Devils' Kovalchuk takes his lumps

New Jersey Devils' Ilya Kovalchuk (R) celebrates a goal as his teammate Alexei Ponikarovsky skates...

New Jersey Devils' Ilya Kovalchuk (R) celebrates a goal as his teammate Alexei Ponikarovsky skates in front of him during a team practice ahead of Game 2 of the NHL Stanley Cup final. (REUTERS)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:37 PM ET

NEWARK, N.J. - It doesn't get much better than a matchup between New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk and Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty in the Stanley Cup final.

They are two of the best players in the game at their respective positions.

But Kovalchuk, who saw a lot of Doughty during the third period of the Kings' victory in Game 1, shrugged off Doughty's presence heading into Game 2 Saturday. Kovalchuk, continuing a trend of getting off to a slow start in each series, was held to just one shot in Game 1.

"I don't think (Doughty) was a part of that," Kovalchuk said. "Don't take anything away from him, he's a good defenceman, but I have played against some good 'Ds' and found a way to go through them. There are some things I'm supposed to do so that's what I try, to do them the next game.

"You have to be yourself. You've got to use your size and speed to beat those guys. You don't want to do too much and think about the 1-on-1 battle because it's a team sport. Sometimes you have to chip the puck in and work on the forecheck."

When you are a player with a 17-year, $100-million deal whose job is to score goals, and you don't, there has to be some explaining to do.

Kovalchuk sat patiently in his stall at the Prudential Center on the eve of Game 2 and faced his questioners, hearing the question about Doughty a couple of times.

"He's obviously a good defenceman," the 29-year-old right winger said. "He's a really good defenceman. Probably the top five in the league. I play against some good defencemen, as well, big guys like him. He skates well. We have to take away the room from him because we don't want him to create too much offence."

The fact is Kovalchuk faced most of the Kings' defensive assets through the first two periods before Doughty and partner Rob Scuderi seemed to take most of the shifts against him in the third period.

Devils coach Peter DeBoer has the last change in Game 2 Saturday, but he will not get into a matchup game.

"I think our identity is a four-line team," DeBoer said.

"Kovy is a piece of that, but he's not the team. I don't think that's how we're built. I don't think that's why we've had success. We're capable of surviving on nights when he doesn't score or isn't at the top of his game, just like we're capable of surviving nights that (Patrik) Elias or (Zach) Parise aren't. I think that's the strength of our team.

"If you're going to match those guys up, in order to get him away, we're going to have to get away from our four-line game, which has been our strength. Two, if they're matching up against Kovalchuk, they're not matching up against Parise or other guys.

"The matchup game isn't something I'm interested in or worried about. For me, it isn't relevant."

Kovalchuk admitted he didn't play his best game -- "He's on a long list there," DeBoer said -- and said he expected the jitters the Devils showed in the opener will be gone Saturday night.

"After we scored a goal I think we felt a little relief and we started to play the way we wanted to," Kovalchuk said. "That's probably the big difference. The fact it was the first game, and all (the hubbub) around the final, gave us a little nerves. The puck was kind of bouncing on our sticks all the time."

Maybe DeBoer is right and the Devils can win without Kovalchuk finding the back of the net.

I don't like their odds.

They are 6-6 in games in which Kovalchuk hasn't scored.

The Devils lost the first game in which Kovalchuk scored this post-season and, in the six games in which he has scored since, they are 6-0.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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