Tonight, the New Jersey Devils will take on the Los Angeles Kings for the right to win the greatest trophy in all of sports: the Stanley Cup. Over the past few days, it's mostly been all about this series here at In Lou We Trust and for good reason: it's for the championship. Both teams earned their way here and both teams have a lot going for themselves. As a result, there's a lot of words and comments already spent, both in our series primer, our series predictions, from selected quotes from Tuesday's Media Day, and, of course, in the comprehensive series preview that also went up on Tuesday. Not to mention that the Game 1 preview went up earlier this morning.
However, in the midst of all of this, it's easy to lose track of what exactly got the Devils to this point in the postseason. The Devils won the Eastern Conference Finals by defeating Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers in six games. In that sixth game, the Devils dramatically won 1:03 into overtime as Adam Henrique smacked a loose puck into the net out of a scrum. Adam Henrique's post-regulation heroics knocked Florida out of the playoffs and sent the Devils into the second round. He did it again on May 25 to send the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals and the Rangers back to wherever they go when they lose.
Cup or no Cup, the goal he scored will be remembered as one of the more important ones in team history. This is not the Devils' first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, but it's only their fifth. It's the first time they did it while knocking down the Rangers a peg. That in of itself carries a lot of weight. As Tom wrote in this post on Monday, Henrique's goal provided more than just an opportunity at a championship, but also closure. Devils fans can properly say that the wraparound goal by some scrubby Ranger in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals has been avenged. Rangers fans can't bring up 1994 anymore as a criticism of Martin Brodeur or the Devils organization; there is now a response. The pain from those fans who saw what happened back then has more than healed, it's been repaid.
In addition, how Henrique scored the goal is relevant on this upcoming series against Jonathan Quick and the Kings. Like Henrik Lundqvist, Quick has been magnificent in net all season and in the playoffs. He's athletic, agile, and almost always in position to make a stop. The Devils are going to need some good bounces and/or breakdowns in the Kings' coverage to beat him, as with Lundqvist. Throw in the last fact that watching a huge goal scored by New Jersey is always good for an additional pumping up before a game, and I think Henrique's goal is worthy of a closer look. Please set your viewing to wide and continue on after the jump for a breakdown of Adam Henrique's overtime winning goal against the Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Goal Video
Here's the video from NHL.com of Henrique's game winning goal.
As usual, the screenshots come from this video; the text and poorly drawn arrows and shapes are by me.
The Players Involved
The On-Ice Devils: #6 Andy Greene, #12 Alexei Ponikarovsky, #14 Adam Henrique, #17 Ilya Kovalchuk, #29 Mark Fayne, #30 Martin Brodeur
The On-Ice Rangers: #5 Dan Girardi, #10 Marian Gaborik, #19 Brad Richards, #27 Ryan McDonagh, #30 Henrik Lundqvist, #62 Carl Hagelin
The Breakdown Pt. 1
The play begins with Alexei Ponikarovsky picking up the puck on a dump-in and curling around to face the net. He doesn't have a lot of options. Adam Henrique is battling with Ryan McDonagh for position in front of Lundqvist. Ilya Kovalchuk is heading towards the corner, though he'll turn around shortly. Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards are focusing their eyes on him while outside of the left circle, and Carl Hagelin has him along the boards. With Richards' and Hagelin's position, a pass to either defensemen isn't easy. Andy Greene looks open, but Richards could get a piece of any pass to him or intercept it entirely with where he is on the ice.
At this point, it looks like not much is about to happen. The Rangers seem to have control of the situation. Ponikarovsky is about to change that.
Ponikarovsky turns to shoot the puck on net. This isn't a good shot to take. It's from a considerable distance away and it's at a tight angle. It's not a bad decision, though, because Ponikarovsky didn't have a lot of options. In this moment of time, he'd have less time to work with as Hagelin and Richards headed right for him. The shot could have been blocked or re-directed by Dan Girardi's stick, but it didn't. In fact, it actually got through to Henrique and McDonagh. That's when things decided to get crazy.
