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Kovalchuk scores to lead Devils past Predators

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Ilya Kovalchuk made his first goal with the slumping Devils a big one, snapping a third-period tie to lead New Jersey to a 5-2 victory over the Nashville Predators on Friday night.

Acquired in a blockbuster trade with Atlanta last week, Kovalchuk took a pass from Patrik Elias and beat Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne with a snap shot from between the circles at 8:24 of the final period.

The fans roared and quickly started throwing hats on the ice, something usually reserved for a hat trick. After waiting four-plus games for the high-scoring Russian to score, the action seemed appropriate.

Elias, Travis Zajac, Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner also scored, with Parise putting in the rebound of Kovalchuk's power-play chance with 6:52 left to ice the Devils' fifth win in 16 games (5-9-2).

Martin Brodeur finished with 19 saves to help the Devils snap a three-game losing streak.

Cal O'Reilly and Jordin Tootoo tallied for the Predators, 3-7-2 in their last 12 games.

Kovalchuk nearly got his first goal for New Jersey in the opening minute when his monster slap shot clanged off the crossbar.

Rinne had no chance on the go-ahead goal. Langenbrunner carried the puck deep into the Nashville zone and sent it behind the net, where Elias collected it and skated to the left corner. The captain of the Czech Republic Olympic team turned and found Kovalchuk cutting into the middle of the ice for a wide-open shot and his 32nd goal of the season.

Parise, who missed Wednesday night's 3-2 loss to the Flyers, corralled a loose rebound and fired it past Rinne for his 27th goal. Langenbrunner, who finished with a goal and two assists, scored into an empty net with 41.2 seconds to play.

Tootoo had put the Predators ahead 2-1 in the opening minute of the second period with a 40-foot shot that found the lower corner of the net for his second goal in as many games.

Elias tied the game less than 2 minutes later with another pinshot shot. He took a pass from defenseman Mike Mottau and beat Rinne from 10 feet above the left circle with a shot that found the top corner of the net.

For the first time in three games, the Devils didn't blow a 2-0 lead. This time it was only a 1-0 lead.

Zajac put New Jersey ahead midway through the first period with his 19th goal. Langenbrunner, the captain of the U.S. Olympic team, did all the work, carrying the puck from center ice to near the goal before finding a wide-open Zajac with a pass across the crease.

O'Reilly, who got his first goal of the season on Tuesday against the Islanders, tied the game with 90 seconds left in the period. He took a pass from Colin Wilson and beat Brodeur with a shot from between the circles.

NOTES: Devils D Anssi Salmela missed his second straight game with a concussion. New Jersey recalled defensemen Cory Murphy and Matt Corrente from Lowell of the AHL. Both played, although Corrente skated as a RW on the fourth line. ... Predators C Jerred Smithson, who suffered a lower-body injury against the Rangers on Wednesday, was not in the lineup. ... LW Jay Pandolfo (healthy scratch) missed his first game since Dec. 4.