Being an NHL rookie usually doesn't carry the lofty expectations of coming up with difference making plays in the postseason, but that hasn't stopped New Jersey Devils' freshman forward Adam Henrique from doing just that. The first-year Devil came through late in the third period to lead his club to an eventual 3-1 defeat of the Los Angeles Kings Wednesday night, keeping New Jersey alive in the Final.
The Kings still lead the series, 3-1.
Henrique scored his fourth goal of the 2012 playoffs with just 4:31 remaining in regulation, taking a cross-ice pass from David Clarkson at the left hash marks and firing a short side shot high over red-hot Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick's blocker inside the post and under the crossbar.
"It seemed to come off my skate pretty nice, right on the tape," said Henrique about controlling the puck with his skate and the affect on the Kings' netminder. "I knew it came all the across the ice. I knew he (Quick) was going to have to come a long way to make the save if I was going to get it to the short-side."
New Jersey head coach Peter DeBoer was impressed.
"A big-time play," the coach stated in his post-game press conference. "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."
The goal marked the first time the Devils have been able to beat Quick twice in the same game in the series, as the Conn Smythe favorite had allowed just two goals in the first three contests. New Jersey went to the net, got traffic in front of Quick, and as a result saw a decided improvement in their number of quality scoring chances.
Of the four goals Henrique has managed in the playoffs, three have been game-winners, which ties the NHL rookie record set by Jacques Lemaire of the Montreal Canadiens in 1968, and equaled by Montreal's Claude Lemieux in 1986. Henrique is the first rookie to tally three game-winning goals in one playoff year since 1999, when Colorado Avalanche forwards Chris Drury and Milan Hejduk scored four and three goals, respectively.
"It's fun," Henrique said when asked what it was like to score there game-winning goals in one postseason. "This is where every kid dreams of playing one day."
Included in the three game-winners are two in overtime. Henrique's OT goals were both series-clinchers, eliminating the Florida Panthers with a goal at 3:47of the second overtime period in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, and ending the New York Rangers' season after 1:03 of extra time in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Henrique is just the second player in League history to tally multiple series-ending overtime goals in one playoff year, equaling the feat Martin Gelinas of the Calgary Flames accomplished in 2004.
The Henrique tally was huge, especially when you consider New Jersey had finally garnered its first lead of the series on a Patrik Elias goal at 7:56 of the third -- which snapped a goal drought of 138:39 that dated to the 2:59 mark of the third period in Game 2 -- only to be tied exactly one minute later on a Drew Doughty power play blast that found its way through Martin Brodeur's five hole.
If ever there was a time for the much-anticipated Kings' sweep and Stanley Cup presentation to come to fruition, it was at this point.
But someone forgot to tell Henrique and his New Jersey teammates.
By virtue of the Game 4 victory, the Devils extended their streak to 43 consecutive playoff series without being swept, the longest active streak in the League.
Other notable contributions to the big New Jersey victory:
- The Devils got an added boost with the insertion into the lineup of defenseman Henrik Tallinder (replacing Peter Harrold) and winger Petr Sykora (in the lineup in place of Jacob Josefson). Tallinder was solid in what was a very good N.J. defensive effort, blocking a shot and recording a hit while registering two shots on goal in 19:21 of ice time. Sykora didn't look like he missed a beat as he saw his first game action of the Final, as the line of Sykora-Dainius Zubrus-Elias was very strong for most of the night.
- Even though it was an empty-net goal, Ilya Kovalchuk was able to get on the board with his first point of the series. If the Devils are going to continue having any kind of offensive success against Quick, the Russian sniper -- who is likely nursing an undisclosed injury, thought to be his back ailment that knocked him out of a game during the Eastern Conference Semifinal against the Philadelphia Flyers -- will have to play a major part. Maybe the goal will jump-start Kovalchuk.
- Outhitting the Kings by a 43-33 count, New Jersey was much more physical than they were in Game 3, when they were out-muscled by L.A. to the tune of a wide 55-32 hit margin. The Devils won puck battles along the wall and controlled territorial play for more time than they had earlier in the series.
- Brodeur was excellent, yielding just the Doughty goal, one in which he had lost sight of the puck while being screened by Dustin Brown. The legendary goal keep also made big stops late in the second period, when Los Angeles had gathered a good amount of momentum. Brodeur also made a spectacular sprawling save on Trevor Lewis off a feed from Simon Gagne on a two-on-one. Marty tipped the puck with his stick on the diving poke-check, as the shot trickled under Brodeur but went just wide.
It may end up being a short-lived optimism from a Devils' perspective, but once again it was Henrique's late-game heroics that made living another day a possibility for New Jersey's hockey club.
One gets the feeling it won't be the last time Henrique nets a clutch postseason goal for the Devils.