The NHL offseason is winding down with the 2023 prospects challenge, training camp, and preseason hockey right around the corner. All of this is welcome news as the 2023-24 iteration of the New Jersey Devils will give us plenty to discuss on the ice.
Unfortunately, that means we still have some time to kill as we run the clock out on the remainder of the 2023offseason. All of this means its as good a time as any for the latest installment of our series “Let’s (Re)Watch”, as we reminisce, highlight, and celebrate key moments of the Devils past. Back in July, we took a look at the last time the Devils won the Stanley Cup way back in 2003. Today, we’ll take a look at the last time the Devils won the Prince of Wales Trophy, cementing their status as Eastern Conference Champions and punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Game: 2012 Eastern Conference Final Game 6 - New York Rangers @ New Jersey Devils
The Backstory: The 2011-12 New Jersey Devils were certainly an interesting team. Nearly a decade removed from the last time they won the Stanley Cup, oddsmakers didn’t think much of the team going into the season as their preseason title odds were +2800 and they had an over/under of 90.5 points. And yet, its tough to blame Vegas for feeling that way. The 2010-11 season was a disaster between the John MacLean coaching disaster and the departure of captain Jamie Langenbrunner. The Devils turned the page the following season with newly-hired head coach Peter DeBoer, first-year captain Zach Parise, and 4th overall draft selection Adam Larsson debuting a 19-year old rookie.
Leading the way for the Devils in scoring (37 G, 46 A) was Ilya Kovalchuk, in the second year of a massive 15-year deal that he would surely see through to the end. The newly-minted captain Parise was in his walk year after missing most of the previous season due to a torn meniscus in his knee, but had a productive season with 31 goals and 38 assists in the regular season. David Clarkson surprisingly joined them in the 30-goal club with a breakout campaign of his own. The Devils were able to overcome the loss of #1 center Travis Zajac for most of the regular season due to the emergence of Adam Henrique, who posted 51 points in his rookie season and finished 3rd in Calder voting. Longtime Devils Patrik Elias and Martin Brodeur were the remaining links to the championship teams, with steady veterans like Dainius Zubrus in the mix and a returning Petr Sykora contributing 44 points in 82 games at the age of 35. Gone were the days of the Devils having stalwarts like Stevens and Niedermayer on the backend, but the Devils had a good blueline that year with Andy Greene, Bryce Salvador, recent free agent acquisitions in Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder, a rookie Larsson, Peter Harrold and Marek Zidlicky, who came over at the trade deadline. Lastly, the Devils caught lightning in a bottle during their playoff run that season with the emergence of the CBGB line, comprised of Stephen Gionta and journeymen veterans Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter.
The Devils experienced a bounceback campaign in 2011-12 with 102 points, good for the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. They went the distance with the Florida Panthers in their first round matchup, which was ultimately decided on a double-overtime goal by Henrique in Game 7. The Devils dropped Game 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime, but rebounded with four consecutive wins to advance to the Conference Final for the first time since 2003. Awaiting the Devils were their archrivals and the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs in the New York Rangers.
Led by head coach John Tortorella, captain Ryan Callahan, and future Hall of Fame goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers were a formidable foe. Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Callahan, and a 21-year old Derek Stepan led the team in scoring, while Ryan McDonagh (whom the Rangers got when they fleeced the Montreal Canadiens in the Scott Gomez trade) was emerging as one of the best young defensemen in the league. Chris Kreider, the only Ranger from that team who is still on the current roster, made his NHL debut during the playoffs that year. Future Devil Brian Boyle, who spent two seasons in Jersey and won the Masterton Trophy in 2017-18 after overcoming chronic myelogenous leukemia, was on this Rangers team. Other Rangers players with former or future Devils ties include Mike Rupp (played 5 seasons for the Devils and was a 2003 Stanley Cup champion) and Anton Stralman (didn’t stick with the Devils after signing a PTO during training camp in 2010-11).
These teams did not like each other much going into this series though. You may recall they started a late-regular season matchup between the two teams with a good ol’ fashioned line brawl.
