The New Jersey Devils will vie for a potential fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history after completing a six-game series win Friday night over the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference final, courtesy of rookie Adam Henrique's goal 63 seconds into overtime.
Henrique picked up the puck in the crease off a mad scramble and flipped it into the net for a 3-2 final, a sequence of events in which New York's star goalie Henrik Lundqvist twice couldn't locate the disc.
Henrique also scored the series winner in overtime in the first round against Florida.
New Jersey will host Los Angeles on Wednesday for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m. ET).
Turning the page
New Jersey started the 2010-11 season a woeful 10-29-2.
Since then, regular season and playoff games including up to Friday: 88-44-9
For the second straight game, the Devils roared early. Ryan Carter —who scored the winner in Game 5 — and Ilya Kovalchuk put New Jersey up 2-0 just over 12 minutes into the game.
But the Devils have been suspect in the second period in the postseason, outscored now 17-6 in the middle stanza. Ruslan Fedotenko and captain Ryan Callahan helped the Rangers even the score with goals on Marty Brodeur.
Brodeur made 33 saves, possibly none bigger than a pad save in third to deny Brad Richards on a New York power-play chance.
"We lean on him night in and night out and he's the guy who gives us a chance," Henrique told Hockey Night in Canada on the ice after the game.
The outcome came 18 years to the date of Mark Messier's legendary performance in Game 6 of the East final for the Rangers against a 22-year-old Brodeur and the Devils. The Rangers came back from 3-2 down to win the series, ultimately ending the franchise's 54-year Cup drought.
The Devils advance to the Stanley Cup final for the fifth time since 1995 but the first since the lockout, all with Brodeur as the No. 1 netminder. New Jersey last played in the final in 2003.
"We're going to celebrate here tonight and enjoy ourselves," said Brodeur, 40. "It takes a lot of hard work to get to the point we're at right here and we're definitely looking forward to get back into the finals."
The matchup between New Jersey and Los Angeles with feature a sixth seed and an eighth seed, unprecedented for a Cup final. Both teams knocked off the No. 1 seeds from their conference.
The Devils beat the Kings in both meetings this season, although they haven't played since October.
"Their record speaks for itself — who they've beaten and how they've beaten them … we're looking forward to the challenge," said Devils coach Pete De Boer.
New York finishes the playoffs having split 20 games, most of which came down to the wire.
"After getting through the first period, I thought we played a really good hockey game," said Rangers coach John Tortorella.
The first goal of Game 6 came about after a bad pinch at the point by Rangers defenceman Marc Staal. Steve Bernier led a 3-on-1 and found Stephen Gionta coming down the middle for a solo chance against Lundqvist. The Rangers goaltender stopped the shot, but Carter swatted the rebound home for his fourth of the playoffs.
Kovalchuk's seventh goal of the postseason and fifth on the power play was a thing of beauty. All five Devils skaters touched the puck with tape to tape passes with Dainius Zubrus finding Kovalchuk alone low in the left circle for a shot that Lundqvist had little chance to stop.
New Jersey led 3-0 in the previous game before holding on for a 5-3 victory.
"That's been critical for us the entire playoffs, dictating play and coming out ready to play," said De Boer.
Defenceman Ryan McDonagh, who assisted on both goals, made the big play to get New York back in the game. He collected the puck above the left circle, skated around the net and tried a wrap around. The shot didn't go on goal but it turned out to be a perfect pass to Fedotenko who a tap-in into an open net at 9:47.
Callahan, who had a goal go off his leg on Wednesday, tied the game at 13:41 when Dan Girardi's shot from the right point deflected off his leg into the open lower corner of the net. Callahan's sixth of the post-season was set up when Brandon
Dubinsky won a face-off in the left circle.
"I couldn't be happier how we responded after again a pretty a shaky first period," said Tortorella. "I thought we were in a good spot heading into overtime."
Tortorella praised the team's effort, but admitted that some of the young players on the squad didn't respond as well as could be to the pressure of playoff hockey.
In addition to thwarting Richards, Brodeur 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.