Monthly Archives: May 2012
After what seemed like a month since the Eastern Conference Finals ended, the Stanley Cup Finals got under way on Wednesday night. Things didn’t go well for the home team in Game 1. Both teams played very sloppy at times, but the Devils could never get their game going the way they wanted to and needed to on Wednesday. The Devils nearly stole the game in overtime, but they broke down defensively and completely lost Anze Kopitar, who had the breakaway that resulted in the game-winning goal for the Kings. Los Angeles is still undefeated on the road in these playoffs and lead the series, 1-0.
For the fifth time in franchise history the New Jersey Devils will be playing in the Stanley Cup Finals. I was fortunate enough to be at Game 7 of 2003 when the Devils won their most recent championship. I stood next to my Dad as the seconds ticked down and Gary Bettman walked out, grabbed Lord Stanley’s Cup and handed it off to Scott Stevens. If you ask me what my best Devils’ memory is, well without a doubt, it’s that game. Now, when you ask my father, he’s often quick to say watching me watching the Devils win the Cup. That always resonated with me.
(This headline could be referring to King Henrique or the new Kings, from L.A., coming to town. You decide.)
Three stars of the game:
3rd star: Martin Brodeur (33 saves)
2nd star: Ryan Callahan (1 goal)
1st star: (want to guess??) Adam Henrique (Series-winning overtime goal)
In case you haven’t heard by now, 6,575 days ago, Rangers captain Mark Messier was busy guaranteeing that his team would beat the Devils in Game 6 and eventually win the series. The media likes to remind us of this feat, as 18 years later to the day, the Devils were in the same position as they once were: up 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Rangers. This time, however, history did not repeat itself. It was Adam Henrique’s second series-winning goal this postseason that ignited an epic celebration at Prudential Center and lifted the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2003.
The Devils dominated most first periods in this series, and they did it again in Game 6. While shots on goal didn’t tell the full story (both teams had 14 shots on goal in the first period), the Devils dictated the pace of the period and controlled the puck more often. It didn’t start out easily, as they had to kill an early Rangers power play, but they got some great scoring chances on Henrik Lundqvist early and often. In the first minute of play, it was Ilya Kovalchuk cutting through the slot and snapping one that Lundqvist fought off with his glove. Then, shorthanded, it was Dainius Zubrus leading a 3-on-1 rush, and he beat Lundqvist glove-side, but rang his shot off the post. Moments later, the Devils caught the Rangers on a bad line change, and Stephen Gionta blasted one blocker side that Lundqvist turned aside.
To counter the Devils’ surge, the Rangers tried to create pressure by having their defensemen pinch in to keep offensive zone shifts alive. Halfway through the period, that cost them dearly. Marc Staal tried to pinch in, but he turned the puck over to Steve Bernier, who led a 3-on-2 rush. He fed Stephen Gionta by slipping the puck through Michael Del Zotto. Lundqvist stopped Gionta, but no Ranger could clear the crease and Ryan Carter buried an easy goal in front of the net to give the Devils a 1-0 lead. The fourth line was at it again on their next shift minutes later, as they pressured the Rangers and forced Ruslan Fedotenko to take a very costly tripping penalty.
The ensuing Devils power play featured some of the best passing you’ll ever see on a power play. The play went from Peter Harrold at the top of the umbrella-like formation to the right wing Adam Henrique to David Clarkson in the slot to Zubrus below the goal line to Lundqvist’s left to Ilya Kovalchuk back door, and Kovy one-timed it home to make it 2-0. They got another power play to end the first period, but failed to score again, despite controlling the puck for the entire power play.