In typical Rangers fashion, New York went the distance in their opening playoff rounds, surviving a pair of Game Sevens against the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals to reach the Conference Final. They did this thanks in part to Lundqvist posting a .937 save percentage. Lundqvist continued to do his part with shutouts in Games 1 and 3, sandwiching a Devils 3-2 win at the World’s Most Overrated Arena in between. Down 2-1 in the series, the Devils bounced back with a convincing 4-1 win on home ice in Game 4. Ryan Carter scored with 4:24 remaining in Game 5 and Zach Parise added an empty netter in the closing seconds to spare the Devils the embarrassment of blowing a 3-0 lead in Game 5 and give the Devils a 5-3 win. With New Jersey now up 3-2 in the series, they would have a chance to finish off their rivals on home ice and advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in nine seasons.
As for a little personal backstory from yours truly, I attended this game, as I attended almost every Devils home playoff game during that run. So while I did see this game, and I have obviously seen the “Henrique, It’s Over” highlight a billion times in the 11 years since, this is the first time I’ll be watching the NBC broadcast in its entirety. I’m excited for this, as some of the nuances of the game can be difficult to pick up in person, but they can be picked up on TV. I’m also excited for this because I was somewhere between my 14th and 15th beer of the night by the time the game ended, so my memory is a little hazy. However, I do have photographic evidence of me being there from my seats in Section 232. Enjoy some low-res photos from whatever Samsung model phone I owned in 2012.
The Broadcast Booth: Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk, with Pierre McGuire between the benches
The Video (credit to “NHL Playoffs Archived Games” on YouTube):
5:59 - The Devils take control off of the opening faceoff and we are underway.
6:49 - We get our first deriding “Hennnnnnnnnnrik” chant of the night moments after he gloved away a shot from Kovalchuk. This game was on a Friday night, so if the building is an indication and the rest of the fans in there are like me, they probably started hitting the bottle at 2pm on a long Memorial Day weekend.
9:24 - Just from the first few minutes of the game, I get reminded of why I’m not all that fond of guys like Kreider and Brandon Dubinsky as they’re ramping up the physicality. Not that there was anything particularly dirty or egregious from them. Its more of a collective sigh when reacting to a Tortorella-coached team and a “Man....$^@$ that guy” you mutter under your breath when watching them play, especially towards the end of a long playoff series.
Bryce Salvador gets called for a high-stick. The fans aren’t happy, but its an easy call for the zebras to make. Rangers power play forthcoming.
11:00 - The Rangers power play was semi-dangerous in that they had opportunities, but missed the net. Elias found Zubrus on an outlet pass for a 2-on-1 shorthanded opportunity that Zubrus rang off the post. The Devils get a clear with about 14 seconds remaining on the New York man advantage and we’re back to even strength.
13:15 - We get our second “Hennnnnnnnnnrik” chant after he fights off a Gionta shot. We’re barely six minutes in. Buckle up!
13:32 - Parise undresses McDonagh for a scoring chance that goes wide.
15:20 - As the broadcast notes, the Rangers blueliners are pinching a little bit to try to sustain offensive zone time, but the Devils are ready for this and they haven’t had much trouble on their forecheck, creating potential scoring chances out of nowhere. We also get a third “Hennnnnnnnnnrik” chant.
16:08 - When Pierre McGuire isn’t busy waxing poetic about where a rando 4th liner played Canadian Juniors and showing you how smart he is with useless information, he can be a pretty solid hockey analyst. Case in point, he astutely points out how the Devils are trying to beat Lundqvist high. NBC has the accompanying video highlight package to confirm.
18:43 - 1-0 New Jersey!
The CBGB line strikes again, with Steve Bernier taking control of a loose puck in the neutral zone and the Devils have the numbers advantage. Bernier slides a pass past Michael Del Zotto to Stephen Gionta. Lundqvist is able to stop the initial shot by Gionta but a trailing Ryan Carter buries the loose puck at the 10:05 mark of the first period to give the Devils the lead and The Rock is rocking.
