The odds are still stacked against them, but Ilya Kovalchuk and the Devils are climbing in the Eastern Conference standings and haven't given up on making the playoffs.

They demonstrated that again Wednesday night by rallying for a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Prudential Center.

Kovalchuk continued to lead the way and earn his $100 million contract, setting up the tying goal late in the second period and then scoring the go-ahead goal with 9:50 left in the third.

"Kovy's a different player," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. "Kovy can do a lot of things on his own and he's got a knack for scoring and making plays. He's got a touch. That's why he's getting so much money."

Kovalchuk snapped a 1-all tie with his team-leading 22nd goal of the season. Travis Zajac pressured Tampa Bay's Matt Smaby into coughing up the puck in the bottom of the right circle, then fed Kovalchuk for a one-timed slap shot from between the circles that beat Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson high and inside the left post.

"It was a little in front of me, so I had to take a quick couple of steps and I shot it," Kovalchuk said.

The game-winning goal was Kovalchuk's eighth of the season – one behind Washington's Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead. Kovalchuk has five in the last 11 games.

Newest Devil Dave Steckel, acquired in Monday's trade that sent Jason Arnott to Washington, can see similarities in the two superstars.

"Identical out there pretty much," Steckel said. "When you need a goal, he's the guy to score one, and sure enough [Wednesday] he came through. It's amazing every time those guys touch the puck, you never know what's going to happen, but you're usually going to see something special."