competition looked to be all but over in the late minutes of the third period with New Jersey down 3-1, but this contest against a newly energized Toronto team ended up being a game that the Devils are sure to look back on as a jumping point to the rest of their season.
With the poor display New Jersey had put on for the majority of the night it was sure to be a night full of early exits from the Prudential Center, but for some reason the fans stuck around, and the stay definitely proved to be well worth it.
The Devils inched closer to Toronto with just over three minutes left in the third period when Dean McAmmond skated onto a pass from Vladimir Zharkov and beat Gustavsson with a backhander short side to cut the lead to 3-2.
The goal wound up the crowd and New Jersey as a team for a late push. Less than a minute later, Danius Zubrus was hooked down on a fabulous scoring opportunity set up by a patient puck controlling Travis Zajac, and a nifty pass by Zach Parise.
On the ensuing power play a tolerant Ilya Kovalchuk and a table setting cross-ice pass by McAmmond led to a laser slap shot by Zajac for the gametieing power play goal.
In the midst of everyone getting set for overtime with 44 seconds left, the Devils didn’t put their momentum to waste as 25 seconds later defenseman Mike Mottau ripped a slapper on goal that was pad saved away, right into the path of Devils’ veteran Jay Pandolfo, who instinctively slammed home the rebound for the exhilarating 4-3 win.
The crowd burst into a frenzy and the Ilya Kovalchuk debut was a success, as his two assists were vital in this New Jersey victory.
The first period started off at a whirling pace, as the crowd was eager to see the new addition to the Devils. It was obvious that New Jersey was a little out of whack as they were trying hard to force feed Kovalchuk and get in some type of tempo as a team. Despite the lack of flowing hockey the Devils still managed to light the lamp first courtesy of a sprawling Zubrus goal that also got Kovalchuk his first point as a Devil with the primary assist.
The second period could easily be classified as one of the worst periods of hockey for New Jersey all season. The play was sloppy, they were struggling to find any rhythm, and it had become a challenge to connect multiple passes in a row, or even to get through the neutral zone.
Toronto was playing tough and looked like a team on its way to taking full points after three second period goals. Two of those goals coming on the power play on some iffy penalty calls and the third on a clumsy turnover by the Devils in their own zone.
The Devils will take the short trip to Madison Square Garden Saturday night to face the rival New York Rangers, where they will try to start right from where they left off tonight at the Prudential Center.