In Game 2, theoretically, the Flyers lucked out. An undisclosed injury kept Kovalchuk out of the lineup.
But in Game 3, Thursday night at the Prudential Center, the Devils winger finally made his presence felt. He finished the evening with a goal and two assists, and a plus-2 rating in 22:09 of ice time. He was an integral part in three of the four goals in the Devils' 4-3 overtime win, which gave them a 2-1 series lead.
Really, it was only a matter of time.
When youre around him every day, you realize what hes capable of, Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. He was very motivated to get back in and not disrupt the lineup and what the guys accomplished in Game 2 and I knew he was going to have a positive effect on the game.
It was tough for Kovalchuk to remain home with his family, to watch his team win Game 2, 4-1, without him in Philadelphia. But, certainly, he returned to the series refreshed and capable of contributing.
I feel good today, he said Thursday night. I was well-rested. Two days off is always good. Sometimes youve got to take one step back to make two steps forward after that. It was a little pressure too. The guys played so well in Game 2 and you dont want to get back in the lineup just because you want to play and you want to fill in right away and play the way they did in Game 2, and I think we did that and we got a win.
Nowhere was Kovalchuks presence felt more in Game 3 than during overtime. The Flyers were awarded two power plays, but came up empty-handed. And after those two penalties expired, the action on the ice was all Devils.
Deep into overtime, at 17:21, it was Kovalchuks beauty of a pass to Alexei Ponikarovsky that sealed the Flyers fate. Kovalchuk powered down the ice as the Flyers went for a complete line change. He hit Ponikarovskys tape at just the right moments, and the Devils left wing was able to beat Ilya Bryzgalov on a rebound.
Said Ponikarovsky, I just found a hole and Kovy made a good pass. He sees the ice well, so give him credit on that. We had kind of a 2-on-1 going on, but I just tried to shoot the puck and good things happen.
Its a world-class play, DeBoer said. Not many guys have the poise to hold the puck there, recognize a line change by the other team and spring somebody. Theres only a handful of guys in the league that make that play and were fortunate to have him on our team.
After their defeat Thursday, the Flyers focus was squarely on what they did wrong as a team. There was plenty to rehash their powerless power play, their tendency to sit back after gaining an early lead. Those are two facets of their game that theyll certainly need to work to improve if they hope to avoid falling into a troubling 3-1 series disadvantage.
But unlike in the first few games, theyll now need to re-add silencing Kovalchuk to the list.