By TOM CANAVAN, Associated Press
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Moments after sending the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 2003, Adam Henrique skated to the corner and waited to be mobbed by his teammates.
It's become a common occurrence for the 22-year-old who spent last season in the minor leagues. He notched the series winner in double overtime against Florida in Game 7 in the opening round, and did it again on Friday night in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, sending the rival New York Rangers packing for the season along the way.
And, oh, how sweet it was for the Devils.
The memory of missing the playoffs last season and the ghost of an 18-year-old wound were wiped out with a sweep of this rolling rookie's stick.
Henrique scored off a wild scramble in front at 1:03 into overtime and the Devils eliminated the Rangers 3-2 to advance to the Cup finals against the Los Angeles Kings.
"I mean, this kid's just at the right place, right time, all the time," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "The two biggest goals of the playoffs come off his stick.
"And that's not accidental."
Both goals have been followed by scrums in which teammates surround Henrique and pound on him to celebrate. It's fun, of course, but Henrique is more focused on facing the Kings in a series that will start in New Jersey on Wednesday.
"There's still more things to accomplish," said Henrique, who is a finalist for the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL's top rookie.
"Try to take in as much as I can this whole year. And obviously those are two huge goals, and then probably two of the biggest goals I ever scored. There's still more ahead. We're not done yet. We haven't really won anything. It's a long ride.
"Every kid dreams of playing in the Stanley Cup final. And we have a chance to win. I'm excited, and ready to get started."
After beating Florida, Philadelphia and their biggest rivals, the Rangers, only the Kings stand in the way of a fourth Cup for New Jersey.
"It feels great to get to where we are," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "As Adam said, we still have a lot of work ahead of us. But we've put ourselves in a pretty good position right now, and we've got a chance.
"We'll see what we can do."
This series win came against the Devils' most intense rival, and it was that much more enjoyable — even to those who haven't been around the feud all that long.
"That one was like Christmas," Henrique said.
It also was needed. The Devils, after all, blew a 2-0, first-period lead and didn't want to head back to New York for a Game 7 on Sunday.
"It didn't matter how it got to overtime, we were in a good position," Parise said. "We were at home. We just needed one shot."
Actually, the Devils needed a few shots to win the game.
Henrique's winner came after Henrik Lundqvist stopped Ilya Kovalchuk twice and Alexei Ponikarovsky. The last shot was in the crease and Henrique tapped it home.
"We caught them on a line change and their defensemen were tired," said DeBoer, who was fired by Florida after missing the playoffs in his three seasons with the Panthers.
"We found a way to jam one in. That's the only way you're going to score on Lundqvist. You're not going to get a clean one. You're going to have to work for it around the net.
"And that's what we did."
Ryan Carter and Kovalchuk also scored for the Devils, whose biggest move this year was hiring DeBoer. He has more than proved his coaching ability.
Ruslan Fedotenko and Ryan Callahan tallied for top-seeded New York, which had a good flurry just before New Jersey scored to end it.
The six Rangers on the ice just stayed down in disbelief and frustration. This was very much like Game 5, which the Devils won 5-3. New York carried the play after the first period and had a 35-29 edge in shots.
But when it came time for a game-deciding play to be made, it was a Devil who made it.
"When they scored, it was such an empty feeling," said Lundqvist, who said the puck took a weird bounce on the final play. "It is shocking."
Henrique overcame injury to score this one. He seemed to take a stick from Brian Boyle in the groin area late in the third and had to leave the ice.
He felt no pain after the game winner.
All the Rangers could do was bow their heads and then line up for the traditional handshake after losing to their cross-rival rivals in a series that was close.
"That's playoff hockey, and that's usually where you get an overtime goal," New York's Brandon Prust said. "Just whacking away in front of the net, getting rebounds."
The ageless Martin Brodeur, 40, kept the Devils alive in the third. He stopped a power-play shot by Brad Richards, made a save on Artem Anisimov between the circles and used his stick to deflect a pass from the boards by Carl Hagelin in the final minute just before it got to Marian Gaborik on the edge of the crease.
"There's a reason why he's the best goalie to play the game," Henrique said. "He gives us that extra confidence every night when we got him back there. He's going to give us the chance to win no matter what, even if we're not playing our best. He seems to make those big saves night in, night out, and he did it again tonight."
Lundqvist's best stop in the third was on Dainius Zubrus on a shot from behind the circles.
Facing elimination and down 2-0 after 20 minutes, the Rangers found their game in the second period and tied it at 2-all on goals by Fedotenko and Callahan in a roughly four-minute span.
Carter, who scored the game winner in New York on Wednesday after the Devils blew a 3-0 lead, put New Jersey ahead again at 10:05 of the opening period on a rebound. Kovalchuk added his seventh goal of the postseason on a power play, his fifth with the extra man.
The Devils — as is the tradition for many Cup finalists — did not touch the Prince of Wales Trophy that was presented at center ice. As the team skated off to their locker room, "Glory Days," the 1984 hit from New Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen serenaded them.
The game was played on the 18-year anniversary of the Rangers' dramatic 4-2 Game 6 victory over New Jersey at the Meadowlands, a win that pushed that classic Eastern Conference final series to a Game 7 and eventually led New York to its first Stanley Cup in 54 years. That game, of course, was preceded by a guarantee from Rangers captain Mark Messier, who delivered three goals en route to the victory.
This time, though, there will be no Game 7.
NOTES: The Rangers became the fifth team to play 20 postseason games without reaching the finals. ... TV personality Donald Trump was at the game. ... Devils C Travis Zajac left the ice briefly in the second after being slashed on the left hand by Prust. No penalty was called. ... New Jersey is 4-1 in overtime in the postseason. New York finished 2-3 after regulation. ... This is only the second time the Devils have defeated the Rangers in the postseason in six tries. ... The last time New Jersey played in the Stanley Cup finals, the Devils also played a California team: the Anaheim Ducks in 2003.
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