On Friday, the Devils made sure there were no shades of 1994.
That year, the Rangers rallied from a 3-2 series deficit in the Eastern Conference Final against the Devils after Mark Messier guaranteed a New York victory. Messier scored a hat trick to back up his boast on this very same date, May 25, 1994. Stephane Matteau added the memorable double-OT winner in Game 7, and the Rangers went on to win their first Cup in 54 years.
Martin Brodeur was in goal for that Game 6, and 18 years later he was still in the Devils' net as New Jersey exacted a little belated revenge with a 3-2 overtime win on Friday night.
"This is a lot more fun, this is to go to the big dance," Brodeur said in his postgame news conference. "Eighteen years ago, everybody's been talking about it, but now it's 1-1."
Actually, now it's 4-2, series over, with the Devils advancing to the Cup Final for the fifth time with a chance to win their fourth title since that 1994 loss to the Rangers.
Adam Henrique made sure of that, scoring the game-winner out of a mad scramble in the crease just 1:03 into sudden death. Henrique's memories of that last conference final showdown against the Rangers are probably not quite as vivid as Brodeur's. Henrique was just 4 at the time. He's played just 75 games in the NHL, plus another 18 so far in his first postseason. Brodeur, 40, now has 1,191 regular-season and 199 playoff games on his Hall of Fame resume.
But both the youngster and the grizzled, old veteran were instrumental in this New Jersey victory. Henrique is proving to have a Nathan Horton-like knack for scoring big goals in his first playoff appearance. This OT tally comes after he scored the double-OT winner in Game 7 against Florida in the opening round.
Horton had to wait longer for his first taste of playoff hockey, but had a similar impact in his debut last year, when he scored the OT winner in Game 7 against Montreal in the first round, then put the Bruins in the Cup Final with the only goal in a 1-0 win over Tampa Bay in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final.
While this is all new to the young Henrique, it's old hat for Brodeur, though the winning never gets old. After some shaky play at times in recent seasons, he's looked in vintage form this postseason with a 12-5 record, 2.04 GAA and .923 save percentage. He made 33 big stops on 35 shots Friday night.
Of course, those numbers still pale in comparison to the next guy the Devils will have to face. Kings netminder Jonathan Quick has been even stingier, going 12-2 with a 1.54 GAA and a .946 save percentage. Getting enough pucks past him to lift their fourth Cup will be quite a challenge for the Devils when the Final opens Wednesday night.
But that task can wait for now. On Friday night, it was just time for New Jersey to finally celebrate a conference final win over their rivals from the opposite side of the Hudson River, a victory the Devils had waited 18 years to the day to enjoy.
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