Kovalchuk scores 3 to lead Devils over Islanders
New Jersey Devils' Ilya Kovachuk, center, of Russia, is taken down by New York Islanders' Steve Staios, right, for a penalty as Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, left, of Kazakhstan, looks on during the second period of an NHL hockey game on Thursday, March 8, 2012, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
NEWARK, N.J. - Ilya Kovalchuk scored three goals to record his second hat trick in just over three weeks to lead the New Jersey Devils to a 5-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night.
Patrik Elias and David Clarkson also scored and Martin Brodeur made 29 saves as the Devils earned their 38th win, matching last season's total when they missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
Kovalchuk's linemates, Adam Henrique and Zach Parise, each had two assists, with Parise scoring his 400th NHL point.
Defenceman Andy MacDonald scored for the Islanders, who had a two-game winning streak snapped and taking another hit to their already dim playoff hopes. Evgeni Nabokov stopped 15 shots and lost for the sixth time in 16 games (10-5-1).
The streaky Kovalchuk has a team-high 29 goals, and he appears to be on a run. He scored in an emotional win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday and has four goals in two games after going nine without one.
His final goal at 8:09 of the third period came a little more than a minute after Elias scored off a rebound to give New Jersey a 3-1 lead.
Parise found Kovalchuk between the circles, and the Russian one-timed a shot past Nabokov. He pumped his fists to celebrate as hats started fluttering to the ice.
Kovalchuk staked the Devils to a 2-0 lead with an even-strength goal at 8:07 of the first period and a power-play tally at 3:33 of the second.
Parise set up the first one with a great pass to Kovalchuk at the left side of the net. His initial shot at an open cage missed everything and hit off the end boards, but the puck bounced right back to him, and he lifted a shot over Nabokov.
Kovalchuk's second goal came 14 seconds after Islanders defenceman Steve Staios was whistled for tripping him. Defenceman Marek Zidlicky slid the puck to Kovalchuk for a shot that he ripped past a defenceless Nabokov.
The Islanders, who outshot the Devils 19-11 in the first two periods, didn't get on the board until MacDonald scored a fluke goal with 3:39 left in the second. The Islanders broke into the Devils' zone on a 3-on-2 rush, and MacDonald chased down a loose puck behind the New Jersey net. He fired a shot that hit Brodeur's right arm and went in. Brodeur immediately looked up at the rafters in disgust.
The Devils blew the game open with three goals in the third.
NOTES: Zidlicky got two points, his first since joining the Devils last month. ... The teams have split the first four games of the six-game season series. ... Devils F Alexei Ponikarovsky returned to the lineup after missing three games with an undisclosed lower body injury. ... The game was the 599th of Nabokov's career. ... MacDonald's goal snapped a 31-game goal drought.