If the Rangers and Devils wanted a proper encore to their 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, they got a worthy successor last night. Adam Henrique finished off the Devils improbable run through the playoffs, sending them to the Stanley Cup Finals and wounds lots of hearts in Manhattan.
The series clinching goal came just over a minute into Overtime, when a net-mouth scramble ended with the Devils rookie alone in front of the net. As the puck squirted through Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, Henrique found it before center Brad Richards could stuff the puck under his goaltender. It’s the first time since 2008 against the Penguins that the Rangers were eliminated in Overtime.
On the 18th Anniversary of Mark Messier’s “Guarantee”, the game began like that one did as the Devils sprung out to a 2-0 lead with a rebound goal by Ryan Carter and a Power Play One-timer from Ilya Kovalchuk. The Devils had 14 shots in the first period and were trying to bury the Rangers.
Unlike the game eighteen years ago, the Rangers didn’t wait for the third to tie the game. Ruslan Fedotenko deposited a wrap-around by defenseman Ryan McDonagh and Captain Ryan Callahan tipped a Dan Girardi shot to tie the game. The Rangers outshot the Devils throughout the game, desperately trying to extend the series. Brad Richards quickly fired a rebound on the Power Play, but the rolling puck wouldn’t let him get it over Devils’ Martin Brodeur- possibly the best save of the series accounting the situation. Artem Anisimov sped into the Devils end, but couldn’t squeeze off a shot.
This game was finally the goaltending matchup hockey fans were waiting for. Though shaky at first, Lundqvist settled in and made every save until the Henrique winner. Meanwhile, Brodeur was stopped every thing except the two shots that eluded him in the four minute span of the second. Each goaltender made great saves to keep their team in and given that every save was pressure packed, made it more difficult. After two sub-par performances by each goalie in Game 5, Lundqvist & Brodeur reminded everyone why their the best in the game.
It was also a great team game. The Rangers and the Devils had their forecheck going and and were technically sound defensively. This match was purely desperation against commencement. One team didn’t want to go home, the other wanted to move on. The latter happened last night.