After the morning skate Thursday, Adam Henrique couldn’t wait to finally get back into an NHL game. The Devils’ Stanley Cup playoff hero was Tim Tebow excited, bursting from the seams of his skates up through his sweat-soaked hair. After it was all said and done, the excitement was toned down — an overtime loss will do that to you — but Henrique had plenty to be happy about.
Like a game-tying goal in the final minutes of the third period that sent the Prudential Center into a frenzy.
“Great play by (David Clarkson) behind the net. He pulled it out his way and it popped out and I found myself a bit of an empty net,” Henrique said, deftly passing the credit for his pretty top-shelf back-handed tally.
Clarkson said he was actually trying to shoot the puck when he brought it out from behind the net. Except as Clarkson squared to face Isles goalie Evgeni Nabokov, another stick his and the puck bounced off his stick and into the slot in front of a stretched-out Nabokov where Henrique just happened to be waiting.
“What do you say? He’s got a knack for those big goals,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “I thought he gave us a boost of energy. I probably played him more than I wanted to but he’s a hard guy to keep on the bench.”
In the end, Henrique played just over 14 minutes, but after the first period, 11 of them were spent alongside Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk on the Devils’ top unit.
Henrique didn’t expect the extra minutes, but no athlete is going to complain about more time on the ice, court or field.
“I think it was a matter of just getting out there, me being comfortable with everything, and I was,” Henrique said. “I felt 100 percent. I didn’t feel like I couldn’t play that much. As the game goes on, you’re not really thinking. You’re just playing. I thought it was a great first game back.”
Even greater when you consider it’s first game since late November, when Henrique tore the ligaments off his thumb and had to have them surgically re-attached.
“It was great. No issues,” Henrique said of the thumb. “As (we were) getting deeper and deeper in the game, there were some times where I really put pressure on it where it makes me feel better and more and more confident. I think that was an important thing where there were a couple times where I tested it and there was no issues.
“I wasn’t second guessing myself. I was just going out there and playing like it a normal game.”
Corey GriffinWe’ll have to see how the thumb feels tomorrow, but it can’t be overstated just how crucial Henrique is to what the Devils want to do this season, which is not just make the playoffs but make another run at the Stanley Cup that eluded them last June. Before they can get there, I expect a lot more well-time goals and loads of extra minute. DeBoer will have to play the hell out of his top horses (Henrique included) this season because he simply doesn’t have the depth up front to do anything else. While the Devils’ third-line scoring was nice to see Thursday and will certainly be an X-factor in certain games going forward, it’ll be Henrique and Jacob Josefon that carry the Devils beyond just making the playoffs. They are the missing pieces in that their development, along with the continued progress of Clarkson’s power forward game, will keep teams from stacking their checking lines against Zajac and Kovy. Mark my words, although Kovy will likely finish the season with the team lead in points, it’ll be Henrique, Josefon and Clarkson that are the team’s MVPs.