Ilya Kovalchuk skated off as the booing filled the entire arena, something he has gotten plenty used to lately. This was not on the road, mind you, but on home ice three months ago. On that November night inside Prudential Center, the player the Devils signed to be the cornerstone of their franchise for $100 million until 2025 experienced what was perhaps the lowest moment of his professional hockey career. Not only did Kovalchuk come up empty on a partial breakaway late in regulation, but he let the puck bounce off his stick with the game on the line in the decisive shootout in the Devils' 5-4 loss to Buffalo on Nov. 10. And boy did he hear it from the crowd, which voiced its displeasure with the team's sluggish start and the star brought back here to deliver in clutch moments such as that one. "I like that kind of pressure and I have to be responsible for [not coming through and getting booed by the home fans], so no excuses," Kovalchuk said. "The fans, they want to see us winning. We weren't winning and nothing was going with me or the team. "It was a tough time, but you try to overcome that by working hard at getting better." Kovalchuk has done exactly that, and while he is by no means close to justifying one of the richest deals in the sport yet, the 27-year-old Russian winger is a lot further along in that quest than he was earlier this season. His continued emergence has helped key the resurgence of the Devils, who are now 10-1-2 in their last 13 games following Tuesday's 3-2 overtime victory over Carolina. The coaching return of Jacques Lemaire, who replaced the fired John MacLean on Dec. 23, also has sparked something in the team's most talented player. Kovalchuk praised Lemaire at Tuesday's morning skate, commending the veteran coach for his ability to bring his level of confidence back to where it was before.
Ilya Kovalchuk finds his groove at the right time
Bergen Record | Feb 9