The New Jersey Devils kept their slim Stanley Cup hopes alive with a battling 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday to avoid a sweep and send the series back to the Prudential Center.
Devils rookie forward Adam Henrique dampened celebrations for a sold out Staples Center crowd that had turned up hoping to witness the franchise's first Stanley Cup when he scored the tiebreaking goal with less than five minutes remaining.
Ilya Kovalchuk added an insurance marker into an empty net to cap a wild third period and send both teams silently off the ice and to the airport for a trip back to Newark for Saturday's Game Five.
"We're pretty happy to live another day," said Devils netminder Martin Brodeur, who stopped 21 shots in the win.
"We just wanted to play well, give everything we had, and see where that's going to bring us.
"We pulled it off, one game. We'll take it one game at a time but I'm sure they're not happy to make that trip. We'll try to make it miserable for them again.
"We know that the road ahead is the most difficult that we could face. So we're taking a day at a time.
While the Devils finally made the breakthrough they had been seeking, the three third-period goals one more than they had mustered in the entire series to date, the challenge ahead remains a daunting one.
Only one team, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, has ever clawed back from a 3-0 deficit to hoist the Cup.
It marked the third time in four series that the Kings have held a 3-0 lead and failed to finish off their opponents at the first opportunity, having also allowed Vancouver and Phoenix a consolation win before delivering the knockout punch.
"Close out a series in Game Four?" Kings coach Darryl Sutter scoffed. "It's the Stanley Cup final. The game is the very same as the first two games."
Heading back to New Jersey will not strike any fear into the Kings, however, who opened the series with a pair of tight 2-1 wins at the Prudential Center.
In fact, the Kings have been at their best on the road, unbeaten away from the Staples Center this post-season in winning an NHL playoff record 10 consecutive games on enemy ice.
"We've got to take it home and take care of business now and win another one," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "We're a good team in front of our home crowd. I'm confident that we'll be ready to play and we'll get the job done."
For DeBoer, Henrique has definitely been one of New Jerseys's players doing just that.
It is the third time this post-season that the rookie has come to the Devils rescue and he is developing a reputation as a clutch player with a penchant for scoring big goals.
Henrique also notched the double-overtime winner in Game Seven to eliminate the Florida Panthers in their first round series and delivered again in the Eastern Conference finals, scoring the overtime winner to finish off the New York Rangers.
"Everybody wants to be out there in those situations," Henrique said. "You want to be counted on by your team mates, your coaches.
"It's nice that they have that trust in me to put me out there in those certain times of the game. I just play.
"I'm not thinking about what's going to happen if I score, if I don't score.
"I'm just a kid playing hockey, having some fun."
A Devils attack that had produced just two goals in three games, came to life eight minutes into the third when Patrick Elias jumped on a big rebound off Bryce Salvador's hopeful blast and slid a backhand shot past Kings netminder Jonathan Quick.
The goal was the first surrendered by Quick in nearly 139 minutes of playoff hockey.
It also marked the first time in four games that the Devils scored the opening goal, but the lead lasted just 62 seconds as the Kings answered with a powerplay rocket from Drew Doughty that touched off wild celebrations inside Staples Center.
"We found a way to get the first goal, we found a way to keep momentum," DeBoer added. "I think the last three games could have gone our way as easily as they've gone L.A.'s way. "We finally got rewarded tonight.
"I've liked our game and our efforts the last three games. We just haven't found a way to win until tonight.
"So hopefully that gets the ball rolling."
(Reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Frank Pingue/John O'Brien)