Kovalchuk, who had five seasons with at least 41 goals (including two with career-best 52) for Atlanta, will try to win his first playoff game in his eighth NHL campaign.
“I am excited,” said Kovalchuk, 26. “to play with guys who have won a (Stanley) Cup already and a lot of young guys like me who just want to win one.
“This is when you show who you really are as a player.”
A lot of people are waiting to see what kind of player Kovalchuk is when he is under playoff pressure. Even though Kovalchuk struggled in his first playoff appearance, a four-game sweep at the hands of the Rangers in 2007, the Devils felt the change of scenery would do Kovalchuk well.
With the window of opportunity to win Stanley Cups on the back of 37-year-old future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur closing, the Devils gambled that Kovalchuk’s offense would put them over the top. With Kovalchuk set to become a free agent on July 1, many general managers will be watching, willing to throw millions his way if he comes through for the Devils.
In the 2007 playoffs, Kovalchuk had a goal and an assist but was so frustrated by the Rangers, he dropped his gloves and attempted to fight Sean Avery.
“I don’t like to think what happened before, but I was only (23) years old, there is a big difference,” said Kovalchuk, the first pick of the 2001 draft. “I am more mature, I have played more games, I have played World Championships. I have played Olympics. So I know now what it is to win the big games.”
According to Kovalchuk, no game is bigger than tonight’s as the Devils attempt to set the tone for the playoffs. Kovalchuk is determined to come through in the clutch.
“You want to be the winner, don’t want to be the loser,” Kovalchuk said. “Always being done by middle of April, it was not fun. Winning the World Championships, it’s good. but all the best players were still here and that’s where the real good hockey is.”