NEWARK, N.J. -- For the final 40 minutes of regulation and the first 45 seconds of overtime, the New York Rangers imposed their will on the New Jersey Devils. The Rangers erased an early two-goal deficit in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals and looked destined to force their third Game 7 of the postseason.
But the Rangers, who finished atop the conference in the regular season and staved off elimination three times in the playoffs by showing incredible resiliency, succumbed to the tenacity of the Devils. Adam Henrique finished off the Rangers by scoring off a mad scramble around the net of Henrik Lundqvist 1:03 into overtime to give the Devils a 3-2 win and their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 2003.
It was a goal born out of so much chaos that few Rangers could explain how it happened.
RANGERS VS. DEVILS
Henrique's OT tally sends Devils to Final
By 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 ›
"They just threw it to the front of the net," said defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who was sprawled on the ice, desperately trying to smother or push the puck out of harm's way. "I thought I had it somewhere in my body and I don't know where it went from there. It's a nothing play, but those plays are huge at that point in the game."
"I don't even know. I'd have to look at it," Lundqvist said. "It was just a big scramble. It's such a horrible feeling when it's over. All the work you put in the last couple months -- even the last eight months -- to get here, it hurts."
The Rangers picked up where they left off in regulation on their first overtime shift, with the line of Artem Anisimov, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky -- by far their most effective line during Game 6 -- getting the puck deep in the Devils zone and cycling for nearly a minute.
The Devils eventually broke the pressure and put Henrique, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Ilya Kovalchuk on the ice for the second shift of overtime. The Rangers countered with Carl Hagelin, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik but kept defensive workhorses McDonagh and Dan Girardi on for an extended shift.
Kovalchuk started the play with a wrist shot that Lundqvist steered into the corner. Ponikarovsky beat Girardi to the puck, wheeled out of the corner on his forehand and played the puck to the net. Lundqvist made a glorious stop on Kovalchuk with his right pad, but nary a Ranger could do anything with the rebound. Ponikarovsky squeezed another shot through Lundqvist, and Henrique beat Richards to the loose puck and jammed it home.
Richards, who was on his knees behind Lundqvist doing everything he could to keep the puck out of the net, simply didn't pick up the puck in time as it slid under his goaltender.
"It was just a mad scramble," Richards said. "I was just trying to figure out where it was. I couldn't see it till the last second. It popped right up onto [Henrique's] stick."
It was a stunning turn of events for the Rangers, who outshot the Devils 21-12 over the final 40 minutes. The Devils led 2-0 just 13:56 into the first period when Kovalchuk connected during a power play less than four minutes after Ryan Carter had opened the scoring.
The Rangers began their domination from the puck drop of the second period. The Rangers didn't find the back of the net with Ponikarovsky in the penalty box for interference, but they spent all but 10 seconds of the power play in the Devils zone and eventually drew even midway through the period on goals by Ruslan Fedotenko and captain Ryan Callahan.
Richards had perhaps the Rangers' best chance to go in front with about nine minutes left in the third period, but his blast from the left circle was stopped by a two-pad stack from Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur.
"I mean, it's a bang-bang play," Richards said. "It's a good save. I'd do it again, the same way."
Any overtime loss that sends a team packing for the offseason is a punch in the stomach, but with the Rangers controlling the game over the final 40-plus minutes, it was more like a blind-side hit to the face with a sledgehammer.
"We were good on the forecheck. They were coughing it up, we were making plays, put a lot of pucks to the net," defenseman Marc Staal said. "It goes into overtime, we were confident going in. We were going to play the same way. I don't know what happened at the end -- weird bounce, and it ends up in the back of our net."
Added McDonagh: "It's a terrible feeling. You don't want to feel it again. It doesn't feel right to be done right now. The way we've competed all year and set ourselves up in the regular season, it's a tough pill to swallow."
The Rangers came up short of a trip to the Final after winning the Atlantic Division title and finishing first in the East for the first time since 1994, the last time they won the Cup.
Right to the end, they were convinced they would find a way to win.
"After a little bit of a struggle, we gathered ourselves and I thought we played two really good periods," coach John Tortorella. "I thought it was going to end in overtime. I thought it was going to be us."
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