Asked Wednesday by longtime Devils writer Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger if Game 5 could be his farewell to New Jersey, Kovalchuk said, "No, because we're going to win tomorrow."
Kovalchuk did not back down Thursday morning after passing on his team's option skate at the Prudential Center.
"I think we're good enough to win, especially on our home ice," he said. "Our fans deserve to see more playoff hockey. We're a confident group here, so I think we can do it. We have to play every game like it's our last game."
That has been the Devils' theme since dropping both games in Philadelphia to fall behind 3-1 in this opening round series. They can't win three games in one night. They've done it before (most recently, in 2000 against Brian Boucher and the Flyers). They've had it done to them before (losing a 3-2 lead a year ago to Carolina in the first round).
"The last game in a series is without a doubt the hardest to win," said goalie Martin Brodeur, still in search of his 100th postseason victory. "We are the best example of that. We know what happened last year, but we've also been one of the few teams in history to come back from 3-1."
The door is open for a Devils comeback. There are four players still here from the 3-1 reversal in 2000 against the Flyers: Brodeur, Colin White, Patrick Elias and Jay Pandolfo. They only have to win one game on the road: Game 6 on Sunday. The Flyers, undoubtedly a deep team at forward, have lost two of their best forwards -- Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne -- to foot injuries that will require surgery and keep them out of the lineup past the end of this series.
Asked for his reaction to the news of injuries to Carter and Gagne, Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire said, "I thought it was (expletive)." Then he laughed. "I don't believe nobody."
Chris Pronger's response to Kovalchuk's guarantee: "He can say what ever he wants," said Pronger. "Talk is cheap." ...
Looking for a spark, a shakeup or something, the Devils will make a lineup change or two for Game 5. Lemaire wouldn't detail his adjustments, only saying, "There could be some." Pandolfo, a member of the 2000 team that came back from 3-1 to beat the Flyers, could make his series debut. Pandolfo said he had no idea. ...
Lemaire disagreed with the notion that his team's opponent losing a pair of impact players should be a source of motivation for his team. "I think the players should only have one thing in mind. It's to come out with their best game for 60 minutes. Nothing else. Never mind who plays on the other side or who doesn't play. They have to focus on what they do well. Nothing else."
In place of Carter and Gagne, the Flyers are expected to insert forwards Ville Leino and David Laliberte into the lineup. Leino was signed by Detroit last summer out of the Finnish League and traded to Philadelphia at the deadline for D Olle Kristian Tollefsen and a fifth round draft pick. In 13 games with the Flyers, the 6-0 left wing had two goals and two assists. In 11 games with the Flyers, Laliberte had a goal and two assists. The 6-1 right wing spent most of the season with the Flyers' AHL affiliate in Adirondack.
According to Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, Carter and Gagne will undergo foot surgeries by Dr. Steven Raikin on Friday at the Riverview Surgery Center. Gagne will have two screws inserted into his right big toe. He could return to the lineup in three weeks. Carter will have a plate inserted into the shaft of his metatarsal of the second toe on his right foot. He will be on cructhes for approximately six weeks.
After his full team took the morning skate, Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette, in his briefing with reporters, said captain Mike Richards has been his team's best player throughout the series. Richards has two goals and four assists in the first four games. ...
The Devils had an optional skate this morning at the Prudential Center. Ten players participated. ...
Devils LW Zach Parise pointed out the disparity between his team's penalty minutes in the regular season and the playoffs, all the while sending a message. "We were one of the lowest penalized teams in the league all season," said Parise. "Now we're getting eight, nine calls against us a game. That's really uncharacteristic of us. But to be fair, they're calling the games the same for both teams. Our special teams have to be ready to do a good job."