The return of Ilya Kovalchuk was a belated success, with an emphasis on belated.
Kovalchuk, booed throughout his return to Prudential Center on Tuesday, ended up scoring late in a 5-1 win against the New Jersey Devils that gave the Kings consecutive wins for the first time since Dec. 23-27.
Kovalchuk’s goal arrived with less than three minutes remaining, after many of the 14,508 fans had left. “I think there would have been a little more excitement if it was earlier in the game,” Dustin Brown said.
There was more to the win than the ex-Kov-ation point, though.
Here’s what we learned:
Adrian Kempe and Tyler Toffoli have finally found the net. Kempe, fresh off a two-goal performance against the New York Rangers, scored goals in consecutive games for the first time since Feb. 2-7 of last year, which were the last goals of his season as he went empty for the next 33 games.
“I don’t know if I knew it would happen,” coach Willie Desjardins said. “But they’re good players, and I’ve always had lots of confidence in them. So it’s great to see them get rewarded. They play hard. They’ve both got good skill. It’s nice to see them get something out of it finally.”
The three goals by the Kings, from Toffoli and Dion Phaneuf, in 112 seconds, were the fastest three goals to start a period in franchise history. The previous record was 150 seconds on Nov.4, 1972 against the New York Islanders.
It was still weird for Kovalchuk to see red. It had been more than five years since Kovalchuk played here, and the only former teammates that remain are Andy Greene and Travis Zajac. But Kovalchuk said it was awkward to return, boos and all.
“The time flies,” he said. “The younger guys game in — they got [Nico] Hischier, all those guys — really skilled group of guys there. This year is not their year but I’m pretty sure they have a bright future here.”
Dustin Brown was OK. Brown took a high stick to the throat from Blake Coleman and wearily made his way to the bench in the second period. Brown said with a hoarse voice afterward that he was fine, and Desjardins said he didn’t have to go through concussion protocol.