The Thrashers are still alive, but the franchise's all-time leading goal scorer can perhaps extinguish any realistic hopes his former team has left.
Plenty is on the line in Kovalchuk's first trip to Philips Arena as a visitor Tuesday night, when the Devils continue their battle for the Atlantic Division title with Martin Brodeur one win shy of 600.
Kovalchuk was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft and has been an offensive force since his rookie season of 2001-02. No player has more goals than Kovalchuk's 337 over the past eight seasons.
The first 328 of those came with Atlanta (34-32-13), which has made the playoffs once in its 11-year history. With Kovalchuk set to become a free agent July 1 after turning down a 12-year extension worth more than $100 million, general manager Don Waddell sent the franchise player to the Devils on Feb. 4.
New Jersey (45-26-7) had 72 points and was in second place in the Eastern Conference at the time of the trade, while Atlanta was in 11th but sat a point out of eighth. Since then, both teams have earned 25 points.
The Thrashers are three points out of the eighth spot with three games to play, and could be a point closer if not for a late collapse in Pittsburgh on Saturday. Sergei Gonchar tied the score with 1:14 left in regulation, then Jordan Leopold beat Johan Hedberg to give the Penguins a 4-3 overtime victory.
"We had two points and we found a way to squander that," defenseman Ron Hainsey said.
The two most prominent players the Thrashers received from New Jersey have fit in well, with forward Niclas Bergfors totaling 17 points in 24 games and defenseman Johnny Oduya posting a plus-nine rating.
Kovalchuk has nine goals and 14 assists in 23 games, with four goals and seven assists in the last seven contests.
Brodeur and the Devils let a point slip away Friday night, giving up a tying goal in the last minute of regulation and falling 2-1 in a shootout to Chicago.
Brodeur got his shutout a night later, stopping 26 shots in a 4-0 road win over Carolina as Kovalchuk chipped in two assists.
The future Hall of Famer, who earned his NHL-best 599th victory, is 9-2-2 with two ties and a 2.25 goals-against average at Atlanta.
"I felt good," Brodeur said. "(Coach) Jacques (Lemaire) asked me before the game how I felt and I told him. The schedule's been pretty good ... and travel hasn't been too bad. Especially with the days I got off at the Olympics, I'm feeling pretty good right now."
Brodeur, though, is 1-1-0 with a 3.89 GAA versus Atlanta this season, and was pulled after allowing three goals on six shots in the first period at Philips Arena on Dec. 19. New Jersey, however, rallied to win 5-4.
Zach Parise has six goals in his last six games against the Thrashers.