Commentary

Adam on the spot for delirious Devils

Henrique's OT goal sparks wild celebration and sends New Jersey to Cup finals

Updated: May 26, 2012, 2:12 AM ET
By Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com

NEWARK, N.J. -- In October, rookie Adam Henrique found himself demoted to the minors. Weeks later he was back up with the New Jersey Devils, playing between captain Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Sixty-three seconds into overtime of Game 6 in the Eastern Conference finals, Henrique was parked in the crease behind New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to sweep the puck past him for a 3-2 Devils win.

And afterward?

At the center of a triumphant Devils pileup as the team celebrated its first trip to the Stanley Cup finals since 2003.

[+] EnlargeAdam Henrique
Ed Mulholland/US PresswireAdam Henrique launched into a celebration after his overtime winner.

"The kid is just right place, right time, all the time," said coach Pete DeBoer. "The two biggest goals of the playoffs come off his stick, and that's not accidental."

Scoring his second series-clinching game winner this postseason, Henrique buried the puck in a mad scramble to snap a 2-2 tie and send the Rangers packing.

Both Kovalchuk and Alexei Ponikarovsky jabbed at the loose puck with Lundqvist on his knees, but it was Henrique who found it and drove it into the net for the clincher.

"I couldn't see the puck, but I knew he was down and I was just praying it was gonna come under his pad," Henrique said. "It's a big one. That's one you dream about."

Henrique's teammates leapt from the bench and engulfed him in celebration. Even 40-year-old goaltender Martin Brodeur raced from his crease and dove into the melee.

It was the highlight so far of what has been a phenomenal season for Henrique, a Calder Trophy finalist.

"There's a reason he's up for Rookie of the Year. He's a good kid, he works hard," said teammate David Clarkson. "That hit about four guys, right to him. I thought I almost broke both of my ankles trying to go over the bench to get to the scrum there. ... That's a pretty good feeling."

Before his overtime heroics, Henrique's status looked murky for a brief moment when he was doubled over in pain during the third period after taking a shot to the groin. He spent several minutes on the ice, before skating off with a grimace and heading to the trainer's room.

Fortunately for the Devils -- who will play host to the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday -- he returned later in the period.

"I just needed a minute to, um, gather myself," Henrique said with a laugh after the game.

The pain was fleeting for Henrique, who managed to even top his thrilling, double-overtime goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals that downed the Florida Panthers.

Time and again, he finds himself in late-game, nerve-rattling situations and he never seems to fold under the pressure.

"Absolutely clutch," said teammate Ryan Carter, who gave the Devils a 1-0 lead at 10:05 in the first period. "Two elimination overtime winners. I think that's all you have to say."

Henrique's unwavering confidence and unflappable resolve earned him a trip to the dais with Brodeur and Parise for a postgame news conference. He isn't a wide-eyed rookie just glad to be along for the ride, though.

In Henrique's mind, there's much more to accomplish.

"There's still more ahead. We're not done yet. We haven't really won anything," he said.

"Every kid dreams of playing in the Stanley Cup final. And we have a chance to win. And I'm excited. I'm ready to get started."

Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPN.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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