NEWARK, N.J. -- Adam Henrique may or may not win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. That won't be known for several weeks, until the League holds its annual awards ceremony in Las Vegas, and it's something beyond his power anyway.
New Jersey Devils center is just four wins away from etching his name on an even bigger piece of hardware: the Stanley Cup -- and he has his own heroics in large part to thank.
Henrique found himself in the right spot at the right time during a goalmouth scramble in the early stages of overtime and swiped home the goal that gave the Devils a 3-2 win against the New York Rangers, making them Eastern Conference champions for the first time in nine years.
"Johnny-on-the-spot on that one," said Henrique, whose goal at 1:03 of the extra period came after Alexei Ponikarovsky threw the puck at the net from along the boards. Ilya Kovalchuk had a few cracks at the puck as goalie Henrik Lundqvist and several Rangers tried to get it out of the crease; instead, the puck trickled through for Henrique to push it across the goal line and send Prudential Center into bedlam.
"Kovalchuk and Ponikarovsky did a good job in front; I was just sitting there," Henrique said. "I couldn't see the puck, but I knew [Lundqvist] was down and I was just afraid he was going to cover it under his pad. It's a big one. It's the one you dream about."
The goal was Henrique's first in 11 games -- but that was a pretty memorable one as well. He fired a shot past Panthers goalie Jose Theodore at 3:47 of the second overtime on April 26 as the Devils took a deciding Game 7 in Florida. That was part of a two-goal performance for Henrique, without whom the Devils might have been packing their bags after one round instead of making plans to host the Los Angeles Kings in the Final.
"There's a reason he's up for Rookie of the Year," said David Clarkson, who's spent time this season as one of Henrique's linemates. "He's a good kid, he works hard."
RANGERS VS. DEVILS
Henrique's OT tally sends Devils to FinalBy Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer
The New Jersey Devils are heading to their fifth Stanley Cup Final since losing to the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals 18 years ago. Adam Henrique's goal 1:03 into overtime was the difference in a 3-2 victory in Game 6 of the Eastern finals on Friday at Prudential Center. READ MORE ›
Devils coach Peter DeBoer described the 22-year-old as "unflappable."
"I mean, this kid's just the right place, right time, all the time," he said. "The two biggest goals of the playoffs come off his stick, and that's not accidental."
Henrique spent last season, his first as a pro, recording 25 goals and 50 points for the Devils' AHL affiliate in Albany before getting a one-game call-up at the end of the season.
He made the club out of training camp last fall, but was returned to Albany after playing in the Devils' first two games. A broken collarbone suffered by Jacob Josefson in an Oct. 21 game against the Sharks led to a quick recall, and it wasn't long before Henrique had earned a spot as the team's No. 1 center on a line with Kovalchuk and captain Zach Parise.
"I think last year, playing in Albany, was good for my development," he said. "I mean, I think it was needed. Obviously I wanted to be here, and I felt like I had a great year in Albany. My development came a long way, my game came a long way from that point, and just tried to prepare myself through the summer to be ready for whatever was going to come up in camp. Obviously through a few injuries I got an opportunity and I just tried to take advantage as best I could."
Henrique led all rookies with 35 assists and finished the season with 51 points, one behind fellow Calder finalists Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Even though his goal-scoring pace slowed down the stretch -- he lit the lamp just once in his final 25 regular-season games -- Henrique continued to contribute in other areas. His responsible defensive play made him a stalwart on the Devils' record-setting penalty kill, and he tied for the NHL lead with four shorthanded goals.
Goalie Martin Brodeur, who came away on the winning side of a conference final against the Rangers 18 years after a heartbreaking seven-game loss in his own rookie season, appreciates everything Henrique has brought to the team.
"For me, the stage of my career where I'm at, I think the beauty of still playing hockey, is watching these guys grow into superstars," Brodeur said while sitting at the post-game podium, flanked by Parise and Henrique. "And we've got one right here beside me that scored some big goals for us and another big one today."
While the overtime goals against Florida and New York are highlights Henrique will probably replay countless times during the rest of his hockey career and life, he's putting them in the rear-view mirror for the time being.
Following a brief rest and a few days of practice, the Devils entertain the Kings in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
"There's still more things to accomplish," Henrique said. "I've tried to take in as much as I can over this whole year. Obviously those are two huge goals, probably two of the biggest goals I've ever scored. There's still more up ahead. We're not done yet. We haven't really won anything. It's a long ride. Every kid dreams of playing in the Stanley Cup Final and we have a chance to win. I'm excited and I'm ready to get started."