23:35 - Ruslan Fedotenko turns on a dime and trips up Carter in the process, giving New Jersey their first power play of the game. Another easy call for the referees to make.
24:56 - Despite operating at 10% in the series, the Devils power play is certainly dangerous with a top unit of Kovalchuk, Zajac, Parise, Elias, and Harrold/Zidlicky. Lundqvist stops Parise in front to keep it a one-goal game.
25:37 - 2-0 New Jersey!
Still with the man advantage, the Devils are set up in the offensive zone. Peter Harrold fakes a shot and finds Henrique, who feeds Clarkson in traffic at the top of the circles. Clarkson feeds Zubrus below the goal line, who finds a wide open Kovalchuk who has a window to beat Lundqvist. Precision passing at its finest followed up by a great shot by Kovalchuk and the Devils are up two with the PPG.
All in all, that’s one fine looking power play. Why doesn’t mine look like that?
27:33 - I’m losing track of the Henrik chants, but between this one and the one right before the last commercial break right after the Kovalchuk PPG, the building is as loud as I’ve seen it.
Brodeur makes a couple stops in quick succession. Going into this game, he was a .921 goaltender in the playoffs at the age of 40 (he turned 40 a few weeks before this game). As it turns out, this wound up being Brodeur’s final playoff run of his career, but man, what a run.
27:55 - The Devils chip the puck out of the defensive zone as Marian Gaborik overcommits with his pinch along the walls, Zubrus takes control of the loose puck, and the Devils have another odd man rush. Seeing as this was the third so far and we’re not even 15 minutes in, I’m sure Tortorella had some choice words during the intermission.
Zubrus makes the right decision to pass to Zajac. Marc Staal makes a good stick play to do just enough to disrupt the play and deny a Grade A scoring chance. Zajac nearly gets it back to the trailing Zubrus to salvage this sequence but to no avail. Good sequence for the Devils as they continue to outplay the Rangers to this point.
31:46 - Carl Hagelin knocks over Brodeur for some reason and we’re getting another Devils power play for goaltender interference. Surely, the Devils will put the Rangers away here after how they’ve more or less dominated this period.
34:18 - Another solid power play even though they didn’t score. The broadcast ripped Peter Harrold for not shooting and passing to Kovalchuk. I’m not an expert, but I’d prefer Kovalchuk shooting in that spot. I don’t care what Harrold’s lane is. Kovalchuk is being well-compensated to score goals. Put him in a position to score goals and let him do his thing.
34:58 - The final seconds tick off the first period and it’s 2-0 Devils after 20 minutes. The crowd is going nuts.
37:35 - Early in the second period, Elias finds Henrique for a clear shooting lane than Lundqvist denies. This is quickly becoming one of those games where if the Devils didn’t win it, you’d look back and lament all of these chances where if they made just one more play, they could’ve buried this Rangers team. Instead, the Rangers are hanging around and their Hall of Fame goaltender is giving them life.
38:15 - Alexei Ponikarovsky grabs a little too much of Hagelin as the two battle for positioning on a puck dumped into the corner, but its enough for the referees to call and the Rangers are going on the power play. It’s probably one of those calls that gets called every time in the regular season, but where the whistle is usually swallowed for games of this magnitude. Regardless, the Devils need to kill off a power play.
40:47 - The bad news....New York spent the entirety of the power play in the offensive zone and generated a few really good scoring chances. The good news....the Devils finally got a clear with about 7 seconds left in the power play and survived.
42:08 - The Rangers have continued the momentum since that power play and the play has tilted towards their favor. Brodeur has been sharp so far, but this is one of those situations where the Devils really need to get to the TV timeout (which is at least a minute and a half away at this point) and catch their breath.
The Devils ice the puck. DeBoer calls his timeout to give the Devils a breather, proving that yes, you are allowed to call a timeout when the other team has all the momentum in the world. Or at least you could after an icing back then. You can’t now. Either way, Lindy Ruff can take note for however many times we’ve yelled at the TV screen to take a timeout.
44:27 - The Rangers didn’t score immediately after the timeout. Process validated.
