Henrique the double overtime hero for the Devils

- April 27th, 2012

SUNRISE, Fla. — Adam Henrique, as a kid, always imagined scoring an overtime goal in Game 7.
What good Canadian boy doesn’t? And the New Jersey Devils rookie went one further early on Friday morning, scoring at 3:47 of double overtime in Game 7 as the Devils eliminated a stubborn Florida Panthers team in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal with a 3-2 win.
“I think I blacked when I heard the thud at the back of the net,” Henrique said. “NHL Game 7 winner, it’s like playing mini sticks at home. That’s the game you always play. Hallway, in the living room.”
The line of Henrique between David Clarkson and Alexei Ponikarovsky had not scored much in the series, but their solid fore-checking led to chances. And so it was as the clock struck 12:17 a.m. at the BankAtlantic Center, as Henrique’s linemates got the puck to him after some dogged determination.
Henrique, who scored his first goal of the series on a deflection early in the first period, beat Panthers goalie Jose Theodore from the slot with a shot along the ice that went between the netminder’s legs.
“He is a guy who is able to raise his game when the game is on the line,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said of Henrique, who was announced as a Calder Trophy finalist this week. “He seems to have that characteristic. We were waiting on that line and him and I think he looked very comfortable.”
The Devils got 43 saves from legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur, who was at his best in the third period, despite giving up two goals, and in overtime.
New Jersey will clash with the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, with Game 1 on Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia. It’s the first time the Devils have moved on to the semis since 2007.
The Panthers, who held a 3-2 series lead after five games, have not won a playoff round since 1996.
New Jersey’s series win marked some redemption for DeBoer, who was fired by the Panthers last April.
Since their most recent Stanley Cup title, in 2003, the Devils have met the Flyers twice in the playoffs and lost in five games both times. Two years ago, the Flyers beat the Devils in the conference quarterfinals, and did the same in 2004.
In their history, the Devils have met the Flyers in five playoff series and have won two of them.
Brodeur played in the 10th Game 7 of his storied career and improved to 6-4.
Stephen Gionta also scored for the Devils.
Stephen Weiss and Marcel Goc scored for the Panthers.
New Jersey appeared to be relatively safe after 40 minutes as they built a two-goal lead and the Panthers had just 14 shots on goal.
But no lead was safe in the series, and the Panthers got themselves off the mat. They even overcame some adversity to do it, as Tomas Fleischmann thought he scored just over a minute into the third. But referee Dan O’Rourke waved the goal off immediately and gave Florida’s Shawn Matthias a goaltender interference penalty after Matthias ran over Brodeur.
Yet the Panthers were not frustrated and scored two power-play goals.
Weiss got the fans out of their seats when he scored at 5:02 after he fired a one-time over the left shoulder of Brodeur.
And the crowd of 19,313, which had booed the Panthers off the ice at the end of the second period, went bananas when Goc scored the tying goal at 16:32 with Devils defenceman Marek Zidlicky was in the penalty box serving a delay of game minor. The goal came just 20 seconds after Zidlicky was sent off.
Brodeur was perfect after that, and his toe save on John Madden in the first period of overtime might have been his best.
“This is not where the hockey people predicted us to be at the start of the year,” Weiss said. “We’ve done some good things. We’re obviously disappointed not being able to move on.
“It stings to lose at home. But we’ve got some bright years ahead.”
Said Kris Versteeg: “I thought we were going to win at the end, and I still thought we were going to win right until the puck went in the net. I still can’t believe we lost.”
The Panthers have a handful of players headed for free agency, but none more important than defenceman Jason Garrison.
Also destined to be free on July 1 are forwards Marco Sturm, Madden and Mikael Samuelsson and backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen.
The Panthers’ financial situation also could come into sharper focus in the coming weeks. There have been rumblings that the team will file for bankruptcy, but there was not much talk of that publicly in south Florida as the Panthers made their first playoff appearance in 12 years.
Interest in the team isn’t exactly shooting through the roof. The crowd was 200 less than the attendance for Game 5 and there were enough empty seats in the upper bowl that the club should be concerned. It was the first Game 7 in the building, and not every seat was full. That’s an alarm bell if nothing else.

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