Kovalchuk injury costly for Devils

PHILADELPHIA -- An uphill battle against a potent Philadelphia Flyers team just got significantly steeper for the New Jersey Devils, who will be without Ilya Kovalchuk for Game 2 of their second-round series Tuesday night.

Kovalchuk has what Devils president and GM Lou Lamoriello described as a lower-body injury and did not travel to Philadelphia for Game 2.

“He's had this since the middle of the first series, and progressively, I think it's at a point where it's not positive to him, and it's not positive for the team if he can't be at 100 percent,” Lamoriello said Tuesday morning.

The loss will test the Devils’ offensive depth because Kovalchuk logs more minutes than any other forward in the NHL and has averaged 25:09 a night during the playoffs. He led the team during the regular season with 37 goals and 83 points, good for fifth in the NHL.

Devils coach Pete DeBoer will be especially taxed with trying to fill Kovalchuk's void on the power play, where, as Zach Parise pointed out Tuesday morning, Kovalchuk plays pretty much the entire two minutes.

Three of Kovalchuk’s six postseason points have come with the man advantage, including an assist in Sunday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Flyers that opened this Eastern Conference semifinal series.

“Playoffs are about injuries, overcoming injuries, using your depth. Everyone deals with that stuff. It’s nothing we haven’t dealt with before, having Travis [Zajac] gone for most of the year. It’s business as usual, and someone will have to jump in and take those minutes,” DeBoer said Tuesday.

For most of the Devils’ first-round, seven-game victory over Florida, Kovalchuk played on a line with Parise and center Zajac. But in Game 1 against Philadelphia on Sunday, DeBoer split Kovalchuk and Parise. Without Kovalchuk, David Clarkson could see more top-six minutes and more power-play time. Clarkson has six assists in the playoffs but has yet to score after netting 30 goals during the regular season.

As well, one of the players on the team’s effective fourth line of Steve Bernier, Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter could see more exposure in critical situations.

“It’s something we’re working through," DeBoer said. "We’ve got some options."

Peter Harrold, normally a defenseman, has played some at forward, and some of the drills at the morning skate indicated he could move up to a fourth-line role. Rookie defenseman Adam Larsson is expected to see his first NHL playoff action.

Larsson has been a healthy scratch throughout the postseason and during the latter stages of the regular season. Tim Sestito is also an option in the Devils' lineup.

“I think in playoffs it’s always guys that are getting injured or guys get put in situations, and you’ve got to do your best with it," Clarkson said. "If a guy feels he’s going to get more opportunity, maybe it’s excitement, but at the end of the day when you lose a guy like Kovalchuk, it definitely hurts you and takes away from what you’ve done all season. I think we've just got to continue to keep pushing. Hopefully, he’s not gone too long, and we’ll have him back here soon."

Said Parise, “That's the way it's going to be. There's no sense in us sitting and thinking about it and pouting about it. [Kovalchuk is] not going to play tonight, and we're going to have to try to win one without him."

If the Flyers, who lead the postseason with an average of 4.86 goals per game, are tempted to be overconfident with news that the Devils will be without their most dynamic forward, they shouldn’t be.

As forward Danny Briere pointed out to reporters at the Flyers’ morning skate at their practice facility, a similar situation presented itself in the first round when Pittsburgh was without four regulars, including a suspended James Neal, and the Flyers lost 10-3.