Adam Henrique may never have to pay for another drink south of the Hudson again in his life. Henrique in a wild early scramble around the New York Rangers net spotted the loose puck underneath goalie Henrik Lundqvist and stuffed it into the goal to give the New Jersey Devils a 3-2 overtime victory in what turned out to be the sixth and deciding game of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Rangers, who came into these playoffs as the top seeded team in the Eastern Conference and battled through two tough seven game series to get to this point in the end just ran out of luck. The Devils win the best of seven series over the Rangers 4 games to 2 and continue to shock the Eastern Conference with steady yet dominating play. The Los Angeles Kings, whom the Devils will now face on the Stanley Cup Finals beginning next Wednesday, likewise shocked the Western Conference in much of the same fashion.
Ryan Carter and Ilya Kovalchuk scored for New Jersey within four minutes of each other midway though the first period to give the Devils an early 2-0 lead. Carter’s goal was the result of his following a three on one breakaway and stuffing in the rebound of a Stephen Gionta shot on goal. Former Shark Steve Bernier also had an assist on the play. Kovalchuck later scored on a Devils power play just a moment after the Rangers’ Ruslan Fedotenko was sent to the penalty box for tripping Carter. Both teams would manage 14 shots on goal for the period, with New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur turning away all of the Rangers’ scoring chances early. The Devils may have had a three goal lead early on just as they did Wednesday night in New York. On a New Jersey breakaway early in the period, Dainius Zubrus shot beat Lundqvist but hit the crossbar, with he puck bouncing away before Carter and Kovalchuk would later stake the Devils to a two goal lead.
The Rangers to their credit would not go down or out without a fight and seized the games’ momentum in the second period. Brodeur held the fort for New Jersey for half of the second period however the Rangers just kept coming. Finally, Fedotenko would knock in a wrister than beat Brodeur to get New York to within one at 2-1. Later, Rangers’ Captain Ryan Callahan was in the right place at the right time as a slap shot from teammate Dan Girardi grazed Callahan’s leg just enough to redirect the puck to Brodeur’s right, just out of the reach of his glove hand and off the right post and into the net. With the game tied the Rangers continued to carry the momentum through the period and on into the final period.
Defensively the Rangers held up through the second and third period allowing just 12 total Devils’ shots on goal over the final 40 minutes of regulation. Meanwhile, despite carrying a good portion of the play in the final period, the Rangers would come away with nothing further on the scoreboard. Brodeur along with a Devils’ defense which came on strong when it had to keeping the Rangers off the board despite a 21 shot barrage over the last two periods of regulation play. Late in the third period Brodeur made a save that may have been one of the biggest of the game, though it was not actually an official save. With Artem Anisimov on an apparent breakaway late in the third as he was being chased down by two Devils defensemen, Brodeur was able to move up a few inches in front of the net and square up before successfully poke checking the puck and clearing it away. Earlier in the third period the Rangers had a power play opportunity when Carter was called for goalie interference on Lundqvist. During the power play chance for the Rangers, it was Brodeur who came up big including stopping a point blank shot on goal from Brad Richards.
In the brief overtime, the Rangers had a few chances on Brodeur but could not get a stuck on the puck at the right time. Once the Devils got control of the puck, they made sure the next Rangers offensive possession that would matter would not happen until October. In the mad scramble that would ensue in front of the Rangers goal, it would be Henrique that would stuff in the puck past Lundqvist after stuff in attempts by Kovalchuk and Alexei Ponikarovsky were blocked. Lundqvist however in all the confusion lost the puck underneath him where it was soon spotted by two players, the Devils’ Henrique and the Rangers’ Richards. It was Henrique who got the puck first. Just like that, the Eastern Conference Final was over and so was the Rangers’ season. For the Devils’, it was “Bring on the Los Angeles Kings” time.
For the Los Angeles Kings, they will now travel east to take on the Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals which start Wednesday (5/30). Game Two will be next Saturday (6/2) also in New Jersey. The Kings go from the Western Conference Final nobody saw coming to the Stanley Cup Final nobody saw coming. It may not have been what anyone had in their hockey pools six weeks ago, but it should be an interesting series nonetheless. Either the Devils will capture their fourth cup in franchise history, or the Kings will get their first in their 44 year franchise history. Either way, history will be made “…because it’s the Cup.”
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*Note: My 2 Cents this Monday (5/28) will preview the Stanley Cup Final match up between the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils…