NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils have thrived in shootouts, and that is why they are staying in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
David Clarkson scored the tying goal for New Jersey in the final minute of regulation, and Kovalchuk netted the only goal in the shootout as the Devils snapped a three-game losing streak with a 4-3 victory over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.
Kovalchuk had the first attempt in the shootout and beat New York backup Martin Biron between the pads. That was enough to give the Devils a 9-2 mark in the tiebreaker.
Martin Brodeur preserved the win by stopping all three Rangers shooters: Derek Stepan, Brad Richards and All-Star MVP Marian Gaborik.
Kovalchuk improved to 8 of 9 in shootouts and credited Brodeur and backup goalie Johan Hedberg with helping keep him sharp.
``When you practice with Marty and Moose (Hedberg), I ask their opinions,' Kovalchuk said. ``They give me a couple of secrets about what angle I should take, and I listen.'
The Devils feel confident when they enter a shootout.
``When Kovy goes down and scores practically every time, that first goal on the first shot, the stats say that the team to get the first goal usually wins,' Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. ``That's always a big boost. Whenever Marty's in net, you have a chance to do what he did tonight - shut out the other team.'
Kovalchuk and Zach Parise also scored in regulation for the Devils, who trailed 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2. Brodeur made 23 saves.
Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle and Michael Del Zotto had the Rangers' goals. Biron made 26 stops.
The loss snapped a two-game winning streak for the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers. It was the first game for both teams following the NHL All-Star break.
It was a crucial win for the Devils, who are fighting to stay above the postseason cutoff.
``We've got a tough road ahead, and we've got to beat good teams in order to get in the playoffs,' DeBoer said. ``This was a big one.'
Biron got the start for the Rangers over All-Star Henrik Lundqvist, who had a rare night off against the Devils. Lundqvist, who had made 32 consecutive starts against New Jersey, is expected to play Wednesday night when the Rangers take on the Sabres in Buffalo.
The first period started as a tight-checking affair with few scoring chances. Play opened up when the Rangers buzzed the Devils end with three minutes remaining following a turnover by the New Jersey defense. Brodeur scrambled in his crease to keep the game scoreless.
That sequence shifted momentum to New York, and the Rangers cashed in with 32.9 seconds remaining in the period. Gaborik fired a shot off a right-wing rush that hit Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov. Brodeur made a skate save, but couldn't prevent Stralman from knocking in the rebound from deep in the left circle for his second of the season.
Parise pulled the Devils even at 8:20 of the second with an extra-effort goal. Using Rangers defenseman Stu Bickel as a screen, Parise fired a shot from the top of the left circle that Biron stopped. Parise outsprinted Bickel to the rebound and beat Biron from a sharp angle.
Gaborik tested Brodeur with a shot from the top of the left circle late in the period, but the goalie came up big and kept the Devils in a 1-1 tie heading into the third period.
Biron stopped Kovalchuk early in third on a short-handed breakaway, and the stop was important because the Rangers took the lead again on Boyle's goal.
Bickel fired a shot from the right point that Brodeur stopped. Boyle pounced on the rebound and dragged the puck across the slot before flipping it in at 2:37 for his fourth goal.
Kovalchuk pulled New Jersey even 2-2 with a power-play tally at 16:01 for his team-leading 20th goal.
Del Zotto, set up nicely by Gaborik, gave the Rangers their third lead 36 seconds later. That appeared to be the game-winner, but Clarkson tied it again with 47.6 seconds left.
Andy Greene hammered the puck into the Rangers zone with Brodeur on the bench for an extra attacker. The puck bounced off the end boards into the slot, and Clarkson fired it in.
``A lucky bounce,' Biron said.
Rangers coach John Tortorella agreed, chalking it up as one bad break.
``We were in total control,' he said. ``Then we get a bad bounce. I liked our game. We played good. We'll take the point and go on to Buffalo.'
In overtime, Derek Stepan came very close to tucking the winner past Brodeur with under 2 minutes left.
NOTES: The teams will play five more times from now until March 19, including a meeting next Tuesday in New York. ... Greene returned after missing 22 games because of a fractured toe. ... Lundqvist hadn't missed a start against the Devils since Dec. 17, 2006. ``We talked about this prior to the All-Star game, that we were going to go this way,' Tortorella said of his decision to play Biron.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved