NEWARK, N.J. — A year after missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996, the New Jersey Devils are going back to the Stanley Cup finals, thanks to a rookie, a 40-year-old goaltender and a coach who’d never been to the postseason in the NHL.
How’s that for a turnaround?
Adam Henrique scored off a wild scramble in front at 1:03 into overtime and the Devils defeated the rival New York Rangers, 3-2, in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals to advance to their first Stanley Cup finals since 2003.
The Devils will face the Los Angeles Kings for the Cup in a series that will start on Wednesday here.
This series win came against the Devils‘ most intense rival, and it was that much sweeter.
“That one was like Christmas,” said Henrique, who also scored the series winner as Devils‘ first-round win over Florida.
It also was needed. The Devils‘ blew a 2-0 first-period lead and didn’t want to head back to New York for a Game 7 on Sunday.
“It didn’t matter how it got to overtime, we were in a good position,” Devils captain Zach Parise said. “We were at home. We just needed one shot.”
Actually, the Devils needed four shots to win the game.
Henrique’s winner came after Henrik Lundqvist stopped Ilya Kovalchuk twice and Alexei Ponikarovsky. The last shot lay in the crease and Henrique tapped it home.
Ryan Carter and Kovalchuk also scored for the Devils, whose biggest move this year was hiring Peter DeBoer as coach. He was fired by Florida after missing the playoffs in his three seasons. In his first postseason, he is hoping to lead New Jersey to its fourth Cup.
Ruslan Fedotenko and Ryan Callahan tallied for top-seeded New York, which had a good flurry just before New Jersey scored.
Henrique, who is nominated for the Calder Trophy — given to the NHL’s top rookie — skated away from the crease and jumped against the end boards in the corner as his teammates hopped off the bench and mobbed him.
The six Rangers on the ice just stayed down in disbelief and frustration. This was very much like Game 5, which the Devils won 5-3. New York carried the play after the first period and had a 35-29 edge in shots.
But when it came time for a game-deciding play to be made, it was a Devil who made it.