46:08 - Michael Del Zotto clips Steve Bernier in the face with a high stick. Or maybe he doesn’t? It’s very close and Bernier sells the hell out of it like The Rock selling a stunner from Stone Cold Steve Austin. Maybe it grazed him, maybe it didn’t. Either way, the Devils are getting another power play and another opportunity to bury this Rangers team.
47:08 - Zajac takes a slash from Brandon Prust on the hand and loses his glove and stick in the process. He winds up going down the tunnel a few moments later to take a look at it.
49:03 - NBC finally shows a replay of the Prust play and this is exactly what people are talking about when they criticize NHL officiating, particularly in the playoffs. Just an unnecessary, dangerous play on Prust’s part and there’s no call. Whether that’s because the Devils were already on the power play with a questionable high-stick call or whether its because the referees didn’t want to “decide the game” by giving the Devils a 5-on-3 in that spot, its annoying that stuff like that that is blatantly obvious doesn’t get called in that spot. I hate complaining about the officiating, but it really bugs me when referees, when they’re trying not to decide the game by swallowing the whistle, wind up deciding the game by not doing their job and calling infractions as they happen. Alas....
50:02 - After the power play expires (and no, the Devils didn’t score), Harrold feeds the puck along the boards to Kovalchuk to clear. The Rangers intercept. McDonagh outmuscles Harrold for a wraparound try and Fedotenko taps in the loose puck in front of the crease to cut it the Devils lead to 2-1.
56:20 - The Rangers win an offensive zone draw. Dan Girardi comes up with the puck and fires towards the net before its redirected in by Ryan Callahan’s knee to tie the game with 6:19 to go in the second period. Not much Brodeur can do about that one.
Meanwhile, the Rangers fans in attendance have woken up as the tide of the game has completely shifted. Maybe the timeout did nothing, in retrospect.
1:03:48 - Zajac, who has long since returned to the game, gets tossed from the faceoff circle. I haven’t been paying super close attention to this during this recap but its the first time this has happened this game as far as I can recall. If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will correct me in the comments.
I say that to say one of my pet peeves is how often this happens nowadays where someone gets tossed from the dot. Re-watch a random NHL game from this past season and this will happen 15-20 times over the course of the game. This will be an instance where I don’t blame the players, I blame the officials. Drop the puck and stop making it about you. Nobody paid to see you.
1:04:43 - The Devils don’t score on a loose puck while Lundqvist is sprawled out, as Girardi makes a good play to delay Parise long enough to have a chance to bury it. Another missed opportunity for the Devils.
1:08:10 - This slog of a second period finally comes to an end with the game tied 2-2. Devils dominated the first period. Rangers dominated the second.
1:11:08 - Pierre McGuire gets on his soapbox on Steve Bernier’s ‘embellishment’, suggesting that the Devils blowing a 2-0 lead shortly after is some form of hockey karma. No mention of whether or not hockey karma was a thing on the uncalled Prust slash, but I digress. I take back everything nice I said about Pierre earlier.
This leads to a discussion about implementing a “coaches challenge” system, something that will surely foolproof as 60% of the time, it works every time and lead to zero controversy moving forward.
Anyways, I’ve seen the replay of this play ten times or so by now. I still have no idea whether or not the stick grazed him. I’m sure if I were a Rangers fan, I’d say Bernier embellished. I’m watching through Devils-tinted glasses so I think it might’ve. It is what it is. Move on.
By the way, if it seems like my commentary on the game itself is light, its because there really isn’t a whole lot going on between the end of the second and early portions of the third period.
1:19:13 - We’ll pick up the action with 12:17 left in the third. Zubrus gains the zone and fires on net only for Lundqvist to make the save. The Rangers come right back with some offensive zone time but no harm, no foul, and we get a TV stoppage with 11:17 left.
1:22:10 - Carter knocks Staal into the net and the refs are right there to call interference. Rangers power play forthcoming after their timeout.
1:24:31 - The Devils perhaps catch a little bit of a break perhaps as Andy Greene clears the puck out of play from the defensive zone. The officials said it hit the top of the glass and their opinion is the only one that matters here. Replay isn’t conclusive. We play on with 1:13 left in the penalty kill and 9:24 left in the third.
