Two nights after the New Jersey Devils didnít need Ilya Kovalchuk to win, they probably wouldnít have had a shot at victory in Game 3 without him.
The Devils winger established his presence early on Thursday after missing Game 2 with a back injury. He assisted on a goal and scored one of his own in the first period between the Devils and Philadelphia Flyers.
Then, of course, there was overtime.
Kovalchukís pass to Alexei Ponikarovsky in the extra period was the kind they will remember for long time in Newark, one that went through the neutral zone and hit Ponikarovsky at the Flyers blueline.
Ponikarovskyís first shot was stopped by Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, but the Devils forward backhanded the rebound into the net at 17:21 for a 4-3 Devils win and a 2-1 series lead.
A bad Flyers line change helped with the goal, but Kovalchuk had the smarts to be patient after he giving the puck away and getting it back again.
Kovalchuk had a jump in his step that had been missing in games before his injury forced him to sit one out. The Devils have to keep their fingers crossed that his back troubles donít flare up again.
Kovalchuk might have had the winner in regulation, but his shot midway through the third period rang off the post over the right shoulder of Bryzgalov. Less than a minute later, Philly's Danny Briere, the epitome of post-season clutch, stuffed a James van Riemsdyk rebound behind Devils goalie Martin Brodeur to tie the game ... Brodeurís record is not great when it comes to playoff overtime games. It now stands at 15-22 ... The Flyers had one shot on two power plays in the extra period, where the Devils did not have a power-play opportunity. Philly coach Peter Laviolette couldnít have had an easy time getting to sleep ... If thereís a sound emanating from New Jersey that you canít quite place, perhaps itís that of the tie tightening around Lou Lamorielloís neck. The Devils general manager has to love what he is seeing from his captain, Zach Parise. But with Pariseís impending status as an unrestricted free agent, it would be crazy for the forward to simply settle for a home-town discount and return to New Jersey. Parise has been excellent for the Devils in the post-season and his stock rises with each shift. Pariseís hustle in the third period gave the Devils a 3-2 lead ... What was Flyers defenceman Matt Carle thinking on Pariseís goal? He was beaten on the forecheck by Parise and then let Parise go to the net where the latter took a pass from Patrik Elias and scored ... One major reason the Devils are ahead in the series: Parise, their best player, has been better than the Flyers' best player, Claude Giroux ... It didnít get much notice, but Ponikarovsky did more than just assist on the Devilsí second goal. Ponikarovsky did enough to draw defenceman Nicklas Grossman to him and open a chunk of ice for Kovalchuk. By the time Grossman recovered, Kovalchuk had skated into the slot and was getting a shot past Bryzgalov on the goalieís glove side ... The Devilsí two goals in 20 seconds in the first set a team playoff record. The old team mark for fastest two goals was 26 seconds, set by Petr Sykora and Bobby Holik in May 2000 against the Flyers ... The Flyers had better hope Sean Couturierís lower-body injury does not keep him out of the lineup for too long. Among Flyers forwards, only Giroux and Max Talbot had averaged more ice time in the playoffs than Couturier heading into Game 3. Couturier has been among Philadelphiaís best defensive forwards. He was hurt early in the game Thursday when he was battling for the puck along the boards in the corner with the Devilsí David Clarkson.
FROM THE HASH MARKS
Further proof is being laid bare in the Western Conference semifinal between the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues that the regular season can be left at the door once the playoffs begin. Blues goalie Brian Elliott bleeds red like the rest of us after all, and no one cares now that the Kings were eighth in the West ... Elliott didnít look great on goals by Dwight King and Mike Richards, but it didnít help when Blues defenceman Barret Jackman went for a skate at the other end of the ice, as he did on the sequence that led to the goal by King ... Richards completed the Gordie Howe hat trick when he set up Drew Doughty for another goal that Elliott should have had midway through the third. Richards fought Jamie Langenbrunner in the first and scored from a sharp angle in the second.