Adam Henrique may have scored the goal that put the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals, but his playoff heroics started long before then.
The Florida Panthers had New Jersey on the ropes in the first round. The Devils faced yet another first round exit when the two teams met for the seventh game of their opening round series. They battled until double overtime, when Henrique would score the first big goal of his short career. The center snapped home the game winner to start the Devils run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The two teams meet again tonight at Prudential Center, 11 months after that first round series.
“It does seem like a long time ago,” Henrique told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “It was a great first-round battle. I think you see that a lot. We come home down in the series, Trav gets a huge overtime winner, go back there and it’s obviously a must-win and I think just the way went to double overtime, it was a late one, it was fun.”
The Panthers gave the Devils plenty of problems last season. New Jersey failed to stop Florida’s power play, allowing nine goals in the series. Kris Versteeg also dominated the Devils, scoring five goals in four regular season meetings. He added three more in the playoffs.
Today’s meeting, however, will be much different.
Florida is last in the league this season with a 9-16-6 record. It’s 24 points are two behind the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche for the league’s lowest. Injuries have decimated the roster. Florida is without Versteeg, Stephen Weiss, Sean Bergenheim and Jose Theodore for an extended period of time.
“They had a lot of injuries this year. That doesn’t help them,” Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur told Gulitti. “But they’re a good hockey club. They’re well coached. They were tough to play against in the playoffs and we needed a little luck to get through them. We got a little lucky. We had some good performances from guys, but they gave us as much as we could handle.”
Despite those struggles, the Panthers still pose a formidable threat. In wins over the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers this week, Florida showed they can play spoiler.
“We talked about that,” Henrique told Gulitti. “We can’t look at where they are or who they have injured. They’re a good team with nothing to lose almost. They’re going to come out and give their best and we’ve got to be ready. We can’t lose one, win one at this point. We’ve got to find a way to put a couple wins together.”
The Devils snapped a three-game losing skid Thursday against the Hurricanes. Martin Brodeur returned after missing 13 games with an injury, scoring a goal and stopping 17 shots to earn his ninth win of the season. Travis Zajac recorded his second multi-point game of the season as New Jersey moved back into seventh in the Eastern Conference.
Entering tonight, the Devils trail the Toronto Maple Leafs by one point for sixth place. But they also sit just two points ahead of the Rangers, who are ninth in the conference.
Even with the Panthers various injuries, Devils coach Pete DeBoer warned he isn’t taking them lightly.
“The only record I’m looking at is that they’re 2-0 on this road trip,” he told Gulitti. “They’ve gone into Carolina and beat them handily and they’ve gone into Madison Square Garden and beaten the Rangers. That’s the only record I’m looking on.”