NEW YORK -- New Jersey Devils forward Stephen Gionta was a relative unknown entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Heck, the 28-year-old native of Rochester, N.Y., had only 13 regular-season NHL games under his belt.
The one thing we did know was that he was the little brother of current Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta, who spent seven seasons as a member of the Devils and even won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2003.
Don't look now, but little brother is slowly making a name for himself.
"[Assistant coaches] Larry [Robinson] and Chris [Terreri] kept telling me that this guy was reliable, he could help us, play at different positions," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "When we were looking at the names when [Jacob] Josefson went down late in the season, he was the guy at the top of the list that fit the criteria for what we needed."
RANGERS VS. DEVILS
Devils on verge of Final with 5-3 winBy Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer
The Rangers overcame a 3-0 deficit to tie the score early in the third period, but New Jersey's Ryan Carter scored the go-ahead goal with 4:24 left in regulation as the Devils beat New York 5-3 to take a 3-2 series lead and move within one win of the Stanley Cup Final. READ MORE ›
Truth is, the 5-foot-7, 185-pound Gionta is thriving as the team's fourth-line center under extreme playoff pressure.
"I think people always have the expectation what the big brother does, so for him, this is his time to shine and I'm happy for him," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said.
Gionta picked the perfect time for the first multipoint game of his career, notching the game's first goal and assisting on Ryan Carter's game-winner with 4:24 left in regulation as the Devils beat the New York Rangers 5-3 on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Gionta, signed as a free agent on Aug. 26, 2010, is actually in his sixth season with the Devils organization. Since being recalled from New Jersey's American Hockey League affiliate in Albany for the second time in three days on April 6, Gionta hasn't looked back.
"I think people make the mistake of not giving the AHL enough credit … it's a good hockey league," Carter said. "He played there the whole year and against good players. I don't think that we could really be surprised with the way he's played because he's done it consistently for the duration of this playoff run. He's played well and plays the game hard … he's fast and has all the assets you want in a player. He's showcasing it all now."
In 56 games with Albany, Gionta had six goals and 16 points. In 17 playoffs games with the Devils, he's produced three goals and six points.
"I can't really explain it in words, but it's just fun to be a part of this right now and I'm just trying to enjoy every moment," Gionta said.
He said his time in the AHL prepared him well for his promotion.
"It's the second-best league in the world," he said. "Every young player, every draft pick that comes through there and spent time there, knows it's a tough league. It definitely prepared me well for this opportunity."
"You guys call them the fourth line, but they play like a first line," Kovalchuk said.
DeBoer agreed with Kovalchuk.
"Our whole fourth line, I thought they were the story," DeBoer said. "Gionta gets a goal, Carter gets a goal, Bernie gave us some big minutes. They really have given us momentum throughout the playoffs. That's playoff hockey … there's always unsung heroes and guys that step up this time of year, and we've got a bunch of them."
When told that Brodeur had said during his post-game media conference that it could sometimes be tough for the younger brother of a star player, Gionta laughed.
"Throughout the playoffs, we talked almost daily, whether it's just a text or call," he said. "We're a pretty close-knit family with both my brothers and may parents and it's been great, they've shown great support. It's just nice to have that."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale