NEWARK, N.J. - New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise bristled when asked if his club could come back against the Los Angeles Kings if he and Ilya Kovalchuk don't play well.
"Who said we're not playing well," Parise shot back.
Through the first four games of the Stanley Cup finals, the Devils' dynamic duo combined for just one point ? an empty-net goal by Kovalchuk that sealed a 3-1 victory in Game 4 that kept New Jersey's season alive. It will take a lot more for New Jersey to rally all the way back from the 3-0 series hole they fell into.
And they will need Parise and Kovalchuk to fill up the score sheet. Kovalchuk entered Saturday night's Game 5 with 19 playoff points, tied for the NHL lead with Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar. Parise piled up 14 points in the first three rounds, good for a sixth-place tie, but he has none in the finals.
"I think we're playing fine, we're just not scoring," Parise said. "If that's what you think is the difference between playing well and not playing well, that's your call."
Devils coach Peter DeBoer backed up his captain just hours before New Jersey faced its second straight do-or-die game.
"Zach's game is so much more than the stat line," DeBoer said Saturday morning. "He's the heartbeat of our team. He's the identity of our team. He forechecks, he backchecks, he kills penalties, plays in all situations. He really is our barometer. He's the guy that makes us go, whether he's scoring or not.
"He's creating opportunities. They're eventually going to go in. He's had these type of situations before. I'm not concerned about his game. I know it's going to come."
The Devils' offensive woes aren't limited to Parise and Kovalchuk. The Kings' defence, backstopped by goalie Jonathan Quick, has stymied New Jersey by limiting the Eastern Conference champions to only five goals in four games. The Devils scored one in each of the first two games, none in the third, and three in their lone win of the series.
"I thought we've been playing fine all along," Parise reiterated about his team. "You look at the chance in the third period (of Game 4) that Travis had, it bounced off the boards, comes back in front, he's got an open net and it bounces over his stick. In some of you guys' minds, that's the difference between playing bad and playing good. I understand that, I get that.
"We did have good chances. You hope those keep coming and we'll capitalize on them. That's our job and we understand that. We take it personal. Trust me, if it was because of a lack of effort, you guys could yell at us all you want. But we're trying, we're working hard, we're trying to make things happen. If we keep doing that, we feel it's going to work for us."
Kovalchuk wasn't about to proclaim his slump over once he found the net in Game 4.
"I don't really care about that," he said. "I just care about the win, and it was a big win. Our third line gave us a huge goal and that's all that it takes. At this time of the year, it doesn't matter who scores the goals. You just want to score more than the other team.
"Both teams are really defensive-minded, and I think that's why we're in the Stanley Cup finals because the best defence is going to win."
PACKING THE POWER: The Kings found the power-play success they were lacking in New Jersey when they returned home for Games 3 and 4.
If they can keep it going, Los Angeles might soon be a Stanley Cup champion for the first time.
The Kings failed to score on three chances in New Jersey, but still pulled out a pair of 2-1 overtime victories. Back in Los Angeles, they went 3 for 6 ??? connecting twice in their 4-0 win in Game 3 and once in a 3-1 loss in Game 4.
"We went with line combos instead of power-play combos," captain Dustin Brown said. "I don't know if that had anything to do with it. Ultimately, we're getting shots to the net."
Could something as simple as playing with more familiar linemates really make that much of a difference this deep into the playoffs?
"Actually, we did it in Game 3 because the score was 2-0 at that time, didn't keep the forward on the point," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "In the last game, actually the goal we did score was Mike Richards on the point with Drew (Doughty). It's more time and score and those sorts of things."
On the flip side, the Kings have been perfect on the penalty-kill, turning aside all 15 New Jersey power plays. Los Angeles was 6-for-6 in its 4-0 win in Game 3.
"We had some good looks on the power play (in Game 4)," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "I know the numbers don't speak well. I know when you're zero-for-whatever, everyone is calling for change, 'Why don't you do this, why don't you do that.'
"The one thing about our team is we believe in what we're doing. Most nights it's about execution. I feel we've gotten good looks on the power play throughout the series. It's looked bad at points, credit to L.A. I think it's also looked real good, and we've gotten quality chances in other series, and prior series, we've stuck it in the net. We're going to stick with it. We're not a team that throws things out because they're not working."
WAITING AROUND: Having a pair of two-day breaks in a series, especially one as important as the Stanley Cup finals, can sometimes be a drag.
Not so for 40-year-old Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who is in the finals for the fifth time and is looking for his fourth championship.
After returning home from Los Angeles on Thursday following a 3-1 win in Game 4 that kept the Devils' season going, Brodeur enjoyed having an extra day off.
"Considering that travel, I'm pretty happy that we had (Friday) to relax," Brodeur said. "It's my son's birthday, so we'll enjoy that.
"I'm enjoying this ride. It's been great all throughout the playoffs. Definitely I'd like to have a little more success in the finals here. We're still alive, looking to create that success, win again. We're happy as a team to be in this position, fight for the Cup. We're not going to give up."
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: After a 15-3 playoff surge, that featured four straight 3-0 series leads for the first time in NHL history, is there another level for the Los Angeles Kings to rise to?
Coach Darryl Sutter thinks there is.
"I think from a coaching standpoint, you're always looking for your team's best game," Sutter said Saturday morning before his club took its second shot at winning the Stanley Cup. "I never question our team's effort."
Sutter has already seen his team step up more during this series against the Devils. And the success is not necessarily measured in the result.
"It's hard to talk about because sometimes you lose games, and you played better than you did when you win games," Sutter said. "That's the way the game is. I think we probably played better in Game 4 (loss) than we did in Game 2 (win)."