NEW YORK -- An NHL team's fourth line is usually an afterthought, filled with journeymen or scrappers who are hanging onto their careers much in the same way a person would cling to a gym rope that was covered in oil.
That's not the case with the fourth line of the New Jersey Devils, which once again came up big during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Ryan Carter scored his third goal of the playoffs and second game-winner with 4:23 left in regulation to help give the Devils a 5-3 win at Madison Square Garden in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final and 3--2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Zach Parise, the Devils' captain and a five-time 30-goal scorer, put it bluntly when asked where his team would be without the contributions from Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier.
"I don’t know if we're standing here right now," Parise said. "With just the big goals they scored in this series and the Flyers series, I don't know if we'd be here. They've contributed in ways that you need. They've contributed in ways with how you have to win. It's been great. We can't say enough about those guys."
The Devils let a three-goal lead fade into oblivion, but Carter pulled the team to within one win of a Stanley Cup Final appearance when he buried a gorgeous pass from Gionta with overtime looming. It wasn't just anyone that Gionta beat to the puck to set up the winning goal -- it was Rangers top defenseman Dan Girardi, who wasn't able to get his stick on the pass that led to the winner.
Gionta gave the Devils an early 1-0 lead when he slammed home a rebound of a Mark Fayne shot, his third of the postseason. The line combined for two goals, two assists and was plus-3.
"Our whole fourth line, I thought they were the story tonight," Devils coach Peter 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. And 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."
During the postseason, Gionta, Bernier and Carter have a total of 8 goals and 8 assists in 17 games. They are plus-13 and have scored on 15.7 percent of their shots. For some perspective on their efficiency, sniper Ilya Kovalchuk has scored on 11.5 percent of his shots while Parise has scored on 10.4 percent of his attempts.
Gionta was called for the Devils' final regular-season game. Carter was claimed off waivers from the Florida Panthers in October. Bernier toiled in the AHL before he was recalled at the end of January.
"They've been great for us all playoffs," center Travis Zajac said. "Gio with a big game tonight, Carter with a big goal, Bernie's been playing well all playoffs. They work well together. They play a lot of time in the offensive zone, which is great. They're a momentum-changing line. Sometimes you need that throughout the game, and they were big for us tonight."
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