SUNRISE, Fla. -- Who said the seventh and deciding game in a Stanley Cup Playoff series was a time for veteran leaders to prove their mettle?
"Somebody has to be the hero, right?" Henrique asked. "Why not me?"
Exactly. Why not?
The 22-year-old Henrique was the hero on Thursday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal round when he scored his second goal of the game 3:47 into the second overtime to give the Devils a 3-2 victory against the Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center.
"He's a guy that's able to raise his game when it's on the line," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said of Henrique. "We saw it early in the season on some of his overtime goals and shootout goals, and he has that characteristic. We were waiting on that [third] line. He was one of our best players [Thursday]."
In addition to Henrique's two goals, fourth-line rookie center Stephen Gionta also connected as the Devils notched their first playoff series triumph in five seasons.
Henrique said that getting his first playoff goal 1:29 into the opening period was a big boost to his confidence.
"It was nice to get the first one out of the way … I felt our line was playing well throughout the series but just couldn't seem to get that first goal," Henrique said. "We got that one early, so we played well all game and the puck was following us around."
Devils captain Zach Parise was all smiles afterwards when asked about Henrique, his center for large parts of the season.
"We've all been in that situation when you get that first playoff goal and, then, all of a sudden, you get extra legs and for whatever reason, the puck just followed him [Thursday]," Parise said. "He got a couple of breakaways and was getting bounces. I had a feeling he would get another one … it was good timing."
On the game-winning sequence, Henrique said he took advantage of a turnover in the Panthers' right-wing corner.
"It occurred on the forecheck again," he said. "[Alexei] Ponikarovsky came in and got his stick on the puck, and I got a pretty good bounce there and came in alone. I just tried to get it on net.
"I blacked out when it hit the back of the net … it was a great feeling."
Henrique was named one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy this season after completing the regular season with 16 goals, 51 points and a plus-8 rating in 74 games.
"The OT goal was big for him," forward Ilya Kovalchuk said. "It was good for his confidence. He played a great game and deserves to be the rookie of the year for sure."
Goalie Martin Brodeur, who was splendid with 43 saves, is excited to see the contributions from the young players.
"It's great … these kids are a big part of our success," Brodeur said. "They are a big part of our future and for them to get some playoff time and contribute in big situations like a Game 7 in double overtime is good. [Henrique] has had success everywhere he's played, so it's nice for him to come through in the NHL like that."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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