NEWARK, N.J. — In the next month or so, New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise is going to strike it rich — somewhere.
The 27-year-old Parise, who can became a free agent next month unless he re-signs with New Jersey, is one of those players that every team wants. He scores goals, works hard, is a good skater and is relentless on the ice. Nothing is more important to him than his team and winning.
Take Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Los Angeles Kings Wednesday night. Parise showed talent and something surprising, a level of sneakiness few expected from an angelic-looking, clean-shaven boy scout skating alongside a grungy-looking, unkempt group of players in bushy beards.
With the game tied 1-1 early in the third period, Parise deftly reached out with his gloved hand while prone in the crease and shuffleboarded a loose puck into the net, setting off a celebration at the Prudential Center in New Jersey.
Horns blared. Fans stood up and screamed. There was merriment all around.
Unfortunately for the Devils and their fans, referee Dan O’Halloran quickly waved off the goal, and replay in Toronto upheld his ruling. The Kings would go on to win 2-1 in overtime on a goal by Anze Kopitar.
Parise had a sheepish grin on his face when asked what possessed him to basically throw the puck into the net behind Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.
“I saw the puck was going behind the net and I wanted to keep it alive,” Parise said Friday after the Devils worked out for about an hour in preparation for Game 2 on Saturday night.
As soon as Parise finished the sentence, he started laughing, knowing no one was going to buy the story.
“I couldn’t get my stick,” he added, “and I knew none of our guys could put it in at that point, soooo …”
When somebody suggested he was hoping to get away with it, he laughed again.
“Maybe the video review wasn’t working,” said Parise, who rebounded from a major knee injury last season to score 31 goals, the fifth straight year he has scored at least 30 while playing a full season. “I don’t know. I was just trying to keep it alive. I didn’t have anything, so I was just trying to sneak it in.”
Sometimes that’s what it takes to win the Stanley Cup, although this time it didn’t work.
It was a good try though, and it’s that kind of an intangible that will make Parise so attractive on the open market. New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello will put together an attractive package to keep Parise, but there will be several more offers headed his way. Some other teams who may have interest include the Hurricanes, Red Wings and the Wild, as well as two teams Parise has met in this postseason: The Rangers and Kings.
“Guys want to win, that’s all it is,” Quick said. “I don’t know if he thought he would be able to get away with it, actually it was a pretty slick move if you think about it. He did it pretty quickly and I didn’t know if the ref saw it or not. But guys just want to win. They are doing whatever they can to win. I’d do the same thing if I was down the other end.”
Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said it was nothing new. The three-time Cup winner had seen his fair share of questionable moves by offensive players in almost 1,400 regular- and postseason games combined.
“Hey, you are trying to score a goal,” Brodeur said. “Maybe somebody blinks.”
The Kings didn’t. They complained right away, and they knew they had a case.
“It’s kind of scary when they go to the replay,” Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “You expect the worse but he was right on the play. Certainly, we were all throwing our hands up in the air making motions that he definitely used his hand. The ref was right on it, and made the right call.”
Scuderi, who has not scored a goal this postseason, laughed about Parise’s method.
“I’d have a better chance of scoring if I could throw it in the net,” he said. “If that’s what’s going, I’ll try it out. He had no play. No one really had a stick in the area. We did a good job of covering the sticks and that’s the way it is, you’ll try anything.”
Travis Zajac, Parise’s center, said he and forward Dainius Zubrus knew the goal would not count so they didn’t get too excited.
“No one was going to get a stick on it,” Zajac said, “and I think he just tried to get the crowd going.”
It worked … for a bit.
“In that moment, I don’t think you think,” Devils leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk said. “You just try to put the puck in the net, and maybe it hits a stick. When you are that desperate, you try anything.”
Heading into Game 2, the Devils and Kings are both promising to play better. Neither played well in Game 1 after long layoffs for both sides.
The Devils, however, have the pressure on them. They can’t afford to go to Los Angeles down 2-0 with Games 3 and 4 on Kings’ ice Monday and Wednesday.
“Now it is new for us, losing the first game at home,” Brodeur said. “We played well in Game 1 to a certain extent. We know what we did wrong. Now, we have to respond with a great effort, not a good one, a great one.”
The Kings, who are 13-2 in the postseason, aren’t going to make it easy. They have won all nine of their road games this postseason and 11 overall dating to last season, both NHL records.
“They’re going to come out strong,” Kopitar said. “They are going to be a desperate team because we did get Game 1, and they are going to try to get it back.
“We have to make sure we’re ready right off the get-go.”