Penguins Vs. Devils: Ilya Kovalchuk Leads New Jersey to Matinee Victory

Ilya Kovalchuk had his second three-point game in as many days as the Devils blasted the Pens 5-2 in their Sunday afternoon matchup.

As the NHL made their best attempt to fit in a day of action while avoiding conflicts with the Super Bowl, the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins were slated for an unusual situation. Both teams were involved with afternoon matinees on Saturday (road games, at that), then turned around and flew to the Garden State, where they dropped the puck on a cloudy Sunday afternoon.

With the Devils having exploded for six goals against the Philadelphia Flyers the day before, the team gave fans a taste of deja vu when Patrik Elias found a streaking Ilya Kovalchuk at the side of the net, setting him up for a quick wrist shot to beat Marc-Andre Fleury.

With Martin Brodeur turning away early pressure from Pittsburgh, Kovalchuk then took a turn to set up Anton Volchenkov for his first goal as a New Jersey Devil -- in fact, the first goal the Russian d-man had scored since April of 2010 as a member of the Ottawa Senators.

The Devils took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission, but Pittsburgh appeared to get an opportunity to get back into the game when Kurtis Foster was called for a hook early in the second period. The plan went off the rails, however, when Kovalchuk poked the puck past former Devil Paul Martin and fought his way to the net. Fleury made an initial save, but Dainius Zubrus picked up the loose puck and shoveled it into the side of the net.

The shorthanded goal ended Fleury's afternoon, the third allowed on 12 shots, and Brent Johnson was brought in as the Penguins attempted to salvage the match.

The change in net brought signs of life in the final seconds of the Pittsburgh power play, and Matt Niskanen beat Brodeur with a hard shot from above the left faceoff circle after a cross-ice feed from Cal O'Reilly.

The Penguins attempted to cut the deficit, but Zach Parise collected his 20th goal of the season in a scramble around the goal mouth, and Jersey held the three-goal lead into the final frame.

Evgeni Malkin scored the Penguins' second power play goal of the afternoon midway through the third period, putting him one point ahead of Claude Giroux for the league scoring title, but David Clarkson took advantage of an empty net and a Brodeur clearing attempt to put a bow on the affair as New Jersey closed to within one point of the Penguins in the Eastern Conference standings by a final score of 5-2.

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