NEWARK, N.J. — Zach Parise gets it.
The New Jersey Devils‘ captain knew he was a subject of criticism after putting up no points in the first four games of the Stanley Cup Final. He just didn’t need to hear about it from the outside.
“No disrespect, but I don’t read or listen to what you guys say. That doesn’t bother me one way or another,” he said. “I understand it comes with the territory, where we are, what’s expected of certain players. I thought we were playing fine. You feel, when you’re getting the opportunities, that if we kept working hard in getting those that the puck was eventually going to go in for us.”
It was never a question of effort for Parise, just results. Teammates voiced no concern about his play earlier in the series against the Los Angeles Kings, confident he wasn’t struggling.
He validated that support Saturday night as his first goal and sharpest performance of the Cup Final keyed the Devils‘ 2-1 victory in Game 5 that kept them alive.
“He’s never frustrated. He’s pretty good at keeping his composure. He’s the leader on this team; he’s the one who picks us all up and gets us going,” center Travis Zajac said. “When he’s going, obviously this team is playing its best. You knew he was going to come away with his best game.”
As Parise goes, so do the Devils. Falling behind three games to none to Los Angeles, the captain generally was a nonfactor, his most memorable moments coming in situations such as in the 4-0 loss in Game 3, when New Jersey already was out of it in the third period.
It would have been easy to get frustrated, for the 27-year-old and the Devils. The bounces weren’t going their way, and goaltender Jonathan Quick looked almost impenetrable as the series and season appeared to be slipping away.
But Parise’s leadership by example came in the form of chipping away and working for breaks.
“It’s no secret he’s the hardest worker on this team,” defenseman Andy Greene said. “He works too hard, and he’s always in the right positions. You knew it was a matter of time.”
That time came Saturday night with a goal that ignited Prudential Center and the win that forced Game 6 on Monday night in Los Angeles. He said it’s nice to contribute, but teammates could sense some relief with the scoring drought over. It didn’t hurt that Quick misplayed the puck behind the net and couldn’t recover in time to stop Parise’s stuff-in.
“Any time you score a goal, it’s big. It does give you confidence. We’d be lying if it didn’t,” Zajac said. “[But] he’s not a numbers guy. He’s going to go out there and do all the little things to try to help this team win.”
Little things such as being defensively responsible, forechecking and cashing in on the power play, pillars of Parise’s bounce-back Game 5.
“It takes a team effort to do all those little things individually. That’s why he’s known for that,” forward Alexei Ponikarovsky said. “He works at it. He sacrifices himself in those situations. That’s just inspiring all of us.”
Parise didn’t single-handedly get the Devils “back in this thing” and turn this into a series, getting help from goaltender Martin Brodeur and game-winning goal-scorer Bryce Salvador. But Parise buzzing all over the ice and finally putting the puck in the net set a much-needed tone.
Facing elimination, it couldn’t have come at a better time. But coach Peter DeBoer and Co. weren’t surprised.
“I mean, I go into every game expecting Zach to do something big. He’s that type of player,” DeBoer said. “I think you guys just [ticked] him off. That’s all. Keep doing it.”
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