It came down to Henrique vs. Henrik in the Eastern Conference Final.
The Canadian forward scored on the Swedish netminder in overtime to propel the New Jersey Devils to a 3-2 win and their first Stanley Cup Final berth since 2003.
"That one was like Christmas," smiled New Jersey hero Adam Henrique afterwards on the NBC Sports Network.
The rookie forward, who is a finalist for the Calder Trophy as a top freshman this season, has had a knack for scoring big goals so far in the playoffs. He kept New Jersey alive in the first round with his wrist shot in sudden death in Game 7 in Florida, and then prevented a seventh and deciding game that would have taken place at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night when he rammed home a loose puck that slipped through New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist just 63 seconds into OT at the Prudential Center in Game 6 on Friday night.
Henrique, who tallied 25 goals and 50 points for Albany (AHL) in his first pro season last year, made his NHL debut in the 2010-11 regular season finale against Boston, but that's as far as he went at that time. The Devils couldn't overcome an ugly start to their season, and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
A four-time 20-goal scorer in junior with Windsor (OHL), he notched 16 goals and 35 assists for 51 points in 74 NHL regular-season games in 2011-12, missing some time with a groin injury, while still establishing himself as an NHL regular. He tailed off somewhat down the stretch, at least scoring-wise, and that continued into the first round of the playoffs. He had just one assist entering Game 7 with the Panthers, but came up big with two goals that game, including the aforementioned game-winner, to keep the Devils alive.
Henrique, 22, who was born the year the Devils drafted Martin Brodeur, notched four assists in five games in a second-round decimation of the Philadelphia Flyers, but had nothing to show for his 11 shots on goal that series. His goal-scoring drought continued into the conference finals, where he posted three assists in the first five games as New Jersey moved within a win of the Stanley Cup finals.
You still felt that he would break through at some point. It's not as though he wasn't getting chances— he had eight shots in the first five games alone—but still, nothing was going in for him.
Henrique was temporarily laid low in Game 6 after being hit with a stick by Rangers forward Brian Boyle while defending the Devils net, as New Jersey again failed to protect a multi-goal advantage and had to resort to overtime.
Then it happened, just over a minute in.
Alex Ponikarovsky set up in the right circle and threw a puck in front that Ilya Kovalchuk got a swipe at, but couldn't put past Lundqvist's right pad. A Ranger player kicked it into the slot, and players on both sides starting hoeing away, as if they were competing in an Olympic curling contest. Henrique didn't join the fray, but instead backed off slightly to Lundqvist's left at the edge of the crease—and waited.
Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, who did some damage to the Devils early in the series, then damaged his own team's hopes when he left Henrique practically alone in front to join the scrum on the other side, just as the disk slid through Lundqvist's legs towards the goal line. That's when Henrique, a native of Brantford, Ont.—also home to some guy named Gretzky—beat out Brad Richards and slammed the puck across the goal line to lift the Devils higher than they've been in nine years.
"I was sitting there," said Henrique to NHL.com. "I couldn't see the puck. I knew it was down, and I was just praying it was going to come under his pad. It's a big one. It's one you dream about."
Christmas indeed came early for the team that used to wear Christmas colors. Now they're four wins away from their fourth Stanley Cup title, thanks to a rookie who's so far come up biggest when the stakes have been highest.
Just ask his coach.
"I mean, this kid's just the right place, right time, all the time," said Devils head coach Peter DeBoer. "The two biggest goals of the playoffs come off his stick, and that's not accidental."