LOS ANGELES — The pass was a little behind Adam Henrique, nothing that a slight kick of the New Jersey Devils rookie forward’s skate couldn’t fix.
He got the puck to his stick and then put it past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, a third-period tally that put the Devils in front for good in a 3-1 victory in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday. On a team with big-name talent like Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, it was Henrique — with game and a mustache that’s beyond his 22 years of age — that prevented an L.A. sweep and forced Game 5 on Saturday in Newark.
“You know, everybody wants to be out there in those situations,” Henrique said. “You want to be counted on by your teammates, your coaches. It’s nice that they have that trust in me to put me out there in those certain times of the game. … I’m just a kid playing hockey, having some fun.”
Henrique’s goal — which was followed later by an empty-netter by Kovalchuk — prevented the Devils from getting swept in a playoff series for the first time in franchise history, although it wasn’t his first major breakthrough in his first NHL postseason.
He has scored two series-clinching overtime goals already this postseason: Game 7 of the first round against the Florida Panthers and in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers. Henrique is the first rookie to net three game-winning goals in one postseason since Colorado Avalanche forwards Chris Drury and Milan Hejduk scored four and three gamers, respectively, in 1999.
“He just thrives in these situations,” Devils forward Travis Zajac said. “He’s become a game-breaker, even during the regular season. He’s really elevated his game this postseason. When we needed a big goal, he was there.”
After a lackluster (maybe boring) first two periods when not a whole lot transpired, the Devils further silenced what had been a crowd looking to see the home team clinch its first Stanley Cup, as Patrick Elias beat Quick 7:56 into the third period to put the Devils up 1-0.
New Jersey’s first lead of the series lasted all of one minute.
Momentum shifted seconds after Elias’ goal. Devils forward David Clarkson was sent to the box for a very soft boarding call, at least that was the feeling of anybody wearing a Devils uniform.
“It’s tough when something like that gets called,” Clarkson said.
All of four seconds ticked off the clock before Kings defenseman Drew Doughty blasted a shot from the blue line that beat screened New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur.
“That’s a crossroads, that’s a turning point,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. “The fact we pushed right back was critical.”
A missed defensive assignment by the Kings created a 2-on-1 break led, coincidentally, by Clarkson as Henrique skated up the boards to his left.
“I saw him coming, so I threw it right across the line where I knew the (defense) couldn’t catch up in time,” Clarkson said. “He made a great play. He kicked it to himself and made an incredible shot. It was a great feeling.”
The odds certainly remain in the Kings’ favor, as only one of 25 teams to fall down 3-0 in the finals has come back to win the Cup. But this was basically the third one-goal game of the series (taking away Wednesday’s empty-netter), and the first two games went to OT, so that aspect and Wednesday’s win has spawned some confidence in the Devils’ locker room.
“How could it not?” Devils forward Dainius Zubrus said. “We were down 3-0 and now we win a game. We feel better about our game. We feel like something went our way, finally.”
It was Henrique — along with a goalie nearly twice his senior in Brodeur — who kept those slim changes alive.
“There’s no quit in the group in here,” Henrique said. “We know we can do it. We know we can put four together and come back.”