RALEIGH, N.C. -- For the first three games of this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise looked like an early candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
The last three games, though, have been an entirely different story. It's arguably the biggest reason why the Devils are forced to host a seventh game against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Prudential Center on Tuesday night.
Parise, along with center Travis Zajac, were shut down again on Sunday in a 4-0 loss to the 'Canes in Game 6 at the RBC Center. Parise, who had three goals and two assists in the first three games in this series, has been shut down since. Parise was held to just three shots on goal on Sunday in 16:55 of ice time.
"At home, it's a little bit different of a matchup than it is on the road," said Carolina center Eric Staal, who shined in Game 6 with a pair of goals. "We just try to make sure that we're in their end of the ice and not let them get their cycle game going. We need to get pucks out and make sure we're physical on them. That's what you have to do against those top players."
Zajac was even less effective, as the Devils' No.1 center did not record a single shot against Cam Ward on Sunday. Zajac and Parise skated alongside captain Jamie Langenbrunner, who returned to the lineup after missing three games with a lower-body injury. But the usually effective trio came up empty in Game 6.
"I think we've been aggressive," Ward said when asked what's been the difference against Parise & Co. "I think you have to be against a line like that that's got a lot of skill. You've got to be able to play him very tight and not give him time and space because he is a creative player and he's one of the most dynamic players in the League. You've got to be hard on him like we were tonight."
With the season on the line for both teams on Tuesday night, Devils coach Brent Sutter is hopeful that his top guns will be able to find a way to generate quality scoring chances on home ice. Basically, it's now or never.
"Zach and Trav, they're obviously very good hockey players," Sutter said of Parise and Zajac. "Tonight I thought their play wasn't at the level we need it to be. It's that time of year where you've got to fight through things and you've going to have to pay a price. They've obviously played them very closely and carefully and have done a good job against them. But they've got to fight through some things."