I vividly remember watching Game 5 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, not only for the moment I'm looking back on, but because it was a weird hockey game. Our New Jersey Devils would surge out to an early 3-0 lead, due to a lot of hard work, as well as some puck luck. Our Hated Rivals would chip away at said lead, eventually tying the game in the opening minute of the third period. The stage was set for one player to step up, score a timely goal, and etch his name into the history of this rivalry; few expected said hero to be Ryan Carter.
Devils Dominate Early
The Devils would come out flying in the early minutes of the game, and would quickly be rewarded for it. Just under three minutes in, the puck would be worked around to Mark Fayne at the point; he would let a shot go that would be stopped, but the rebound would bounce right over to Stephen Gionta. Little Gio would quickly backhand the rebound past Henrik Lundqvist, giving the Devils an early 1-0 lead, and sucking some of the life out of the Madison Square Garden crowd.
Not content to rest on a one goal lead, New Jersey would continue to pressure hard. Ilya Kovalchuk would lead the team down the ice, and Patrik Elias would break for the net. Kovalchuk's defender would knock him off the puck, and while fighting for it he would fall to the ice, but not before getting the puck over to Adam Henrique. Henrique would put a shot on net that would hit off of Elias' skate, deflect into Artem Anisimov's skate, and somehow it wound up in the back of the net. It was a goal that had to be seen to be believed.
New York would use their timeout here hoping to slow the New Jersey down, but the Devils were determined to take a series lead home to New Jersey. With just over ten minutes remaining in the period, Zach Parise would tap a puck over to Travis Zajac, and he would enter the offensive zone with Dainius Zubrus. OHR must have been expecting Zajac to pass the puck to either Zubrus or back to Parise, as they inexplicably game him a good amount of space to skate. Travis would burn them, rifling a shot into the net, giving the Devils a 3-0 lead before the halfway point of the first period.
As a quick aside, this was the best goal of the 2012 Cup run to me, not only because Zajac is my favorite current Devil, but also because this shot left Lundqvist on his wallet.
New York Wakes Up
New York would strike before the end of the period, with Brandon Prust notching his first of the postseason, but the Devils would take a two goal lead into the locker room. The second period would see OHR on the attack early, and Anisimov would take a quick shot from near the boards that would be knocked in at the front of the net by Ryan Callahan. The play would be called for review, as the puck went in off of Callahan's skate; despite the footage seemingly showing him angling his foot and sweeping it toward the net, the goal was upheld. I will leave the video here so that you can formulate your own opinion; in the very least, it should speak volumes as to how inconsistent the NHL's rulings on a "kicking motion" are.
Now down by just one, New York would press hard, but the Devils would remain in the lead by a 3-2 score as the second period closed. As it out of a nightmare, the third period started eerily similar to the second; New York makes a quick push into their offensive zone. Marty Brodeur comes out to play the puck, but can't due to its position on the ice. Marian Gaborik would swoop into the zone, claim the puck, shoot it and ring it off the far post. Broduer would cover it under his glove at the post, but would be bumped by Derek Stepan attempting to find the puck. Marty would be knocked off balance and the puck would go into the net. The teams were tied with basically a full period of hockey left to go.
Despite the best efforts from both teams, the scoring remained tied at 3 for a while. New York was playing with momentum on their side, having scored the last 3 goals and having their home crowd behind them; the momentum would be all for naught. With four and a half minutes left and both teams in the midst of changing players, Marek Zidlicky would shoot the puck towards the Devils' offensive zone, where Gionta would tip it into the corner. Kovalchuk, who had yet to change, cancelled out Michael Del Zotto in the corner, allowing Gionta to free the puck.
In one of the nicest hockey plays I've ever seen the Devil pull off, he would send the puck in front of two defenders to Ryan Carter, who was wide open thanks to some lazy back-checking by Carl Hagelin. Carter would one-time the puck into the net before Lundqvist could even finish moving towards him, reestablishing a one goal Devils lead that would stand as the game winner. An empty netter would follow, and the Devils would escape New York with a 5-3 win as well as a 3-2 series lead.
Aside from the fact that Carter's goal was a beautiful goal, it was nice to see two guys who give 100% every game get rewarded with this goal. The chemistry between the CBGB line was at it's best during the 2012 Playoffs, and it could be argued that they have never played as well as a unit as they did during those 24 games, though that might speak more of the match-ups they have faced since then.
This goal should be remembered for years to come in this rivalry (at least on our side) as it gave New Jersey a chance to wrap the series up on home ice in Game 6. It showed that hard work pays off and that if you believe in your team as Peter DeBoer did, you will be rewarded for it. Ryan Carter's winner in Game 5 will forever be overshadowed by Adam Henrique's winner in Game 6, but that shouldn't make it any less important, because without Carter winning Game 5, the Devils may not have taken a series lead into Game 6; and depending on who you ask (myself included) however, Ryan Carter still had one more goal to score (which may or may not be the next Throwback Thursday) in this series that was even more important.
Now I'd like to hear from you about your thoughts and memories of this goal. Do the Devils win this game if Carter doesn't score on this play? Do they win the series? Is this in your mind an important moment in the rivalry? Please leave all comments below and thank you for reading!