LOS ANGELES - After the 96th combined regular season and playoff game of his freshman year, Adam Henrique remarked that he doesn't feel like an NHL rookie anymore. His New Jersey Devils teammates feel the same way.
"I don't know how many games he's played now, but we don't look at him as a rookie anymore," Devils veteran forward Dainius Zubrus said. "He has so much skill."
That skill was on display when the Devils needed it most in Game 4. With less than five minutes remaining and the score tied 1-1, Henrique took a hard rink-wide pass off his skates from linemate David Clarkson. He knocked the puck up to his stick and then fired in a short-side shot on the Los Angeles Kings near unbeatable goalie Jonathan Quick for a 3-1 win at the Staples Center on Wednesday.
"A big-time play," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "Off a skate, a quick shot up top. I mean, especially with the way Quick has been playing. It was a goal-scorer's play. He's got a knack for that."
It was the third game-winner for the 22-year-old rookie in this playoff run. He eliminated the Florida Panthers in the first round series with a double-overtime goal, and scored another in extra time to finish off the New York Rangers in the East final.
"It's fun," said the Calder Trophy nominee, whose team now trails the Kings 3-1 with Game 5 back in New Jersey on Saturday. "This is where every kid dreams of playing one day. We know it's going to be a tough task to come back. We'll take it one game at a time. [Devils goalie] Marty [Brodeur] played great, kept us in it. The guys battled hard.
"There's no quit in the group in here. We know we can do it. We know we can put four together and come back."
Henrique knows about comebacks. In junior, his Windsor Spitfires trailed the Kitchener Rangers 3-0 in the 2010 OHL West final and wound up bouncing back to not only with the league championship but the Memorial Cup, too.
This stage doesn't faze Henrique. He even violated Stanley Cup playoff tradition and shaved off his playoff beard after Game 3 to leave a killer mustache in the hopes of changing the Devils' fortunes in this series.
Henrique was raised on the family tobacco farm in Burford, Ont., not far away from Wayne Gretzky's hometown of Brantford. In fact, after his days with the Burford Coyotes, he continued his minor hockey days with the Brantford 99ers.
Henrique demonstrated in junior that he could score big goals. In 2009, he sent the Spitfires to the Memorial Cup final with another overtime winner in the tournament semifinal. They won again the following year. Henrique wound up with eight goals in 10 Memorial Cup games.
"Everybody wants to be out there in those situations," Henrique said. "You want to be counted on by your teammates, your coaches. It's nice that they have that trust in me to put me out there in those certain times of the game.
"I just play. I'm not thinking about what's going to happen if I score, if I don't score. I'm just a kid playing hockey, having some fun."
Henrique was the youngest player in the Devils lineup on Wednesday. The oldest, 40-year-old Brodeur, was pretty good, too. He stoned Kings forward Simon Gagne on a breakaway and got some help when a couple shots dinged the post behind him.
"Goalies, we're always in good position," Brodeur joked. "That's why they hit the crossbar."
After the first three games of the series, the Devils simply felt they didn't get the bounces. It looked that way again on Wednesday. After Patrik Elias put the Devils up 1-0 in the third period, a soft boarding penalty on Clarkson gave the Kings a power play, in which Drew Doughty scored a minute after Elias' goal.
But Henrique pushed the Devils to a win a few shifts later.
"We finally got rewarded," DeBoer said. "Like I said, I've liked our game and our efforts the last three games. We just haven't found a way to win until tonight. So hopefully that gets the ball rolling."
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