The second period, just like in Game 5, featured the Rangers getting back in the game. They outplayed the Devils in the period and got their forecheck going, just as the Devils had done for most of the series. The Devils eventually got a power play, as the officials called a phentom hi-stick to Steve Bernier’s helmet, but replays showed that Bernier embellished the play a bit. Moments later, Travis Zajac was slashed hard on the wrist, but nothing was called. Halfway through the period, again like the Devils in the first period, the Rangers got on the board. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh circled behind the Devils’ net and threw the puck to the crease, where Ruslan Fedotenko had an easy tap-in to cut the deficit to 2-1. The Rangers continued to press, and tied the game minutes later, as Dan Girardi’s point shot re-directed past Brodeur’s glove off Ryan Callahan’s leg. At the end of the period, after the Rangers had surged, the Devils’ top line put together a good scoring chance, but Lundqvist stopped a first chance, and Zach Parise couldn’t get to a rebound in the crease. After two periods, it was tied, 2-2.
The teams traded scoring chances in the third period, as both teams looked to be going for it all in the third. Lundqvist stopped Zubrus and Elias early on, and Brodeur made some of his best saves of the series on Ryan Callahan’s wrister from the slot, point blank save on Brad Richards’ rebound on a Rangers power play, plus a pair of poke checks, highlighted by his poke check on Artem Anisimov on a partial breakaway. After three periods, Game 6 was heading to overtime.
In Game 6 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals, Claude Lemieux played the role of hero to send the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals. In 2000, it was Patrik Elias’ goal late in regulation to knock off the Flyers in Game 7 of the Conference Finals. A year later, Bobby Holik had the game-winner in Game 5 against Pittsburgh to clinch the conference championship. In 2003, Jeff Friesen’s late third period goal in Game 7 in Ottawa sent the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals. So who would be the hero for the Devils this time?
Overtime didn’t last long. The Rangers threatened a bit on the opening shift of overtime, but then, a Devil rose to the occasion. It is fitting that Peter DeBoer’s makeshift line of Kovalchuk, Henrique and Ponikarovsky created the game-winning goal, because DeBoer’s ability to connect with his players and get a feel for the game has been blatant throughout the playoffs. His new line came through in a big way. Ilya Kovalchuk entered the zone and wristed one towards the net from the high slot. Alexei Ponikarovsky, who set up Adam Henrique’s double-overtime goal in Game 7 in Florida, as well as scoring his own overtime goal in Game 3 against the Flyers, then wristed the puck towards the net from the left side of the net. Kovalchuk and Ponikarovsky jammed away at the loose puck. Finally, Kovalchuk jammed it through Lundqvist and in the middle of the crease, and as multiple Rangers dove and tried to find the puck, Adam Henrique skated in and buried it, 1:03 into overtime, and the Devils had knocked off the Rangers to win the Eastern Conference!
Henrique’s heroics shouldn’t be much of a surprise to Devils fans. He notched two goals, including the series-winner in the clinching Game 7 in Florida, picked up two assists in the clinching Game 5 in Philadelphia and scored the series-winning goal against the Rangers. For those keeping score, that’s five points in three series-clinching games. The former Windsor Spitfires playoff hero in the Ontario Hockey League has stepped up in a huge way for the Devils in the playoffs so far. Martin Brodeur played perhaps his best three games of the playoffs in the series clinchers thus far as well.
So, enjoy your Memorial Day weekend. Hopefully, it’ll be nice and relaxing, but come Wednesday night, it’s Devils-Kings: Game 1 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals.
(headline by @JerseyGuy276)
Three stars of the game (as voted on by Devils fans on Twitter):
3rd star: Ryan Callahan (1 goal)
2nd star: Ryan Carter (Game-winning goal)
1st star: Stephen Gionta (1 goal, 1 assist)
Something I try to do when writing recaps is to be neutral and not let emotions get in the way, but on some nights, emotion gets the best of you. Wednesday night’s thriller at Madison Square Garden could fall under that category. As NBC’s Jeremy Roenick commented, this was arguably the game of the playoffs so far, and it was far more enjoyable to fans of 28 NHL teams. For Devils and Rangers fans, it was a very stressful evening, but in the end, the Devils came away with an incredible 5-3 win over the Rangers and are one win away from a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.