-- The true greats in any game understand how to own the moment -- the bigger the moment, the better the stage.
Well, then, Zach Parise
was truly great Friday night for New Jersey in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. And, with another clutch performance, Parise may be on his way to true greatness.
Simply, the Devils needed a hero Friday night. They needed somebody to step to the fore and say, with his actions, that everything would be OK despite a listless loss in Game 1 and the talk of past playoff failures floating around the team.
Parise never hesitated. From the first shift of Friday's 5-3 victory to the last, Parise was the most dominant player on the ice. He scored a shorthanded goal to open the scoring, he assisted on the game-winner. He killed parts of eight penalties. He forechecked like a demon. He even took on Chris Pronger
, the Flyers' biggest and baddest defenseman.
No task was too demanding for No. 9 as he willed his team back into this best-of-seven series.
"He played a great game," his center, Patrik Elias
"He's a great player and he had a great game tonight," said Dainius Zubrus
, the other wing on New Jersey's top line Friday night and the man credited with the game-winner. "That (shorthanded) goal, not many guys can make it this good."
Let's talk about that shorthanded tally, the signature moment in a signature game for Parise.
A rather feisty Ilya Kovalchuk
took the first of his three penalties just 87 seconds into the contest and a groan rocked the Rock.
That groan, though, turned into a joyous eruption just 58 seconds later when Parise forced Flyer defenseman Matt Carle
into a turnover and fed the loose puck to Elias before racing up the ice. Somehow, Parise found his way behind Pronger and was in good position to grab a perfect saucer pass from Elias.
Before you could say breakaway, Parise was on his backhand and elevating a shot past Brian Boucher
, the Flyers goalie.
Parise said he was not trying to be more aggressive Friday night, not issuing his team a wakeup call they would be forced to follow. His over-aggressiveness on the PK, he says, was not a message.
"I think not just me, but everyone felt we had to play a little better offensively, challenge them a little more," Parise said.
There were three lead changes after Parise's game-opening goal. But the tone was set with his bold stroke in the game's third minute.
After the Devils were lethargic and placid for much of Game 1, Parise put the Flyers on notice that they would have to beat a far different team in Game 2.
"We stayed on top of them and forced them to make mistakes," Elias said. "We just put a little worry in their heads that they have to be sharp the whole game."
But the Flyers weren't sharp the whole game -- especially not on the game-winning goal shift.
"I think not just me, but everyone felt we had to play a little better offensively, challenge them a little more."
-- Zach Parise
New Jersey pinned the Flyers defense in its own end with an effective cycle. Eventually, the puck found its way into the slot area. Not surprisingly, Parise was there to greet the puck. But so, too, was Zubrus. Both players reached out their sticks and tried to whack the puck past Boucher.
One of them did, but neither is sure which one.
"I don't know; I guess Zubie got it," Parise said. "It doesn't matter."
Actually, it appeared in replays that Zubrus placed his stick in front of Parise's just as Parise chopped at the puck and did touch it last. That is how the official scorer saw it, giving Zubrus the goal and relegating Parise to a primary assist.
"I was whacking at it, but I think Zach was whacking it even harder," Zubrus said. "Let them decide. Whatever, I don't care."
No, all any of the Devils care about is that they have evened the series and they once again have life as they head down the New Jersey Turnpike to Philadelphia for Sunday's Game 3. And they know that credit for that situation should be credited to Parise.
Of that, there is no doubt.