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NEWARK, N.J. -- At one point during his postgame news conference Saturday night, New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise tugged at the knot of his tie and tried to loosen it a bit.
After steeling himself with a clenched jaw for the past 10 days while answering an incessant wave of questions about his lack of production, Parise might be able to finally relax a bit.
Held off the scoresheet in the first four games of the Stanley Cup finals, the 27-year-old winger tallied his first goal of the series in the Devils' 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 on Saturday.
|Yes, Zach Parise finally scored a goal in the Stanley Cup finals. Any more questions?|
Finally, a chance to silence the critics.
"I think you guys just pissed him off, that's all," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said with a laugh. "Keep doing it."
Parise's goal was pivotal for the Devils, who escaped with a 1-0 lead on his power-play marker despite a poor first period.
With Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell in the box for interference, netminder Jonathan Quick made a rare miscue behind the net. Quick mishandled the puck and Parise beat him back to the right post to stuff it in for the Devils' first man-up goal this series.
"Just went on the normal forecheck route that I've gone on a thousand times this year. He just happened to misplay it and put it on my stick," Parise said. "You got to get lucky sometimes."
As the scrutiny intensified the further the Devils fell behind -- New Jersey has now rattled off two straight wins to cut a 3-0 series deficit to one game -- Parise maintained that he and his linemates were playing well.
His confidence that the good chances would eventually yield results was right.
"It's always nice to contribute. But, again, I still think that our line was playing fine. We were getting a lot of great chances. It wasn't going in for us. Tonight we get lucky, and that's the difference," Parise said. "But, yeah, it feels good to contribute."
Knowing the pressure he was shouldering while trying to lead the Devils back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit, Parise's teammates were happy to see his efforts rewarded.
"It's no secret he's the hardest worker on this team. It's important for him to feel good about that and get that goal," defenseman Andy Greene said. "He works too hard and he's always in the right positions. You knew it was a matter of time."
With a strong performance in Game 5, Parise can now face a more palatable string of questions: Has the pressure shifted to the Kings? Can the Devils bring the series back home with a win in Game 6?
At least for a few days, he can be assured his production won't be the focus.
"I understand it comes with the territory, where we are, what's expected of certain players," Parise said. "But, again, like I said, I thought we were playing fine. You feel, when you're getting the opportunities, that if we kept working hard in getting those, that the puck was eventually going to go in for us.
"Hopefully, it will keep going in for us."