It has less to do with a huge contract than with enormous expectations.
The Devils cannot expect Ilya Kovalchuk to win them a Stanley Cup all by himself, but they can expect the Russian winger to be a difference-maker at crucial points in the playoffs.
A loss to the Florida Panthers Thursday night at the Prudential Center in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals would put the Devils on the brink of elimination yet again. They would be down, 3-1, with the series shifting to Florida.
So, if not now, when?
“In different ways you challenge players and you put that responsibility on them,” coach Pete DeBoer said yesterday. “We have different ways of getting that message to guys. As a group of 20, plus coaches, we have to all be better. We have to ramp our level up. We’re in a fight here, as we expected we would be.”