By John Schweibacher
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It took, as head coach Pete DeBoer said: “seven-and-a-half games” but for the first time in five years, the New Jersey Devils have advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, outlasting the Florida Panthers.
The Devils won back-to-back overtime playoff games for just the second time in club history and for the first time in games 6 and 7 of a series.
Prior to the OT wins in the final two games against Florida, New Jersey had last posted consecutive sudden-death playoff wins back in games 2 and 3 of their conference semifinals series against Toronto back on April 21st and May 1st, 2001 when Randy McKay and Brian Rafalski scored the game-winners.
Travis Zajac’s overtime goal in game 6, was his second career sudden-death playoff winner, tying him with three other former Devils for the most in franchise history:
Stephane Richer: 5/7/94 @Boston
Randy McKay: 5/12/95 vs. Boston
4/28/01 vs. Toronto
Jamie Langenbrunner: 4/26/03 vs. Tampa Bay
4/28/07 vs. Ottawa
Travis Zajac: 4/19/09 @ Carolina
4/24/12 vs. Florida
The above four players have accounted for half (8-of-16) of all the post-season overtime goals in Devils’ history.
Adam Henrique’s OT goal was the third series-ending overtime winner for the New Jersey Devils, joining Jason Arnott (Game 6 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals) and Grant Marshall (Game 5 Eastern Conference semifinals).
Just like the previous two, Henrique’s sudden-death tally was in a multiple overtime game (Arnott in 2 OT’s, Marshall in 3).
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Henrique became the first rookie to score a series-ending goal in a Game 7 since Devils’ legend Claude Lemieux, who registered the OT winner in the decisive game of the Montreal Canadiens’ Adams Division finals victory over the Hartford Whalers back on April 29th, 1986. Panthers’ coach Kevin Dineen also played in that game for the Whalers.
Stephen Gionta had an impressive first career playoff series for the Devils, scoring two goals, adding one assist and going plus-5 in the seven games. Gionta joined his brother Brian as just the second pair of siblings to score playoff goals for New Jersey:
NJD Brothers GP G A Pts
Brian Gionta 67 19 21 40
Stephen Gionta 7 2 1 3
Aaron Broten 20 5 11 16
Neal Broten 20 7 12 19
The Devils will now face the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The two teams split their six regular season meetings, although the Flyers picked up one more point since one of New Jersey’s wins came in the shootout.
Martin Brodeur went 1-3-0 with 2.26 goals against average in his four starts against the Flyers, while Johan Hedberg was 2-0 with 3.36 GAA in his two outings vs. Philadelphia.
Ilya Bryzgalov was 3 and 0 with a pair of shutouts in his three games against New Jersey, allowing just one goal on the 76 shots he faced.
Sergei Bobrovsky went 0-2-1 with a 5.09 GAA in his three appearances vs. the Devils.
This will be the fourth post-season series between New Jersey and Philadelphia. The Devils took the first, four games to three in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. The Flyers have won both since, a pair of 4-1 opening round series victories in 2004 and 2010.
Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette has won both of his playoff series against New Jersey, leading Carolina to a four games to one win in the
2006 Eastern Conference semifinals and and Philadelphia to its five-game series win two years ago.
Laviolette joins Paul Maurice (2001, 2002 and 2009 with Carolina) and Terry Murray (1990 Washington, 1995 Philadelphia and 2000 Florida) as the only coaches to face New Jersey three times in post-season play.
Game 4 of this Devils/Flyers series is slated for Sunday, May 6th, which is also Martin Brodeur’s 40th birthday (Johan Hedberg turns 39 on May 5th). Brodeur has played three previous times on his birthday:
5/6/97 Lost 3-2 @ NY Rangers
5/6/00 Won 4-3 @ Toronto
5/6/06 Lost 6-0 @ Carolina
Plus: John Madden. Former Devil played gutsy series against ex-mates, returned from frightening collision with Tomas Kopecky in Game 7 and nearly scored game-winner in OT.
Minus: Penalty-kiling. After setting modern NHL record for best PK percentage in regular season, Devils were nearly done-in by Florida’s
9-for-27 power-play success in opening round.