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Onus Is on Devils' Ilya Kovalchuk To Perform

Leslie MonteiroSenior Analyst IApril 16, 2010

The Devils acquired Doug Gilmour in 1997 for a playoff run. They believed he was the missing ingredient for them to win the Cup.

Gilmour did okay, but not good enough to live up to Lou Lamoriello's expectations. The team underachieved in their series against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals and Gilmour was a major part of the team's terrible play.

Lamoriello decided to try again with a rental star. He acquired Ilya Kovalchuk from the Thrashers several months ago.

He believed the team needed a goal scorer to win playoff games. He also wanted to pair a star with Zach Parise.

So far, the former Thrasher has done nothing outside of his Devils debut.

Nothing changed last night for him. Not only did he not play well, but he was nowhere close to scoring in his attempts to put the puck in the net.

The Russian starย was scoreless last night. He managed a measly four shots. Three of them were blocked, and one of them was way off.

Watching him play last night, he showed he is not ready to play a game in the NHL. He had the jitters of a player that played his first hockey game of his life.

Who knows what's bothering him or what? Whatever it is, he knows he has to play better.

For the Devils to win playoff games and sustain a nice playoff run to June, they need him along with Parise.

Most of the Devils stars have not done well. They are relying on Kovalchuk to snap out of it before they can.

If he does, it eases the pressure on others. It would be nice if it was the other way around, but it may not happen anytime soon judging by what happened last night.

One talks about Kovalchuk having a child or trying to adapt to his surroundings.

This is nothing more than an alibi at best. Everyone goes through this in their job yet they perform. If a player is great, he can overcome these obstacles.

The great athletes play well when they are sick or if someone in their family is dead. Athletes find something in them to perform when they play with a broken bone.

No one wants to hear these things. It's about getting the job done.

Who knows if it's mental or not? Kovalchuk played in one playoff series, and he scored a garbage-time goal in his team's playoff series against the Rangers in 2007.

It's hard to make something out of a player's lone playoff series, but anytime a player struggles, it becomes a mental thing.

The star player recognizes it, and he starts over-thinking when he is on the ice.

Sooner or later, he earns a label of a guy who can't perform.

This makes tomorrow not only a must-win game for the Devils, but a game where Kovalchuk needs to step up.

Sure others need to do better too, but he was not acquired just to be part of the ride. He needs to make it happen. That's what stars do.

Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin proved they are not just regular-season players, but they do it in the second season. It's no wonder why their respective teams have a great shot at winning the Cup.

Too many times people think of stars for what they do in the regular season. A true definition of a superstar is how he does under pressure in playoff games.

Kovalchuk has to be that guy.

If he is going to get the contract he thinks he is going to get, he needs to make the playoffs his personal showcase.

He talked about how playing for the Devils would show him what type of player he is.

He is happy to play for them for one reason: It's a chance for him to get overpaid.

Maybe he doesn't have to do it in April. The Rangers love overpaying anyone, no matter how mediocre that player it.

Still, he wants to earn his contract. It's not just the money he wants. He wants endorsements and he wants the recognition that Crosby and Overchkin receive.

He wants to be one of the faces in hockey.

Wellย for that to happen, he has to do something about it.

Game 2 is a good place to start.