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Zach Parise Hitting Stride Ahead of Postseason

After a year stunted by injury and illness, Parise finding groove in the nick of time

by Devin Lowe / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- Like several of his teammates, Wild forward Zach Parise seems to be settling into a groove at just the right time.

After going goalless for 16 games, Nino Niederreiter has tallied seven points in his past six contests, including five goals. Charlie Coyle, who's faced inconsistency in his game at times this season, has seven points in his past six games after totaling five in 21.

But unlike many of his teammates, Parise has battled more than his fair share of illness and injury this season, adversity that often seemed to hit him right when he was playing at his best.

"It's the worst," Parise said. "Anytime you can't play, you never like watching your team play when you should be out there and want to be out there."

Parise started off the season hot with six points in his first eight games. But a lower-body injury took him out of the lineup for the first half of November, and it took him another 14 contests to match that pace.

Then it was strep throat, which sidelined him for one game in November and two in December.

Finally, after a streaky January and February, Parise was diagnosed with the mumps right after Minnesota's bye week. He watched three games from home, too contagious to be near the Wild locker room as he recovered.

But it looks like Parise is in the middle of what could be his best stretch all year.

In the second half of March, he potted six points in seven games before taking a high stick to the face from Washington's Tom Wilson that took him out against the Capitals and for yet another game after that. He returned April 1 against Nashville with a bruise around his eye that doesn't seem to have affected his vision: He recorded four points in his next four games, including two goals.

Parise couldn't escape the cosmic bad luck in Minnesota's season finale against Arizona, where he took yet another stick up high. He missed a few shifts and when he returned, he almost nabbed his 20th goal on a generous feed from rookie Joel Eriksson Ek.

Numbers aside, it's speedy, anticipation plays like that -- and like his power-play goal against Colorado on April 2, where he shuttled a sharp-angled shot past Calvin Pickard so quickly that the goaltender couldn't get across to cover -- that showcase Parise at his best.

Video: COL@MIN: Parise puts home PPG from along goal line

"I feel like I've played well the last while," Parise said. "I feel really good about how I'm playing; I feel like I've had a lot of jump and a lot of energy and I'm making good plays. It's been a long year, it's been a very frustrating year, but hopefully things are going to come together right in time."

So while Parise won't surpass any career highs in the regular season, he's certainly in a better position than he was on the cusp of last year's postseason, where he missed all six first-round games the Wild played against the Dallas Stars with a back injury.

"Playoffs are huge. That's a time you hate sitting out and watching," Parise said. "The games are so much fun, the buildings are so much fun to play in. You learn to really appreciate the opportunities. I've been playing for 10 years and I've only had one really good chance to win [the Stanley Cup]."

Parise's only chance at it came in 2012, his final year with the New Jersey Devils. The following summer, the Wild signed him and Ryan Suter to massive free-agent deals in hopes of pushing Minnesota to hockey's top echelon.

"You don't get the opportunities a lot, and you never know what's going to happen next year, so you want to enjoy it and you want to appreciate it and make sure you're doing your best to play well," Parise said.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that Parise's heating up as he finds chemistry with Niederreiter and Eric Staal, who's been one of Minnesota's most consistent forwards all season when it comes to finding the back of the net.

In the midst of a bumpy March, Staal was nearly a point-per-game player, tallying 14 in 16 contests. And with the surging Niederreiter to his right and Parise to his left, Staal had five points in Minnesota's final five regular season games, making the line one of the most productive the Wild currently has heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Obviously, he's a big part of this group and this team, and he looks great right now," Staal said of Parise. "He's moving really well on the forecheck, creating turnovers, creating chances. His confidence is definitely higher and he's a fun guy to be on the ice with right now. We're gonna need that, and it's exciting for him and for us."

"He's probably pretty excited," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau added. "He missed the playoffs last year, so touch wood that things go well and he continues to thrive."

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