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.