"For some reason, we were talking about it before the game," Kovalchuk said. "I really don't know why. But Pete said that if there was a penalty shot in the game, I would be the one to take it and I told him I'd get it."
Kovalchuk scored on a penalty shot in the first period and had two assists, Martin Brodeur made several brilliant stops among his 29 saves and the Devils beat the Penguins 3-1.
Zach Parise scored an empty-net goal with 49.5 seconds left as the Devils ended a four-game winless skid against Pittsburgh and won for the ninth time in 12 games overall. The Penguins lost their second straight game after a four-game win streak.
The 39-year-old Brodeur stopped Matt Cooke with a spectacular glove save to preserve the lead with about 4 minutes to go. It was his 11th win of the season, third straight and his record 636th victory of his career. It was also his 43rd win in 75 games against Pittsburgh.
"It was a good win against a team with a lot of firepower," Brodeur said. "I know I might feel good now, but I'm going to feel it later on. I think the penalty shot got us going and we played with the lead and played under control. I think as a unit, we all feel a lot more comfortable now."
Kovalchuk praised the veteran goalie.
"I said that he was definitely our first star tonight," said Kovalchuk, who received the top star honour from the media. "He made saves on breakaways, two-on-ones, everything. He played like he was 25 again. "
Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias each had assists on Parise's 13th goal of the season, giving both players two assists for the game.
Chris Kunitz scored a third-period goal for the Penguins. Marc Andre-Fleury made 18 saves in goal for Pittsburgh.
The Devils were awarded a penalty shot with five minutes left in the first period after a scramble in front.
Rookie defenceman Adam Larsson first fired a shot that hit the right post and Patrik Elias tried to poke home the rebound, but Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik fell on the loose puck in the crease, awarding a penalty shot to the Devils.
Kovalchuk took the puck in on Fleury and went straight on with a wrist shot that went through Fleury's pads for the 1-0 lead. It was Kovalchuk's 12th goal of the season and the second time he converted on a penalty shot in three attempts in his career.
"You can do a lot of things when you're coming at him that quick," Kovalchuk said. "Lately, I've been doing pretty good with penalty shots in the shootouts, but there's a little more pressure during the game like that. I just wanted to make the goalie (Fleury) think a little and freeze him."
Soon after the Devils scored, Dainius Zubrus was called for elbowing and Pittsburgh had several chances in that power-play sequence. But Brodeur came up big, making three saves, two on Evgeni Malkin from point-blank range.
The Devils then capitalized on a 5 on 3, with Arron Asham serving a double minor for high sticking and unsportsmanlike conduct and Jordan Staal off for slashing. With 23 seconds left before the first intermission, Kovalchuk fired a shot that Fleury saved, then Elias hit the post with the rebound. The puck danced behind Fleury on the goal line, but an alert Clarkson pushed it in for his 13th goal of the season. Elias and Kovalchuk were credited with assists on the play that gave the Devils a 2-0 lead.
Tyler Kennedy had the best scoring chance in the second period, when the Penguins centre skated in on Brodeur on a breakaway. But Brodeur stopped Kennedy with a diving kick save with 8:03 remaining. The Penguins were the aggressors in the second period, but Brodeur stopped all 12 shots he faced.
"I felt like I had him beat, but he cut off the angle a little and that threw me off just a bit," Kennedy said. "He's a great goalie and that was a great save by him. I thought we had some quality chances against him, but we didn't capitalize."
Pittsburgh broke through in the third. With Mark Fayne in the penalty box for hooking, Matt Niskanen purposely shot the puck from the point off the back boards. An alert Kunitz then slid the backhanded rebound past Brodeur for the goal at 9:25 that made it 2-1. It was Kunitz's 13th goal of the season.
Brodeur came up big toward the end, including an amazing stop of a point-blank attempt by Cooke with four minutes left.
"I knew he was there," Brodeur said of Cooke. "I saw our defenceman come across. It was just a reaction play and I managed to get the tip of my glove on it. I got lucky."
NOTES: Penguins C Sidney Crosby missed a ninth straight game due to symptoms from a concussion he sustained in the NHL Winter Classic against Washington a year ago. Crosby returned to play in eight games this season, but went out again Dec. 5 and has yet to return. There is no timetable for Crosby's return. ... The Penguins were also without defencemen Kris Letang and Robert Bortuzzo, both of whom are out with concussion-related symptoms, too. ... Fleury started his fifth straight game in goal and ninth in 10 for the Penguins. ... The Penguins were 3-0-1 in their previous four games against New Jersey and 5-1-1 in the last seven. ... Devils D Henrik Tallinder returned to action after missing the previous six games due to back spasms. Tallinder had played in 217 consecutive games prior to going out Dec. 16. ... Devils D Anton Volchenkov went out in the second period with an undisclosed lower body injury and did not return.