Thursday, May 24, 2012

Gionta Gets Job Done for Devils in Game 5

On a night when goaltender Martin Brodeur wasn't anywhere near his best, the New Jersey Devils still managed to escape Madison Square Garden with a 5-3 victory, and a three games to two lead in the Eastern Conference final with the New York Rangers.

They can thank their smallest player for that.

That's smallest in terms of stature, not in play. Stephen Gionta made like his higher-scoring older brother, Brian, in tallying the Devils first goal early Wednesday night off a rebound. Later, after New Jersey blew a three-goal cushion, he set up Ryan Carter for the game-winner with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.

''You have to (keep it together) this time of year,'' said Gionta to the Associated Press afterwards. ''You have to have a short memory. Fortunately we did and came out with the victory.''

Did the Devils ever.

After Ilya Kovalchuk forechecked deep in the Rangers' end with the game tied, It was Gionta who swooped in, beat Dan Girardi to a loose puck in the corner to Henrik Lundqvist's left, and sent a perfect pass in front to Carter, who one-timed it home on Lundqvist's stick side to give the Devils back the lead for good.

And to think Gionta wasn't even named one of the three stars of the game.

The captain of the Devils' American Hockey League affiliate in Albany this season, Gionta and New Jersey's fourth line have been on a roll ever since he was called up for the regular-season finale against Ottawa and scored his first career NHL goal in that same game.

Gionta has appeared in all 17 playoff games for the Devils this spring, and has collected three goals and three assists. More importantly, he has combined with Carter and Steve Bernier to form a truly effective checking trio that has also been able to chip it with big goals at key times.

“You need contributions from the entire team," said Devils captain Zach Parise to The Record. We probably wouldn’t be here now without them (on the fourth line). They’ve been scoring goals, big goals. They’re reliable. They’re ready to play.”

Gionta, 28, was a decent player for his hometown Rochester Americans at the Junior A level in 1999-2000 before joining the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. Undrafted after four solid but unspectacular seasons at Boston College, he has spent his time honing his game in the minors since 2006, where he has appeared in more than 350 AHL outings.

Though he's not the scorer his brother is/was, Gionta still shares some attributes with his older sibling, who won a Cup with New Jersey nine years ago. Besides a common tenacity and work ethic, the biggest mutual trait is speed—speed that allows them to get in the play, get on opposing players, and make something happen, as evidenced on the Carter game-winning goal on Wednesday night.

Who knows what Friday night and Game 6 will bring; but nine years after a Gionta helped the Devils to their last Stanley Cup Finals appearance, yet another Gionta has them poised to do the same.

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