NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - The Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey Devils snapped a run of three defeats with a 5-2 victory over the Nashville Predators on Friday.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored what turned out to be the game-winner at 8:24 in the third period for his first goal as a New Jersey player in his fifth game with the Devils since his trade from Atlanta last week.
"It's nice when the fans are behind you. Scoring that first goal is good," the Russian told reporters. "Next time I'll get a hat trick."
"Our top guys were better than their top guys," said Devils coach Jacques Lemaire. "They pretty much all scored. They played well."
New Jersey had struggled offensively in their previous seven games, scoring more than three goals just twice, and fans threw hats on the ice after Kovalchuk's goal gave New Jersey a 3-2 lead.
"His goal made it three, and that's what the hats were all about. It's been a while since we scored three," Lemaire said.
Sparking the New Jersey offense was Lemaire's decision to move Elias to center between Kovalchuk and Dainius Zubrus in the second period.
"I wasn't completely pleased with the way we were going in the first," said Lemaire. "A change in the game sometimes makes things click. I thought about it in earlier games, but didn't do it."
Cal O'Reilly and Jordin Tootoo scored for Nashville, who took a 2-1 lead early in the second period.
Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne kept the Predators in the game, especially in the first period when they were outshot 13-7.
Despite his 23 saves, Rinne shouldered the blame for Kovalchuk's deciding goal.
"Kovalchuk was moving laterally, sideways, and just picked the corner and beat me there," said Rinne. "I saw it all the way but just couldn't make the save."
(Reporting by Mike Mouat in Windsor, Ontario. Editing by Nick Mulvenney)