The New Jersey Devils reached the Stanley Cup Finals by eliminating cross-river rival New York Rangers with a 3-2 sudden-death victory on Friday, as rookie center Adam Henrique produced more overtime magic.
Henrique, whose overtime goal clinched New Jersey’s seven-game playoff series against the Florida Panthers, did it again when he scored 63 seconds into extra-time to set off a wild celebration in the packed Prudential Center.
The 22-year-old Henrique stuffed the puck past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist after a mad scramble in front of the net, to give New Jersey a 4-2 triumph over New York in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
The victory put the Devils into the NHL championship series against Western Conference champion Los Angeles Kings, with Game One on Wednesday in New Jersey.
“I was Johnny on the spot for that one, I guess,” Henrique said. “I couldn’t see the puck. I knew he [Lundqvist] was down and I was just praying it would go under his pad.”
“That’s a goal you dream about. It’s a good feeling to see everybody come off the bench. I didn’t even mind being at the bottom of the pile,” he added.
The Devils lost a 2-0 first period to a rousing second-period comeback by the Rangers, but in the end New Jersey won the Hudson River battle and gave their 40-year-old netminder Martin Brodeur a chance at winning a fourth Stanley Cup ring.
“This is to go to the big dance,” a beaming Brodeur said after stopping 33 of 35 Rangers shots.
“When you’re a kid you dream of a chance to win the Stanley Cup. This win gives us the opportunity to go for it and along the way we beat a big rival,” he said.
It looked like it would be easy sailing for New Jersey after first-period goals by Ryan Carter and Ilya Kovalchuk produced a 2-0 lead that had the red-clad crowd rocking with delight.
Carter slipped in a rebound of Stephen Gionta’s shot off a feed from Steve Bernier on an odd-man rush halfway through the opening period.
The Carter-Gionta connection on New Jersey’s fourth line also produced the game-winning score in Wednesday’s Game Five win for the Devils at Madison Square Garden.
New Jersey doubled their advantage four minutes later with a power-play goal on a one-timer by Kovalchuk from a crisp feed by Dainius Zubrus.
The Rangers, however, roared back in the second period with goals from Ruslan Fedotenko and Ryan Callahan to equalize 2-2, and after a scoreless third period the game went to overtime.
New Jersey swarmed the net in a frantic attack on Lundqvist and Henrique delivered another series-clinching goal.
“We caught them on a line change there, and we got a little room and were able to jam one in,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said.
New York coach John Tortorella said he was proud of how his young team battled back.
“We got kicked a little bit early, but got our swagger back and I thought we were coming,” the Rangers coach said. “But we didn’t score the big goal and they did.”