Officially, the shot wasn't on net - yet, it wasn't recorded as a block either. Either way, there's a rebound from Ponikarovsky's shot right around the crease. Lundqvist kneels to get ready if it comes back at him low (or because he made a stop, your mileage may vary). McDonagh and Henrique are searching for it, but it's in an awkward position relative to their spot. It's on the ice and it's sliding outwards, but at this moment it's among their skates. This is a big problem for the Rangers because as soon as Ponikarovsky let his shot go, Kovalchuk turned around and went to the slot. Notice that no one's really near him. Girardi played the shot and so he's behind him; Gaborik is still at the higher hashmark, and Richards and Hagelin now have to recover. If Kovalchuk gets this puck, he's got a great chance to end this game right here.
Kovalchuk got it, but either Lundqvist makes a save or McDonagh blocks it. Officially, it's a save by Lundqvist. Again: you can disagree but the point is still the same. The rebound attempt was denied. Afterwards, the puck slides to the right of Lundqvist.
Gaborik and Girardi now realize they should do something about Kovalchuk, so they're going to approach him. McDonagh fell down for a block attempt, so he's in an odd spot. This will turn out badly for the Rangers later on.
Like any experienced player, Kovalchuk tracks the puck to where it would go. Unfortunately, he under-skated it just a bit. At this moment, if Kovalchuk was a little bit further along, he's got a wide open net as this puck is just past Lundqvist's right leg. However, Kovalchuk is still searching for where exactly the puck is and so this very brief opportunity became a whole bunch of nothing.
Meanwhile, Girardi came into contact with Henrique. At least, it looks like he did. Girardi has gone this low in an attempt to flank Kovalchuk from around the net. I would think the justification for this decision was that with Gaborik dropping in from the slot, Girardi can take him in the opposite direction. As it turned out, it wasn't the right decision. It doesn't help that Gaborik is catching up just now.
As Kovalchuk finds the puck, Lundqvist got his right leg across to deny him low. McDonagh flopped to his right and he's stretching out as if to knock this puck away. I don't think he'll reach it, but it shouldn't be an issue. Gaborik is coming in a position to either A) deny Kovalchuk from another attempt or B) get this puck cleanly and get it away. Seems simple enough, right?
Elsewhere, Girardi is about to head behind the net, and with Lundqvist down low, Richards is going to the goal line. Ponikarovsky is now entering the slot and he's going to follow Gaborik.
Fortunately, the Rangers don't get to this puck. As it happened, Gaborik actually skated onto the puck. It's right next to his right skate right now. Kovalchuk got his stick down to block out Gaborik. McDonagh's stretch looks valiant but was ineffective. Girardi is now not able to do anything at all but to continue going around the net. Richards steps in front of Henrique, who's about to be open because Hagelin is following Ponikarovsky. Speaking of, Ponikarovsky is about to fish this puck away from Gaborik's skate and make something happen.
Ponikarovsky got the puck and fired one on net. It's low, but that's OK. Richards crashed into the left post while standing, which would have prevented most attempts over Lundqvist's right pad. The important thing is that the puck is still loose.
Now, I want to you to look very closely at Lundqvist. In the last shot, he was almost right on his belly, keeping everything low covered. Either as a reaction to Ponikarovsky's shooting attempt - also not officially recorded - or just to get his bearings back, he leans up. With his legs stretched out, this makes his five hole even larger. This will spell the Rangers' doom in a bit.
Now, look at the other Rangers. McDonagh's on the ground not able to do anything. Gaborik is spinning out a bit from having the puck taken away. Hagelin just focuses on Ponikarovsky. Richards is on the goal line as a last defender. Girardi is coming around the net, but notice Kovalchuk has position on him. Also notice that no one is covering Henrique. That's right, it's a five-on-five situation on the ice and a three-on-five down low, and all three Devils aren't really being defended.
Since Kovalchuk had position on Girardi at the right side of the net, he has free reign to jam the puck at Lundqvist. Fortunately for him and his team, the puck will bounce off his right pad and through his gaping five-hole, most easily seen because Lundqvist got up for a moment. The puck is free and as Richards drops down to cover more space, Henrique sees that the puck is free. The wide-open, no-one-there-to-impede Henrique sees a loose puck behind the goaltender.
Wait, no. No, it's not. That's not good enough. I mean, we know he scored in the last shot. But the camera angle in the last two pictures view really doesn't capture what happened in between Kovalchuk's jam at the crease and Henrique putting the puck in the net. Fortunately, there's Fred Murtz. Fred Murtz has high quality video of the goal, the Eastern Conference Finals celebration, and, most importantly, a view from the back of the net. Here's Murtz' video:
I've taken a couple of screenshots from 3:56 to 4:00 in the video. Again, text and poorly drawn arrows are my own.