1:25:16 - Del Zotto fires a shot towards the net, Brodeur is down, and Brad Richards cant elevate the puck into half an open net as his shot hits Brodeur in the midsection. That is one moment Rangers fans will look back on as a blown opportunity. It’s also a heck of a save by Brodeur at a critical juncture of the game, which shouldn’t be lost on anyone.
The Devils kill off the remainder of the Carter penalty and are back to even strength.
1:27:57 - Henrique is down after appearing to take an inadvertent Boyle stick to a sensitive area. Maybe the Hockey Gods will shine down on him after being the victim of such a reckless play and he’ll have a Willis Reed type of moment.
1:29:25 - McDonagh finds Artem Anisimov with a stretch pass and the forward gets a step on Marek Zidlicky, who is currently 0/3 in legs of the Zid-Trick in this game. Longtime readers of AATJ will appreciate that reference.
Anyways, Brodeur pokechecks the puck out of danger to keep the game tied 2-2.
1:36:30 - Brodeur makes another great play with his stick with just under 2 minutes left in regulation and has probably been the biggest reason why the Devils aren’t trailing considering their no-show offensively the last 40 minutes or so.
Lundqvist might’ve been the Vezina winner that season, but Brodeur, who is 10 years older than his contemporary in the other net, is outplaying him with the season on the line.
Marty is indeed better.
1:38:49 - We are heading to overtime tied at 2. I don’t recall what I was thinking at the time while in the arena, but it probably wasn’t safe for print here.
1:39:51 - Pierre points out there’s an oxygen mask on the Rangers bench. Let’s hope this overtime period is really short and they won’t need to use it.
1:40:27 - Doc mentions the Hockey Gods. I was specifically told they’re out for blood after the crime of the century earlier this game with Bernier maybe overselling a potential high-stick to the face. THE FIX IS IN!
1:41:08 - The Rangers get set up in the offensive zone and generate a lightning-quick scoring chance as the puck is fed across the front of the net. Not too different from how the Rangers scored earlier in the game in the Fedotenko goal, but Zubrus is there to tie up the stick and the Devils get a much needed clear and line change.
1:41:30 - Henrique comes up with the puck in the neutral zone and finds Kovalchuk as he gains the zone. Kovalchuk fires towards net and Lundqvist redirects it into the corner. Ponikarovsky collects the puck uncontested as the Rangers get set up defensively. Ponikarovsky turns and fires towards the net, supporting the theory of “fire pucks at the net from any angle, only good things can happen”. The puck is loose in the crease and.....well, you know what happens next.
1:41:37 - “HENRIQUE, IT’S OVER!!!!”
Adam Henrique is there on the doorstep amidst a sea of chaos to tap in the loose puck and gets mobbed in the corner. The Devils are heading to the Stanley Cup Final! Adam Henrique has scored one of the most important goals in Devils franchise history.
1:43:24 - We get right to the handshake line. Nothing too notable from this aside from a little lengthier exchange between Brodeur and Lundqvist with a few chest taps. Greatness recognizing greatness.
1:44:46 - Pierre gets an interview Zach Parise. Pierre asks a useless question about Parise on the 2010 Olympics team and if his experience from there correlates to what the Devils accomplished here. This is why people dislike Pierre.
Parise correctly credits Brodeur for being ‘in the zone’ tonight. I would agree with his assessment. We also get a “We’ll see” from Parise when asked what he might do with the Prince of Wales trophy. Some intrigue, perhaps?
1:46:29 - Not really. Parise does not touch the Prince of Wales trophy after a quick conversation with Brodeur on the ice prior to the trophy presentation. Nobody on the Devils touches it. Probably the right call. What could possibly go wrong? Again, 60% of the time, it works every time.
The fans know what’s going on as they start chanting “We Want The Cup”.
1:48:25 - “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen is playing, we get a few final replays of the Devils celebration, and Pierre McGuire grabs Adam Henrique for a quick interview as we wrap things up here. The Devils are heading to the Stanley Cup Final!
