By Jay Greenberg,
By now in this era of parity ushered in by the salary cap, there is nothing out of wack about a sixth and eighth seed meeting for the Stanley Cup. And indeed, the Devils, 2-2 in overtime in Game 6 with the top-seeded Rangers just kept whacking to gain their berth in the finals.
Ilya Kovalchuk had one and Alexei Ponikarovsky another with Henrik Lundqvist on his face and an excellent Rangers season at mercy of the hockey gods, and then Kovalchuk had one more that got the puck out of Brad Richards's skates and across the crease beyond the Ranger goalie's grasp.
"I am just praying the puck was going to go through his pads," said Adam Henrique and suddenly there it was, almost as big as the rookie's eyes while standing in front of a net as big as the opportunity.
Thus did a player who wasn't in the NHL a year ago, put a team that failed to make the 2011 playoffs into the finals for a first time in 2003 and a fifth time in the remarkable career of 40-year-old Marty Brodeur. The Rangers, who had been down 3-0 to come back to tie Game 5, were down 2-0 in this one, and came back again but not this time with any help from Brodeur, who at 2-2 then closed the door.
"We were on our heels there and he was outstanding," said Coach Pete DeBoer, who a year ago was unemployed, having been fired by a Florida team that in three seasons under him did not make the playoffs.
Kovalchuk, who had never been past the first round until this spring, continued a fine playoff Friday night with a power play goal that showcased his extraordinary skills and the second effort on the winning goal that demonstrated the grit he was not supposed to have.
Thus, in a five-year-old arena built to help revitalize a city long ago written off as hopeless, there was layer after layer of redemption along with a lot of pure relief and unadulterated joy.
The Devils, as Brodeur pointed out, have won three Stanley Cups since the Rangers beat them in this round on their way to their only Cup in the last 72 years in 1994, but they had only beaten the Rangers once in five postseason since.
So 18 years after letting a 2-0 lead slip away in Game 6, then losing in double overtime in seven, he knew what this meant to the New Jersey fans.
"I think winning against them on the big stage, not just for me, but I think for the fans of New Jersey, the people that are supporting us and always taking a second seat to these guys for whatever reason, now they gotta be pretty going to work and going to school and doing all their things that they do," said Brodeur. "I know from some of the messages I got throughout this playoff series."
Much like Game 5, this one started like clockwork for the Devils. Steve Bernier got the puck past Marc Staal at the point to send Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter away on a two-on-one and Carter put on the rebound. Ruslan Fedotenko tripped Carter and on the power play Kovalchuk finished up a gorgeous three-way passing play from David Clarkson and Dainius Zubrus to make it 2-0 before 14 minutes had been played.
And just like in Game 5 the Ranger fought back. Ryan McDonagh circled the net and got a pass through both Andy Greene and Patrik Elias across the crease to Fedotenko for a slam dunk, then Artem Anisimov beat Travis Zajac on a faceoff, enabling Dan Girardi's point shot to go off Ryan Callahan's leg to tie it 13:41 into the second period.
"I thought we were the better team in the third period," said John Tortorella.
The Rangers were the better team for almost the entire Game 5, too, and didn't have either the wherewithal or the good fortune to get the break in the end. There were four of them sprawled with Lundqvist on the ice when Henrique, who also scored in overtime to end the first round series with Florida, too, snapped the puck in. And it wasn't just exhaustion that caused them to take a long time to get up.
"Hats off to the New York Rangers, the hardest working team in the NHL," said DeBoer, whose team, which finished three places back of the Rangers in the best division in the NHL this season, will open the finals against the Kings, the Western Conference No. 8 seed, Wednesday night here. "We feel fortunate to move through and proud of beating such a hard working team."
"There's only one guy that likes beating the Rangers more than Marty, and that's (President) Lou (Lamoriello). I mean, hey, these guys have been through this rivalry for 20 years. So I'm happy for both of them."
Lamoriello hadn't gotten out of the second round since the last time the Devils won it all in 2003. Captain Zach Parise, who was drafted later that month, had not either.
"The year I got drafted, after the draft, we went down and they had the Stanley Cup there, and all the scouts and everyone was having a big party," said Parise. "You get the sense that you were going into something pretty special.
"Unfortunately, we didn't have great playoff success since then. But you're playing for an organization that takes a lot of pride in winning and doing the right things and playing the right way. They do a great job of building a team, a team that works and a team that's tough to play against.
"I mean, it might have taken a little while. All of a sudden you play seven, eight years, and you haven't made it past the second round, but it's definitely worth it.
"It was worth the wait to get here."
Back to accessibility links