The mighty scream of, "Henrique! It's over!" courtesy of Doc Emerick still rings in the ears of Devils' fans from just two post-seasons ago. Adam Henrique's overtime tally at the Prudential Center in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals is arguably already one of the biggest goals in Devils' history; it sent a team that some "experts" were predicting would be eliminated in the first round (and surely wouldn't get past the Flyers who had crushed the Penguins) to their first cup final since 2003. However, we're not here to talk about that goal today, because there were two goals much earlier in this playoff run that if they hadn't happened, could have seen the Devils suffer another disappointing exit.
Goal #1: Travis Zajac: Devils Vs. Panthers ECQF Game 6 4/24/12
A surprising Florida Panthers team had presented a nice challenge for the Devils so far in the quarterfinals. Starting the series in Florida, New Jersey would score three goals in the first period, and despite Florida answering with two of their own in the second, the Devils would take away a 3-2 victory. The next game was just the opposite, as the Panthers stormed out to a 3-0 lead. Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk would get the Devils within one, but that's as close as they would get, and an empty-netter by Tomas Fleischmann would give Florida a 4-2 win.
Game 3 in New Jersey was the weirdest of the series; the Devils would grab a 3-0 lead, Florida would eventually even it up in the second period, both starting goalies would been pulled in favor of their back-ups, and Florida would get one goal on Johan Hedburg to win 4-3. Game 4 was all New Jersey as each member of the short-lived ZIP line would pot a goal as would Steve Bernier for a 4-0 Devils win. Game 5 was again an opposite of the prior game, with the Panthers taking it 3-0 and heading to New Jersey hoping to end the series in 6.
The Devils would come out hot in Game 6, with Kovalchuk and Bernier staking the Devils to a 2-0 lead. Florida would fight back, tying the game in the middle of the second period. The 2-2 score would stand through the third, and for the first time this postseason, the Devils would be heading for overtime.
With just over five minutes gone in the period, Marek Zidlicky would make an ill-timed pinch, and Stephen Weiss would get the puck around Travis Zajac. Weiss and Kris Versteeg would come down 2 on1 against Bryce Salvador with Marty Brodeur behind him. Zach Parise would tenaciously back check Weiss, forcing his shot off target. Marty would stop a good Panthers chance after that and Zajac would bring the puck up the ice. His pass to Parise would be behind Zach, and yet perhaps it's that mistake that allows the play to develop. Parise's man chases him as he whacks the puck along the boards and Kovalchuk takes over.
Vertseeg is in no man's land at this point, and he almost lazily skates behind Zajac as Kovalchuk breaks into the offensive zone. The Panthers defense makes a critical mistake as well, with both men moving over to play Kovalchuk. Ilya slides a pass to Zajac who now has quite a bit of space as Versteeg's attempt to intercept the pass fails. Travis breaks in and, seeing a defender coming across to attempt to block the shot, flips a quick wrister at the net. It gets past Scott Clemensen, the crowd erupts, the bench clears, and as Steve Cangialosi says in the above video, "The Devils set sail for Sunrise and a decisive Game 7!"
I loved this goal personally because it just showed the work ethic of the Devils as a team, and really showed what the 2012 squad was about. Despite having a 2-1 breakout, Parise skated back hard and altered Weiss' shot. The Panthers almost scored again on that play, but good defense kept the puck out of the net. A bad pass was turned into an opportunity again due to players not quitting on the play. Kovalchuk and Zajac also read their current predicaments perfectly, as Ilya passed when he saw Travis open, and Travis shot the puck just before the defender could get over and block it.
If the Panthers end this game on the odd-man rush, the series is over; there is no Game 7, no series with the Flyers, no series with Our Hated Rivals, and certainly no ECF Game 6. The ZIP line would save the series for the Devils in Game 6, but Game 7 would be the beginning of the legend of Adam Henrique.
Goal #2: Adam Henrique: Devils Vs. Panthers ECQF Game 7 4/26/12
Oddly enough, this first installment of Throwback Thursday would feature a goal that happened in a game that started on a Thursday. With their overtime victory two days earlier, the Devils carried the series momentum into Game 7, and despite a loud, raucous BankAtlantic (now BB&T) Center, the Devils momentum would lead to an Adam Henrique goal just a minute and a half into the game. More air would be sucked out of the Panthers' sails as Stephen Gionta would backhand a rebound into the net midway through the second period for his second goal of the series. The Panthers would not go gently into the good night, scoring two powerplay goal in the third to tie the game. Fitting for a series as close as this one was, it would take overtime to decide who would move on to round two.
After playing another twenty minutes of hockey, the score would stand at 2 apiece, with another overtime period being needed to settle this great series. Three and a half minutes in, the Devils would dump the puck deep into the zone to get a change in their defense pairing.
Jose Theodore would settle the puck and try to play it to one of his defensemen, however the pass was just a bit too far. Alexei Ponikarovsky would intercept and send the puck back behind the net hoping for Henrique, but Dmitry Kulikov would get position on him. The puck would be knocked around the boards (either by Henrique of Kulikov, it's difficult to tell) and David Clarkson would again wind up with it. It would pop towards the blue line, but Poni wound up making an ingenious play, tapping it out of the air and back towards his linemates.
One Panther would try to jump and snag the puck out of the air, but it was too high; it would deflect off of Henrique's glove and after bouncing through three Panthers, it would come back to Adam who would make the breathing room that he had count. A quick, hard wrister would travel between the pads of Theodore, sending the Devils to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
I remember watching this game with my girlfriend; despite being tired (and it technically being Friday morning when the game ended) we were both celebrating like crazy people. Two nights after one heart-stopping game, we (along with countless other Devils fans) had to endure another, even longer heart-stopping game! It was a great win, and showed that this team had a lot of guts. Said guts would help to eliminate the Flyers in 5, OHR in 6, and to win as many games against the Kings as all of their Western Conference opponents put together won.
Henrique would be held without a goal again until the infamous series-ending score against Our Hated Rivals. He would go on to add one more in the Cup Finals against the Kings, which again was a game winning goal. This playoff run combined with Adam leading the team in goals this past season has me excited for his future with the team.
Much like Zajac's goal, without this there's a chance Henrique and the Devils never get to the Conference Finals to create one of the most memorable goals in Devils history. If this shot didn't go in, the Panthers could have won the series later in the period. So while Game 6 of the Conference Finals should always resonate within our fan base, I think it's important that we don't forget key events that enabled us to have those great moments.
If this does turn into a semi-regular column of mine, I would like to have some fan input as to other "lesser remembered but still important" Devils goals/moments to review. If there are enough ideas generated, I'd be willing to take note of them and either update this article with a poll or have a poll the next time we do a throwback. As always comments about the above goals/memories are valued as well!