If New Jersey Devils forward Adam Henrique never played another NHL game, he might still be considered one of the most beloved players in the history of the franchise.
That’s because Henrique, who was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy as a rookie last season, scored arguably the two biggest goals of the playoffs: a double-overtime game-winning goal in game seven in the first round against the Florida Panthers, and, of course, the overtime goal against the top-seeded New York Rangers in game six of the Eastern Conference final — a goal that sent the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final and avenged a seven-game loss to the hated Rangers in 1994.
So when Henrique made his season debut last night, after missing the first two weeks of the season rehabbing a broken wrist, he was met with a thunderous ovation from a sold-out crowd at Prudential Center.
Henrique’s overtime goal against the Rangers has been met with some serious interest and excitement, especially among Devils’ fans. The nine-minute long video that shows the goal and the handshake line between the Devils and Rangers on NBC Sports has over 93,000 views on YouTube. Say, “Henrique,” to a Devils fan and the response will more-than-likely be, “It’s Over!” repeating the words from Doc Emrick, the former play-by-play man in New Jersey, who left last season to take the national job with NBC Sports and called that famous play from his well-known seat outside the Fire Lounge at The Rock.
This season, the Devils are embracing that goal, and Henrique, in every way possible. The goal is the last highlight shown on the Devils’ introduction video before games, and the still-shot picture of Alexei Ponikarovsky and Ilya Kovalchuk racing over to celebrate with Henrique after the goal is panned across the wall on the main concourse at Prudential Center.
Hell, there’s even a commercial on MSG-Plus that shows home videos of Devils’ fans celebrating the goal when it happened last May. By the way, MSG-Plus, naturally, is operated by Madison Square Garden under MSG Media, the home of the Rangers.
As Henrique played his first shift midway through the first period on Thursday night, he was greeted by a ‘Hen-Rique’ chant, a minor spin-off on the ‘Hen-Rik’ chant, mocking Rangers goalie Henirk Lundqvist that was used often in the Eastern Conference Final last year.
Those chants were much louder late in the third period, when Henrique back-handed a loose puck past New York Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov, tying the teams at four and sending them to overtime. The goal helped Henrique continue his habit of scoring big-time goals in big-time situations.
Now, with Henrique back in the lineup, the Devils should get a major goal-scoring boost to replace Zach Parise, who left for the Minnesota Wild in free agency last summer.
The difference between Henrique and Parise, though, aside from age and salary amount, is that when the Devils needed a big goal last spring, it was the rookie who stepped up, not the veteran captain.
The way things are going in New Jersey, Devils’ fans should get used to seeing Henrique’s name on the score sheet, it’s going to be there for awhile.