When Adam Henrique decided to face playoff elimination by shaving his beard into a bristly mustache, the New Jersey Devils realized their remarkable rookie isn’t exactly buckling under the pressure of the Stanley Cup finals.
Martin Brodeur probably has pads older than his teammate, and the NHL’s winningest goalie was acutely aware of the stakes riding on his every save in Game 4.
After the 22-year-old clutch scorer and the 40-year-old goalie teamed up to put the Stanley Cup back in its crate, the Devils headed home still nursing the chance of a comeback for all ages.
Henrique scored the tiebreaking goal with 4:29 to play, Brodeur made 21 saves, and New Jersey beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 on Wednesday night to avoid a sweep in the finals.
After making a series of stunning saves in a performance that evoked his greatest moments, Brodeur said he believes in the Devils’ comeback chances ”more than yesterday.”
”You know, I think we wanted to make them jump on a plane and come to New Jersey,” Brodeur said. ”We had to go anyway. Might as well get a game over there.”
Game 5 is Saturday night in Newark, N.J.
Patrik Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk also scored third-period goals as the Eastern Conference champion Devils disappointed Los Angeles’ long-suffering fans who have waited nearly 45 years for their franchise’s first championship.
A few minutes after Drew Doughty tied it for the Kings, Henrique scored his third enormous goal of the postseason, taking a pass from David Clarkson and rocketing a wrist shot past Jonathan Quick, the Kings’ nearly unbeatable goalie.
The Calder Trophy finalist ended two of the Devils’ first three playoff series with overtime goals, and he kept New Jersey alive with his latest.
”It’s fun. This is where every kid dreams of playing one day,” Henrique said. ”We know it’s going to be a tough task to come back, (but) there’s no quit in the group in here. We know we can do it. We know we can put four together and come back.”
Quick stopped 21 shots for the Kings, but lost his streak of nearly 139 shutout minutes right when he probably could have wrapped up the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. The Kings had allowed just one third-period goal in their previous nine games.
Kovalchuk added an empty-netter that sent fans streaming forlornly out into a warm evening in Southern California.
”We stayed alive,” said Elias, who has two of the Devils’ five goals in the series. ”Marty had to work hard, but he gave us a chance. All we’ve got to do it keep playing hard.”
With a golden chance for a Hockeywood ending, Los Angeles dropped to 15-3 in its spectacular postseason run, failing to win the title on its first try – and in its 200th playoff game, no less – in front of the faithful fans who have never seen the Stanley Cup.
The Kings should head to New Jersey with confidence: They have won all 10 of their road playoff games this spring and 12 straight overall – both NHL postseason records. But after never trailing in the Stanley Cup finals, the Kings never led in Game 4.
”I think (wrapping it up) was definitely on our minds, but they found a way to get a late goal,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said. ”We’ve just got to hit the reset button. We’ve been in this situation now four times in the playoffs, and we’ve always come back with a big rebound game.”
Los Angeles set an NHL record by taking a 3-0 lead in all four of its playoff series, but failed three times to close out its opponents in Game 4. Vancouver and Phoenix also won Game 4 before losing Game 5.
The Devils became just the sixth of 26 teams in finals history to force a Game 5 after falling behind 0-3. Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs ever rallied with four straight wins in the finals, and only three teams in NHL history have done it in any playoff round.
”I think the last three games could have gone our way as easily as they’ve gone L.A.’s way,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. ”We finally got rewarded tonight.”
After a tight-checking game between two very tight teams, Elias’ rebound goal with 12:04 to play put a hush over Staples Center. But 62 seconds later -and six seconds after Clarkson went off with a questionable boarding penalty – Mike Richards passed Anze Kopitar’s faceoff win to Doughty, who rocketed a long shot past Brodeur for the fourth goal of his breakthrough postseason.
But after so many minutes of tight defense, New Jersey won it with a stunning goal in transition: Former Kings forward Alexei Ponikarovsky got the puck to Clarkson, who found Henrique across the ice for his first goal since ending the Eastern Conference finals with an overtime goal.
”That’s probably the best feeling I’ve ever had in my whole career,” Clarkson said. ”I saw (Henrique) coming, so I got it to him, and the shot was incredible.”
The Kings opened their first Stanley Cup finals in 19 years with two tense overtime victories in New Jersey, surviving largely on the brilliance of Quick. Los Angeles then returned home and routed the Devils 4-0 in Game 3 on Monday night, setting the stage for a celebration.
But the Devils got into the details, and the Kings must regroup.
”We couldn’t score,” Kopitar said. ”We had a couple of chances, and we didn’t bear down. We didn’t get a couple of bounces in, and you have to create your own bounces. They played with a little more desperation than we did, and we have to correct that in Game 5.”
No surprise given the tremendous stakes, both teams were nervous and jumpy from the opening faceoff in Game 4. Quick got plenty of work early when the Devils got two power plays in the opening minutes, while Slava Voynov and Kopitar hit Brodeur’s posts for the Kings in the scoreless first period.
Both teams appeared to be as tense as the crowd in the second, with Brodeur making a stellar pad save on Simon Gagne’s breakaway chance late.
The NHL unpacked the Stanley Cup deep inside Staples Center before the third period, but it never saw the ice.
Gagne and Trevor Lewis got a breakaway chance early in the third, but Brodeur sprawled on his back to stop Lewis. Brodeur mishandled the puck moments later and nearly gave it right to Brown, but the deflection off Brown’s right skate barely missed the net.
Elias finally slipped in on Quick and slapped home a rebound of Bryce Salvador’s shot, putting a pall on the crowd and ending Quick’s scoreless streak at 138 minutes, 39 seconds.
The gloom didn’t last long: Doughty teed up the latest in his long line of booming shots, and Brodeur was at least partly screened by Anton Volchenkov in front.
NOTES: The Kings set a franchise attendance record for the second straight game, packing 18,867 into Staples Center. … The Devils changed their lineup for Game 4, inserting Sykora into his sixth Stanley Cup finals along with D Henrik Tallinder, who had been out since January with a blood clot. Sykora, a healthy scratch since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, replaced Jacob Josefson, while Tallinder took the spot of former Kings D Peter Harrold. Sykora played more than 12 minutes, and Tallinder logged nearly 20 minutes. … Gagne played his second straight game after returning to the lineup for Game 3. He had been out since Dec. 26 with a concussion. … Staples Center was occupied by an LMFAO show on Tuesday night, and Van Halen will play before the teams return for a potential Game 6, although Kings coach Darryl Sutter says the ice is holding up well. … Will Ferrell, Matthew Perry and Alyssa Milano attended the game.