Back in 1994, Alexei Kovalev was a 21-year old right wing in his second season with the Rangers. The former 1991 first round pick had his share of ups and downs under the bright lights. The Russian spent two tours of duty with the Blueshirts including that fateful ’93-94 season when the franchise won its first Stanley Cup in 54 years. He was a key contributor notching nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points in 23 games during his first postseason.
That included one of the biggest goals during a hotly contested Eastern Conference Final against the Devils. Facing elimination in a hostile building at Brendan Byrne Arena, the Rangers trailed 2-0 late in the second period of Game Six. Prior to captain Mark Messier’s legendary natural hat trick in the third, Kovalev took a Messier drop inside the blueline and beat rookie Martin Brodeur to cut the deficit in half. The rest is history.
Following the Rangers’ exciting seven-game series triumph over their Hudson rival, they faced the Canucks in another wild series that went the distance. After splitting the first two at MSG, the Rangers responded to Mike Richter’s highlight reel save on Pavel Bure by taking the next two in Vancouver to go up 3-1. During Game Four, Kovalev scored the beauty above deking Kirk McLean badly. The goal was so pretty, NHL ’95 captured it perfectly as a sliding Kovalev flew into the boards. It inspired a memorable cover of everyone’s favorite hockey game. While NHL ’94 still grabs all the headlines, there probably isn’t a better cover than the one Kovalev made.
Despite possessing some of the best talent ever seen, Kovalev had an inconsistent NHL career. His best years were spent in Pittsburgh following a trade that saw the Rangers reacquire Petr Nedved. While Nedved had his moments mostly playing alongside Czech Mates Jan Hlavac and Radek Dvorak, Kovalev delivered a great season in ’00-01 achieving career highs in goals (44), assists (51), points (95), power play goals (12) and game-winners (9). Our favorite player inspired the classic Kovy274Hart AOL screen name back when I worked for ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut. That year is best remembered for Mario Lemieux’s comeback. Super Mario teamed up again with Jaromir Jagr while Kovalev played with cohesive linemates Robert Lang and Martin Straka. If memory serves correctly, Jan Hrdina got the opportunity to play with Lemieux and Jagr giving them two potent lines. They still were no match for the defending champion Devils in a lopsided Conference Final. New Jersey went onto lose in seven to Colorado.
For his NHL career, Kovalev finished with 430 goals, 599 assists and 1,029 points in 1,316 games. He played twice for the Rangers and Pens while also having a successful stint with the Canadiens before fading out with the Senators and Panthers. He was a solid playoff performer registering 45 goals and 55 assists for 100 points in 123 games. After retiring, AK27 has signed with EHC Visp in Switzerland. He’s 40.