In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the night could not have begun any better for the New Jersey Devils.
Steven Gionta poked a rebound past Henrik Lundqvist at 2:43 of the first period. Less than two minutes later, rookie sensation Adam Henrique made it 2-0 when he fired a shot that deflected off of Patrik Elias and Artem Anisimov before gliding behind the King.
When Travis Zajac put a laser wrist shot in the back of the net at around the 10-minute mark of the first, a Devils victory seemed all but a certainty.
And then everything began to go the Rangers' way.
Brandon Prust, fresh off of his one-game suspension, put New York on the board and fired up the MSG crowd when he scored with just over four minutes left in the first period.
Just 32 seconds into the second period, the Rangers were suddenly given new life when captain Ryan Callahan had a puck deflect off his leg and past Martin Brodeur.
Marian Gaborik opened the third period with a goal to tie the game that sent the Garden into a frenzy, but that goal fell wholly on Brodeur's head. He came out of the crease to play the puck, set up Gaborik with an open shot and was unable to find Gaborik's well-placed shot off of his pads.
Suddenly, it seemed like the Rangers would be the team to win Game 5. New York's goals were not pretty, but they had tied it up at three. They had all of the momentum and had the Devils on their heels.
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Suddenly, Games 1 and 3 came back to mind. The Devils had played well enough to go into the third period tied in both of those games. Each time, however, they gave momentum to New York, and the Rangers ran away with wins.
While tonight's game had more scoring, the same pattern developed. The Devils dominated early, but they let the Rangers back in it. The Rangers capitalized and put New Jersey on the brink.
Only this time, something else happened.
The Devils didn't let the game get away from them. After Gaborik scored, the Devils did not let the Rangers keep momentum for long. The third period of Game 5 was, quite frankly, a little boring. There weren't a lot of chances for either team, but one thing was pretty clear—the puck was in New York's end more than it was in New Jersey's.
The Devils didn't let their demons from the third periods of Games 1 and 3 come back to haunt them.
They did not seem concerned about the three-goal lead they had given up.
Instead, they seemed determined to fight until the end, and ultimately, it paid off. Ryan Carter netted the game winner with four-and-a-half minutes left in the third period. The Garden went cold, and New Jersey held the Rangers off before scoring an empty-netter to cap a 5-3 victory.
On Wednesday night, the Devils did not play their best hockey of the year, but they showed the world that they have the hearts of champions. Now, on Friday night at the Rock, they'll try to finish the Rangers off and earn a shot at the ultimate hardware of champions—the Stanley Cup.