Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 5/26/12

NEWARK, N.J. -- A year ago, the New Jersey Devils failed to make the NHL playoffs for the first time in 14 years. It was a down time for the proud and storied franchise, one that had captured three Stanley Cup championships since 1995.

Now, with a new coach, a new system, some new players and some late-season confidence, the Devils are making their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals since winning the Cup in 2003.

Adam Henrique snapped a 2-2 tie just 1:03 into the overtime session, leading the Devils to a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers to capture the best-of-seven NHL Eastern Conference championship series, four games to two.

With the win, the Devils advance to the Stanley Cup finals against the Los Angeles Kings. Game 1 of the finals will be played Wednesday night at the Prudential Center in Newark.

After regulation ended at 2-2, the Devils made a mad scramble in front early in OT. Ilya Kovalchuk kept the puck alive with two pokes in front of Rangers goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist, but Henrique stayed with the play and tucked it past Lundqvist for the game-winner.

"I couldn't see the puck," said Henrique, who also scored an overtime game-winner in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against Florida. "Henrik was down, and the play just happened to come back to my path. I was able to get it there. It's something I could only dream of. I'm still in amazement."

Lundqvist also didn't see the puck on the final play.

"It's a disappointing feeling, an empty feeling," said Lundqvist, who made 26 saves. "They're a good team, and they deserved to win the series. I don't know what happened on that play. It was a mad scramble. I just lost sight of it. I just hoped they would have missed it."

Kovalchuk, who scored a power-play goal in the first period, just wanted to keep the puck alive.

"We had to find a way to win," Kovalchuk said. "The puck was just lying there, and I kept at it. Adam was there to get the final rebound because he never gave up on the play."

Unsung hero Ryan Carter also scored a first-period goal for the Devils.

Ruslan Fedotenko and captain Ryan Callahan scored for the Rangers in the second period to tie the game, and the teams played a scoreless third period, heading to overtime.

Devils goalie Martin Brodeur stopped 33 of the 35 shots he faced.

The Devils' relentless pursuit to the puck, which they had all series long, led to the first goal. Stephen Gionta, the smallest man on the ice who played in only one regular season game before the playoffs, poked the puck ahead of Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto and brought the play toward Lundqvist, who stopped the original shot, but Carter scored yet another goal on a rebound with 9:55 remaining in the first period.

It marked the fourth goal of the series by the Devils' so-called fourth line, which certainly has not played that way at all. It also spelled trouble for the Rangers, because the team that scored first won all five previous games of the series.

"I'm still in disbelief," Gionta said after the game. "It's an unbelievable feeling. I can't believe what happened. We were just trying to keep the puck out there, and it led to a goal. It's exciting and fun to be on the ice with those guys."

Three minutes later, Kovalchuk scored on a power play to give the Devils a 2-0 lead. The play saw all five Devils skaters touch the puck. It was a picture-perfect offensive set, with Zubrus patiently waiting for the right moment to pass across to David Clarkson, who fed Kovalchuk for the goal, his seventh of the playoffs and one that definitely sent a feeling of doom over to the Rangers' bench, turning the Prudential Center into pandemonium. Kovalchuk hurled himself into the glass in jubilation.

The Rangers sliced the lead to 2-1 with 10:13 left in the second period, when Ryan McDonagh made a brilliant play, keeping the puck around the back of the Devils' goal, then feeding Fedotenko, who pushed it past Brodeur for his second goal of the playoffs. McDonagh's play gave the Rangers some life.

"We never gave up," McDonagh said. "We were down two goals facing elimination, and that was a terrible feeling, but we got ourselves up, and scoring that goal changed things a little."

Four minutes later, the Rangers pulled even, as Dan Girardi flicked the puck toward the goal and Callahan seemed to deflect just enough of it to get it past Brodeur, tying the game at 2-2 at 13:41. McDonagh received an assist on Callahan's goal as well.

Incredibly, after the way the Rangers looked totally beaten and deflated after the first period, they went to the dressing room for the second intermission tied at 2-2. But it wasn't enough.

"They're a pretty good club," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "They're very balanced and very athletic. As the way I look at it, they're the better team. We got down tonight by two goals, but we didn't get down emotionally. I just like the way we handled ourselves. We struggled with our swagger early and got our butts handed to us early, but we did some really good things."

Devils coach Peter DeBoer soaked in the moment. A year ago, DeBoer was fired by the Florida Panthers and managed to hook on with the Devils.

"I was out of work last June and July, until a Hall of Fame general manager (Lou Lamoriello) gave me the chance to work with this group," DeBoer said. "It's a group of guys who know how to win. I'm very fortunate to be here and now we're going to the Stanley Cup finals. These are the moments you have to enjoy."

It marked a remarkable turnaround for the Devils.

"To go from not making the playoffs to the Stanley Cup finals in one year, well, you don't get much better than that," captain Zach Parise said. "I think the way we ended last year gave us an idea of the type of team we had. We got a coach who believed in us and put in a system that works."

"We definitely had a tough year last year," said the 40-year-old Brodeur, heading back to his fifth Stanley Cup final series. "I think the changes started with the coaching staff and the depth we were able to bring in. We gave a chance to some younger guys. It's a credit to the depth of our organization."

NOTES: The Devils scratched veteran Petr Sykora for the third straight game, replacing him with Jacob Josefson, who has played well in his three games since returning from injury. ... The Devils tried to downplay any similarity to the 1994 Eastern Conference finals, when Rangers legend Mark Messier "guaranteed" a victory in Game 6 in New Jersey and backed up the guarantee with a hat trick. "I don't see anything that is similar at all," said Brodeur, the only player still active from that memorable series. "It's different teams and a different way of playing the game. It's a long time ago. I know I'm feeling a lot different. I'm more appreciative of what's going on." DeBoer agreed. "In 1994, I still had hair. I don't even think about 1994. It was that long ago." ... NBC Sports sent out a release, stating that it will block any and all viewing parties at the Prudential Center for the Devils' away games in the Stanley Cup finals. "Viewing parties can have an adverse effect on viewership and hence, our obligations to our advertisers, sponsors and affiliates." The Devils had planned to have viewing parties for the games in Los Angeles next week.

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