The Breakdown Pt. 2
OK. Now, we know the puck gets through Lundqvist's legs. This is how it ends up being loose.
The first incredibly favorable bounce for the Devils was that Kovalchuk's jam attempt got through at all. It went off his right pad and angled between the legs. The puck's not moving all that fast and it's heading right towards Lundqvist's left skate. Richards has his stick down so if/when the puck gets obscured by anything by Lundqvist, he can put his stick down to protect it. Then he just has hope for a whistle to end the play.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, Lundqvist felt the stick and the puck and assumed he needed to close his legs. So as he brings his legs together, he actually knocks the puck loose and towards his right skate. That's the second incredible favorable bounce for the Devils. This sudden movement helps throw Richards off balance. He won't be able to help force a freeze with his stick. Still, it could happen if the puck gets under his skate and enough of his pad to cover it. All the ref has to do is lose sight of it and the Rangers escape this chaos.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, Lundqvist was still trying to close his legs and that knocked the puck back and to the left. That's the third incredibly favorable bounce for the Devils. It's now completely behind the goaltender. Richards is literally the last line of defense. He sees what's happening and he's dropping to one knee in the hopes that he can block it. Anything to keep it from going into the net.
The wide-open, not-at-all-covered Adam Henrique is coming in from the left and he sees this puck. Richards will not be able to deny him this glorious opportunity.
That's how Adam Henrique became a hero again.
The Devils needed quite a bit of luck on this play. Luck was prevalent from shot getting on net to the rebound attempts to the puck going from Lundqvist's left skate to his right and remaining loose to the referee not blowing the play did for losing sight of the puck. The most important ones took the puck through Lundqvist, off one skate, off the other, and then behind him. Richards may have been at the right place, but the lack of space made it difficult for him to do anything. He was in trouble when he lost his balance on the first shot, and he was beaten dead to rights the moment Henrique came into the picture.
The Devils also needed some breakdowns in coverage. Seriously: three Devils down low and no one gets defended? It was a five-on-five even strength situation, I'm baffled as to how any of them left Henrique open. The various decisions made by each Rangers skater looks ridiculous in retrospect. McDonagh falling down just took him out of the play. Girardi went around the net but didn't get there in time to do anything at all to Kovalchuk jamming the puck through Lundqvist's legs. Richards went to the goal line for back support, which helped leave Henrique open. Hagelin blew by Henrique to chase Ponikarovsky, which ended up with nothing. Gaborik had a chance to end this chaos sooner, but he missed the puck and ended up keeping it alive for New Jersey. Things went from not good to bad to worse to disastrous for the Rangers in a matter of seconds.
Credit needs to go to the three Devils forwards. Ponikarovsky wasn't in a great situation to start, but he kicked this whole play off. His taking of the puck from Gaborik's skate and subsequent shot attempt kept things going, which was important - even if the scorer didn't count it. Oh well, he'll be happy with the secondary assist on the play. Kovalchuk followed up on Ponikarovsky's attempts well, and his jam play after the second one paid off huge. Lastly and not least, Henrique was in the right place, the right time, and with no one able to stop him. He could have reacted slowly for not being involved in the play until the end, but he stayed focused on what was going on. That's why when he saw that loose puck, it was curtains for the Rangers.
Going into the Kings series, this is the sort of thing the Devils should make the most of. Lundqvist is going to regret getting his body up; but the lack of proper coverage that could have stopped this play at all wasn't there. When the puck is in chaos and bodies pile up, that's when a favorable bounce or a bad decision can happen for great results. It's a difficult situation for any goaltender, and the Devils should try to make the game as difficult as possible for Quick. I'm not saying every play should start with a long, bad angle shot and traffic all around the net. But it wouldn't be the worst idea to crash the net a bit more often and hope luck favors the situation. It won't happen on every play, but it only has to happen once to make a big difference. It certainly did in Game 6.
Now that you've seen the goal and you've read the breakdown, what are your thoughts about how it all happened? What do you think was the luckiest part of this play for the Devils? Are you surprised the Rangers made this much of a mess on the play? Can anyone give me a good reason why Henrique was left uncovered? What else did you learn from this breakdown? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this play, the goal, and this breakdown in the comments. Thank you for reading.