“The last time we played them, it wasn’t pretty,” Kovalchuk said.
Both former Thrashers came up big Friday to help the Devils avenge that lopsided loss.
Backup goalie Hedberg made 28 saves in a rare start and Kovalchuk sealed the game with a late goal, giving the Devils a 3-1 victory that snapped a six-game losing streak and gave Jacques Lemaire his first victory since replacing John MacLean behind the bench.
Lemaire lost his first three games after taking over for the fired MacLean on Dec. 23.
“It’s like my first win ever,” Lemaire said.
Rookie defenseman Mark Fayne scored his second NHL goal and captain Jamie Langenbrunner had his first in more than a month for New Jersey.
“We hit rock bottom and it was an embarrassment to lose so many games in a row,” Langenbrunner said. “But we’ve done a better job of late. We did some good things [Wednesday night] against the Rangers [in a 3-1 loss]. We knew the breaks had to go our way for once. We got some chances and made the most of them.”
Dustin Byfuglien had his 15th goal for Atlanta. He leads NHL defenseman in goals and points (40).
Hedberg has five victories in 12 starts this season, while Brodeur was five in 24 starts.
“I’m doing whatever I can to help this team, whether it’s playing or watching,” said Hedberg, who signed with New Jersey as a free agent over the summer after playing with Atlanta. “To come back and beat them after the way they beat us makes this better. I think this will give everyone a boost. We haven’t had a lot of breaks lately, so this was big to get the win.”
Atlanta, coming off a shootout loss to Boston at home Thursday night, lost for the fifth time in six games.
Byfuglien cut it to 2-1 with 7:46 left, but Kovalchuk beat Chris Mason on a breakaway 1:26 later to restore the two-goal margin.
“This wasn’t the best of years,” Kovalchuk said. “This year is over. We can turn the page and start a new year and if we do, we can turn things around. We needed this win. Six in a row was just too much.”