Surely, with all of the good vibes coming from an unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Final, there would be more to come. The Devils would go on to vanquish the Western Conference Champion Los Angeles Kings and win their fourth Stanley Cup, Parise would sign on for many more years to come and be a Devil for life, as would Henrique who is now a Devils hero for life. No other major surprises could come the Devils way to ruin everything.
....or the exact opposite would happen.
The Devils would go on to lose the Stanley Cup Final, as Kovalchuk, who was playing with a herniated disc in his back, was ineffective during the Final. Jonathan Quick would outplay Martin Brodeur during the series. Los Angeles would win a pair of 2-1 overtime games on the road to go home with a 2-0 lead, and then blank the Devils 4-0 in Game 3 to push them to the brink. The Devils fought back with wins in Games 4 and 5 to spark a little bit of hope, but Steve Bernier’s boarding call in Game Six led to three LA power play goals on the subsequent five minute major penalty and the Kings would take Game 6 in a blowout to win their first championship. Maybe the Hockey Gods were a little late in paying back Bernier and they decided to play a cruel joke. Or maybe a fourth liner who was on his 5th NHL team by the age of 26 made a split-second decision and picked a really bad time to make a boneheaded play. I’ll let you decide in the comments.
Parise would go on to ruin the Fourth of July holiday for Devils fans everywhere (including myself as I learned he was leaving at a friend’s BBQ) by teaming up with his buddy Ryan Suter and signing matching contracts with the Minnesota Wild. Gary Bettman would go on to further ruin hockey in general with the pointless 2012 lockout, cutting the following season to 48 games when they finally did return to play. Kovalchuk, who returned home to play in the KHL during said pointless lockout, ruined the Devils chances of short-term success (and inadvertently helped them long-term) when he quit on the team following the 2012-13 season and “retired” only to continue his playing career with SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL. Clarkson also departed that offseason via free agency. Years of poor drafts, trading draft capital, poor player development, key free agent departures, and players like Brodeur and Elias aging out of their primes finally caught up to the Devils. The Devils tried to patch holes on the ship via free agency, but it was the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and the ship finally sank to the depths of the ocean. DeBoer was fired during the 2014-15 season, Lou Lamoriello was effectively replaced by Ray Shero as the GM, and the Devils were left with no choice but to undergo a prolonged multi-year rebuild. Sentimentality for the 2012 run only went so far, as Henrique was traded during the 2017-18 season, the CBGB line was slowly dismantled in the coming years, Salvador’s career ended prematurely due to injury, and Zajac and Greene became the final players remaining from that team before they were both ultimately traded to the Islanders years later.
But this isn’t about the aftermath of that run. This is about that one night on May 25, 2012 when the proud franchise that is the New Jersey Devils once again reached the Stanley Cup Final for the fifth time in their history. This is about a team that some people correctly questioned whether or not it had reached the end of their competitive window coming together at the right time. This is about a team going on a magical run where they found the right balance of star players contributing, role players playing over their heads, and a franchise icon in Brodeur turning back the clock. The Devils play “Glory Days” after home wins, and in a lot of ways, this run was a throwback to those glory days. Look no further than Brodeur’s performance as well as the goal scorers that night with a veteran journeyman (Carter), a bonafide star (Kovalchuk), and a glimpse of the future (Henrique) being the guys who found the back of the net. Look no further than the Devils winning with defense, winning in the neutral zone, and winning the game as a result. Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final served as a fitting ending to an unexpected, incredible run, and while the Devils didn’t finish the job with a Stanley Cup championship, it doesn’t diminish how much fun it was to be a Devils fan for those six weeks or so in the spring of 2012. To this day, Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final remains one of the best sporting events I’ve ever had a chance to see in person, and I’m thankful that we got to experience that run together.
That’s how I feel about this game. What were your takeaways from this game, the 2011-12 team in general, and what game would you want to see me do next? I ask that the game is posted on YouTube so I have something to easily reference. Please feel free to leave a suggestion in the comments and thanks for reading.