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Devils' top line still confident in ability to produce

by Dan Rosen

NEWARK, N.J. -- Zach Parise got angry Friday afternoon.

Zach Parise
Zach Parise
Left Wing - NJD
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 14
SOG: 83 | +/-: -5
The Devils captain clearly did not like the question from one of the reporters, a question that insinuated he and Ilya Kovalchuk are playing poorly in the Stanley Cup Final.

"Who said we're not playing well?" Parise replied bluntly, his blood clearly boiling.

When the reporter quickly clarified himself, asking instead if it will be possible for the Devils to complete a historical comeback against the Los Angeles Kings, from 0-3 hole to Stanley Cup champions in four games, without getting tangible results from the team's top two scorers, Parise stayed defiant.

"I think we're playing fine," he said. "We're just not scoring. If that's what you think is the difference between playing well and not playing well, that's your call."

Parise's point is well taken. What shows up on the score sheet and what happens through the course of the game is not always one and the same, and not always a true definition of how well or poorly a player or a line has played.

Parise and his linemates, including Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac, have had enough real scoring chances in this series to keep Kings coach Darryl Sutter up at night. They feel the consistency with which they had those chances was better in Game 4 than at any other point in the series.

"You look at the chance in the third period that Travis had -- it bounced off the boards, comes back in front, he's got an open net and it bounces over his stick," Parise said. "In some of your (the media) minds that's the difference between playing bad and playing good. I understand that. I get that. But we did have good chances and you hope that those are going to keep coming and we're going to capitalize on them."


Devils try to keep Cup hopes alive at home

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The Devils knew they'd be coming home after Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. They were delighted that the Los Angeles Kings also had to make the trip. The Devils spoiled the party in L.A. on Wednesday and extended the Stanley Cup Final with a 3-1 win. READ MORE ›

Regardless, the reporter's line of questioning can also be seen as legitimate because Parise, Zajac and Kovalchuk have not scored except for an empty-net goal at the end of Game 4.

The Devils are still down 3-1 head into Game 5 Saturday at Prudential Center (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS), and it seems farfetched to think they can become the first team in 70 years to come back from an 0-3 hole and win in the Stanley Cup Final without the top line producing more points.

"It's pressure," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "You guys talk to them on a daily basis. You write about that fact. That's the pressure of playing at this point of the year. They recognize that. If they weren't getting chances, I'd be concerned. They easily could have a couple goals each. [Jonathan] Quick is a big factor in that. We've got to find a solution."

It's not so simple. Blame the Kings goalie and their stingy defense for that.

"They have good gaps and they have guys coming back with pressure," Zajac said. "It's about outnumbering, having good support, and trying to execute. The chances we do get they are good at blocking, getting in lanes with good sticks. It's a challenge, that's for sure. But I think as the games have gone on we've gotten a little better as a line and have gotten a few more opportunities."

Parise, Kovalchuk and Zajac have been able to get the puck deep and cycle against the Kings far more consistently in the last three games than they did in Game 1, but they've got nothing to show for it yet.

"These guys you can cycle against a little more, but they still close you off pretty quickly," Parise said. "They don't give you a lot of time in the offensive zone, so you've got to make quick plays."

The usual answer for how to beat a stingy defense complete with an all-world goalie is with traffic in front of the net, but it's been like weekend rush hour in front of Quick in this series.

He makes it difficult because of how high he plays, at times a foot or two and sometimes even three feet outside above the blue paint. The Kings defensemen make it tough because of how good they are at keeping the puck and bodies to the outside. Getting traffic is also a challenge because L.A.'s forwards are good at dropping back to take away the high slot.

"A lot of it is us trying to get there, too," Zajac said. "We can do a better job. But they do a good job of boxing out and letting Quick see a lot of pucks."

The usual answer for how to beat all of that is with a good forecheck. Kovalchuk said his line was much better on the forecheck in Game 4 because it did not rush to dump the puck into the zone.

"We put the puck in better places so Quick can't handle them," he said. "The first three games we were just kind of rushed to put the puck in their zone and it always ends up in his hands and he moves the puck real well. If we eliminate that we have a better chance."

They did, for the most part, in Game 4 and they wound up with better and more consistent scoring opportunities. Parise and Kovalchuk each had four shots on goal. Zajac had one shot, plus his chance in the third period that Parise referenced earlier.

"I think if we weren't getting chances we'd start asking questions," Zajac said. "You know it's going to come."

If it doesn't, nobody will insinuate that the Devils can't beat L.A. without their big guns scoring -- they'll state it as fact.

"Trust me, if it was because of a lack of effort you guys can yell at us all you want, but we're trying," Parise said. "We're working hard. We're trying to make things happen and if we keep doing that we feel it's going to work for us.

"It's right there. We just gotta put them in."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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