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By John Schweibacher
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The New Jersey Devils are in the Stanley Cup Finals for the fifth time in team history, and they will attempt to capture their fourth championship as their series with the Los Angeles Kings begins on Wednesday night at Prudential Center.
The Kings will be the fifth different opponent that the Devils have faced in the finals, having defeated the Red Wings in 1995, topping the Stars in 2000, losing to the Avalanche in 2001 and beating the Ducks in 2003.
Los Angeles is making just its second finals appearance. The Kings lost to the Canadiens back in 1993. Only six other teams that were in the NHL that season have waited as long or longer to return to the Stanley Cup Finals:
Team Last Finals Appearance (If Any)
•San Jose Never in finals (joined NHL in 1991-92)
•NY Islanders 1984
•Phoenix Never in finals (joined NHL in 1979-80 as Winnipeg)
•St. Louis 1970
The Kings come into the finals with a perfect 8-0 road record so far this postseason. This is nothing new for their head coach, Darryl Sutter, or for the Devils themselves. Sutter’s 2004 Calgary Flames, who were defeated by Tampa Bay in the finals, matched the record set by a pair of New Jersey’s Cup-winning clubs for most road victories in one postseason:
•1995 NJ Devils — 10 (3 at BOS, 2 at PIT, 3 at PHI, 2 at DET)
•2000 NJ Devils – 10 (2 at FLA, 2 at TOR, 3 at PHI, 3 at DAL)
•2004 Calgary - 10 (3 at VAN, 2 at DET, 3 at SJ, 2 at TB)
Rookie Adam Henrique scored 1:03 into overtime to earn the Devils a series-clinching 3-2 victory over the Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. It was the second OT goal of this year’s playoffs for Henrique, who scored in double-overtime in Game 7 of New Jersey’s first-round series against Florida.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Henrique is the second player in NHL history to score two series-clinching overtime goals in one playoff year. The first was Calgary’s Martin Gelinas in 2004. Henrique’s two OT goals tie the rookie record for one playoff year (series deciders or not).
Henrique’s OT winner was also the fastest sudden-death playoff goal in Devils’ history:
•Adam Henrique 5/25/12 vs NYR – 1:03
•Jamie Langenbrunner 4/26/03 vs TB – 2:09
•Travis Zajac 4/19/09 at CAR – 4:58
•Randy McKay 4/28/01 vs TOR – 5:31
•Travis Zajac 4/24/12 vs FLA – 5:39
•John Madden 4/13/08 at NYR – 6:01
Both the Devils and Kings secured their trips to the Finals with overtime goals in the deciding game of their Conference Finals series.
In addition to Henrique’s series-ending sudden-death goal, Dustin Penner had the OT winner for L.A. in the Game 5 series clincher against Phoenix.
The last time this happened was back in 1994, when the Rangers’ Stephane Matteau defeated the Devils with his double-overtime goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and former Devil Greg Adams eliminated Toronto with the sudden-death tally in Game 5 of Vancouver’s 4-1 Western Conference Finals series win.
The Devils and Kings met twice in the regular season, with New Jersey taking both games. The first was a 2-1 shootout victory at Prudential Center back in New Jersey’s third game of the season on October 13th, and then the Devils secured a 3-0 win at Staples Center on October 25th.
Johan Hedberg got the wins in both of these games with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus each scoring two of the four total New Jersey goals in regulation.
Martin Brodeur, who has not faced the Kings since October 30th, 2010 — a 3-1 Devils’ loss — has a lifetime record of 8-6-1 with a 2.13 GAA and a shutout against Los Angeles.
Kings goaltender Johnathan Quick, who faced New Jersey in one of the two meetings this season, has gone 3-1-1 with a 1.97 GAA in his five career outings against the Devils.
The Devils’ victory over the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals was New Jersey’s second in their six postseason series meetings against them. The six playoff matchups between the Devils and Rangers now equal the third-most ever among the NY-area local rivals in the history of the four major sports:
•NY Islanders/NY Rangers 8
•NY Yankees/Brooklyn Dodgers 7
•NY Yankees/NY Giants 6
•NJ Devils/NY Rangers 6
•NJ Nets/NY Knicks 3
•NY Devils/NY Islanders 1
•NY Mets/NY Yankees 1
Plus: 4th Line: Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier have combined for nine goals and 10 assists in 18 postseason games, evoking memories of the “Crash Line” of Bobby Holik, Randy McKay and Mike Peluso, who had 13 goals and 10 assists between them in 20 games in the 1995 playoffs.
Minus: Petr Sykora: A vteran of four Stanley Cup Finals (wins with NJD in 2000 and PIT in 2008 and losses with NJD in 2001 and ANA in 2003) may not appear in a 5th after being a healthy scratch in the final three games of the Conference Finals.
Devils fans, are you more concerned about the Kings than you were about the Rangers, or less so? Offer your thoughts and comments below…