Hartnett: Stephen Gionta Has Devils Fans Experiencing Déjà Vu
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By Sean Hartnett
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Every year in the NHL playoffs, unexpected heroes are born. Often, these players aren’t household names, but they become cult heroes in the eyes of their adoring fans by reaching a new level under intense pressure.
“There’s always unsung heroes and guys that step up this time of year, and we’ve got a bunch of them,” head Peter DeBoer stated during his post-game press conference.
Brian Gionta did not have a distinguished reputation in the NHL until his second season in the league when his tenacious, ‘crash the net style’ won the hearts of Devils fans. His heroic performances helped New Jersey capture their third Stanley Cup in the span of eight years.
Nine years later, his younger brother, Stephen Gionta, is establishing a similar reputation to that of Brian as the Devils are hoping to reach their first Stanley Cup Finals since 2003.
When I asked Bryce Salvador to describe Gionta’s impact, he immediately said it was reminiscent of Brian. Salvador went on to describe the attributes that have the Devils and their fans experiencing déjà vu.
“It reminds me of his brother,” Salvador replied. “Relentless work ethic. He’s come to play every night and he’s putting his body on the line each night, going in and getting the pucks. It’s just a credit to him. He’s not intimidated out there, he’s fit in like he’s been a regular all year.”
Yet, Gionta wasn’t there all year. He was called-up for the final game of the Devils’ regular season and was immediately thrown into the playoff fire, but he’s coped with ease under this pressure cooker atmosphere.
Stephen stood out in Game 5 as he delivered the game’s opening goal as he beat Henrik Lundqvist with a determined, backhanded effort.
Late in the third period, he set up Ryan Carter’s game-winning goal as he slid a pass across the Rangers’ goalmouth which Carter buried.
“For him to come up at the end of the year and step right into the playoffs and make the impact he has, has been great,” Travis Zajac explained.
“He’s brought a lot of energy to this team. Their whole line has. Tonight he was a big factor for us, giving us a great start with that first goal and making a great pass on the second goal.”
The unforeseen success of the Carter-Gionta-Bernier line is just one reason why the Devils are within a victory of advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals. I had the opportunity to speak with Sherry Ross post-game.
Listen to Sean chat with WFAN Devils’ color commentator Sherry Ross after Game 5:
“That line, Bernie, Carts and Gionta, they just do an unbelievable job for us and it seems like everyone else is running around with their heads cut off and they find a way to settle us down,” Salvador stated.
“They’ve been great for us all playoffs,” Zajac added. “Gio with a big game tonight, Carter with a big goal. Bernie’s been playing well all playoffs. They work well together, they play a lot of time in the offensive zone. They’re a momentum changing line.”
The Devils have firmly grabbed the momentum as they head back to the home comforts of the Prudential Center, looking to close out the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday.
Can Gionta and the pesky Devils keep it up and take Game 6? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.