After 16 seasons with the New Jersey Devils, Elias has seen his share of talented rookies come through the organization -- Scott Gomez, Brian Rafalski and Brian Gionta are just a few. But after some brief yet careful thought, Elias had his answer.
"Probably not," Elias said. "That's his style of hockey, though. He's real calm, confident, makes plays and doesn't get rattled, doesn't get outside of his comfort zone, and that's great. This is a great experience for him. He's doing a hell of a job. He had a hell of a season. He's going to be part of this organization for a long time."
Henrique continued his clutch play Wednesday night in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final with the Devils facing elimination, scoring the winning goal with 4:31 left in the third period in a 3-1 victory against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center.
"I think he's grown a lot as a player," said goaltender Martin Brodeur, who made 21 saves. "I think from his junior career, he scored a lot of goals all the time. These playoffs, it's obvious the goals he has scored are important goals for this team. It's pretty amazing to see at that young age to be able to come in and really be an impact the way that he is."
The 22-year-old Calder Trophy candidate would be a cinch for the award if postseason performance were included in the voting. Henrique's goal was his third winner of the postseason; he scored in overtime in Game 7 of the conference quarterfinals against the Florida Panthers and found the back of the net overtime again in Game 6 of the conference finals to eliminate the New York Rangers.
Henrique's two OT winners tie the rookie record held by a pair of players with ties to the Devils -- Jacques Lemaire in 1968 and Claude Lemieux in 1986, both as members of the Montreal Canadiens. Henrique is also the first rookie to score three winners in a postseason since 1999, when Colorado's Chris Drury and Milan Hejduk scored four and three, respectively.
"Every goal he scores is a big goal," center Travis Zajac said. "He's been a great player for us in the playoffs. He's cool under pressure. I think he thrives in these big games, these big moments. He's a sneaky player; he's shifty. He finds the holes. He's just got a knack for creating some plays when we need it."
Trailing 3-0 in the series and ensconced in a 1-1 game late in the third period, there was no bigger time for Henrique to come through. The Devils grabbed a 1-0 lead at 7:56 of the third period -- their first advantage during the Final -- but it was washed away 62 seconds later when Kings defenseman Drew Doughty scored a power-play goal.
Less than seven minutes later, Henrique rescued the Devils one more time.
The play started in the neutral zone with defenseman Mark Fayne and Alexei Ponikarovsky causing a turnover near the red line. The puck squirted to David Clarkson, who carried the puck along the right wing and hit Henrique with a cross-ice pass that was less than ideal. The puck hit Henrique in his skates, but he was able to kick it to it his stick for a perfect shot that beat Jonathan Quick to the stick side.
Henrique had a chance to panic on a pass that tough, but said afterward that controlling the puck wasn't a problem.
"It seemed to come off my skate pretty nice, right on the tape," Henrique said when asked if the choppy ice late in the period made controlling the puck more difficult. "I knew it came all the way across the ice. I knew [Quick] was going to have to come a long way to make the save if I was going to get up short-sided."
Henrique's skill this season has never been in question. In 74 regular-season games, he had 16 goals and 35 assists in 74 games. His numbers aren't as impressive in the postseason -- he has four goals and eight assists in 22 games -- but no one on the Devils has scored bigger goals during the playoffs.
Clarkson said Henrique has that "it" factor that translates into greatness on the ice.
"He's a heck of a hockey player," Clarkson said. "It doesn't matter what line he plays on -- he always does something, whether it's a blocked shot or a big play. He's scored some big goals for us this season and hopefully he continues to do it. He's a great kid who works hard every day. He's one of those kids you never see down. He's always at the same level. He's a heady type of kid."
As a member of the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, Henrique showed his ability to handle the big stage. He scored an overtime winner to advance to the Memorial Cup finals in 2009 and helped Windsor win junior hockey's biggest prize in back-to-back years. In 2010, Windsor rallied from a 3-0 series deficit on the way to a title, something that gave him confidence the Devils could do it against the Kings.
"There's no better time than now to do it," said Henrique, who trimmed his playoff beard into a mustache after losing Game 3. "We waited to get that first one under our belt. It was a hard-fought game. It was close from start to finish. Coming down to the wire, it seemed whoever was going to get the next one with five or ten minutes to go was going to grab the win. We have to take it one game at a time. That's the bottom line."
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Author: Dave Lozo | NHL.com Staff Writer