- Associated Press - Friday, May 25, 2012

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.

“When they scored, it was such an empty feeling,” said Lundqvist, who said the puck took a weird bounce on the final play. “It is shocking.”

Henrique overcame injury to score this one. He seemed to take a stick from Brian Boyle in the groin area late in the third and had to leave the ice.

He felt no pain after the game winner.

All the Rangers could do was bow their heads and then line up for the traditional handshake after losing to their cross-rival rivals in a series that was close.

Martin Brodeur, 40, kept the Devils alive in the third. He stopped a power-play shot by Brad Richards, 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.

“You could tell he was in the zone. He led us,” Parise said. “He made some big saves tonight.”

Lundqvist’s best stop in the third was on Dainius Zubrus on a shot from behind the circles.

Facing elimination and down 2-0 after 20 minutes, the Rangers found their game in the second period and tied the game at 2-all on goals by Fedotenko and Callahan in a roughly four-minute span.

Defenseman 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 in the Devils‘ 5-3 win 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 postseason was set up when Brandon Dubinsky won a faceoff in the left circle.

Carter, who scored the game winner in New York on Wednesday night after the Devils blew a 3-0 lead, put New Jersey ahead again at 10:05 of the opening period.

The play started with a bad pinch at the point by Rangers defenseman 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.

The Devils — as is the tradition for many Cup finalists — did not touch the Prince of Wales Trophy that was presented at center ice. As the team skated off to their locker room, “Glory Days,” the 1984 hit from New Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen serenaded them.

The game was played on the 18-year anniversary of the Rangers‘ dramatic, 4-2, Game 6 victory over New Jersey in the Meadowlands, a victory that pushed that classic series to a Game 7 and eventually led New York to its first Stanley Cup in 54 years. That game, of course, was preceded by a guarantee from Rangers captain Mark Messier, who delivered three goals en route to the victory.

This time, there’s no Game 7.

NOTES: The Empire State Building’s tower lights were lit in red and blue on Friday to cheer on the Rangers. … Mogul and TV personality Donald Trump was at the game. … Devils C Travis Zajac left the ice briefly in the second after being slashed on the left hand by the Rangers‘ Brandon Prust. No penalty was called. … New Jersey is 4-1 in overtime in the postseason. New York finished 2-3.

Jason Dufner lists Ben Hogan as his hero.

At Hogan’s Alley, Dufner had the lead halfway through the Colonial with a chance for a Texas two-step that only Hogan has accomplished.

Dufner had a bogey-free 6-under 64 on another windy day Friday to reach 11-under 129. A week after winning the Byron Nelson Championship, Dufner had a two-stroke lead over Zach Johnson — the 2010 winner who shot a 67.

The only player to win both PGA Tour events in the Dallas-Fort Worth market in the same year was Hogan in 1946.

“That would be great company to join, obviously,” Dufner said. “To have anything compared to him or be talked in the same sentence with him is something that would be pretty unique and special to me.”

With the way Dufner is playing these days, his game certainly is in a different class.

Both of Dufner’s PGA Tour victories came in his previous three starts. He has led or shared the lead after 11 of his last 34 rounds.

“When I step to the first tee, I feel like I’m going to play a good round of golf. That’s a nice way to play. It’s a comfortable way to play,” Dufner said. “I’m just trying to be confident and think about the things I’ve been doing for almost a year now, and realize that those are the things that are making me successful out here, and not get too caught up in everything else that’s going on around me.”

Johnson, who had an opening bogey-free 64, started the second round eagle-birdie-bogey. Then there was a four-hole stretch on the back nine when he alternated birdies and bogeys twice.

During the third round Saturday, Johnson will be paired with his buddy Dufner.

“He’s got a good rhythm about him, about his game right now,” Johnson said. “But it’s irrelevant who I play with. I’m not playing against him. I’m playing against the golf course and the conditions and the elements that are presented. So that’s my focus.”

Two years ago, Johnson set the Colonial tournament scoring record at 21-under 259 en route to the last of his seven PGA Tour victories.

Van Pelt (64) and Tommy Gainey (67) were tied for third at 133, a stroke better than Tom Gillis (69).

Defending Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial champion David Toms shot a 71 and missed the cut at 5-over 145.

With the wind again blowing steady about 20 mph with higher gusts, Dufner stood in the middle of the fairway at No. 5, his 14th hole of the day. Dufner stepped back twice before changing clubs, then hit the approach to about 18 feet for his sixth and last birdie.

That is the end of Colonial’s “horrible horseshoe” — as Nos. 3-5 are known because of their layout and with the longest par 4s sandwiching a 243-yard par 3.

Dufner has played those holes 4 under through two rounds, and wasn’t even aware of the trio’s reputation.

“It’s just a product of playing well and having good control of my golf ball,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter what holes you’re playing.”

Starting on the back nine, Dufner had two birdies, a 5-footer at the 166-yard 13th hole and 7-footer at the 363-yard 17th. He then birdied Nos. 1-3 for the second day in a row.

“I got off to a great start. … I had a chance to catch Dufner, is he not hot right now,” said Gainey, who opened his round with three consecutive birdies before bogeys at Nos. 7 and 8. “I got hot and then let a couple get away.”

After Colonial, Dufner — who got married between his two victories — plans to take a short break before beginning preparations for the next major. The U.S. Open is in three weeks at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

The 35-year-old Dufner, who has moved up to 14th in the world, had consecutive weekend rounds of 75 at the Masters and tied for 24th after starting 69-70.

It was during the final round of the PGA Championship last August when Dufner had consecutive bogeys on holes No. 15-17. That cost him the lead and forced him into a three-hole playoff that he lost to Keegan Bradley.

“I think it helped me out a lot this year. It kind reaffirmed the things that I was doing was right, and I was on the right direction and right path,” he said. “I didn’t think too much about losing. I just thought about all of the good things that happened. … I think at the PGA kind of showed me that I could really play at a high level.”

Divots: Sergio Garcia, the ‘01 Colonial champ, followed his opening 66 with a 73. That included an 8 on the 387-yard ninth hole when he hit his approach into the water fronting the green, and then knocked his drop in there as well. … Ben Crane (141), who lives just north of Fort Worth, finished his second-round 71 with an eagle at the ninth hole. He holed a wedge shot from 104 yards. … Harrison Frazar missed the cut with rounds of 72 and 74. He still had a highlight Friday, a hole-in-one with an 8-iron at the 183-yard 16th. … The last of 14 players to win both the Colonial and Byron Nelson Championship was Rory Sabbatini, at the 2007 Colonial and 2009 Nelson. When Hogan did it in 1946, the tournaments weren’t played in consecutive weeks.