Devils coach Peter DeBoer had witnessed enough of Zach Parise in their first season together to believe whatever funk his captain was suffering through wouldn't last forever. DeBoer called Parise the heartbeat and identity of his team while insisting he would bust out sooner rather than later.
Parise had played five straight games without recording a point, going back to the conference finals against the Rangers. DeBoer knew the math would eventually take over in a long series. The unknown in Game Five of the Stanley Cup final was whether the Devils could survive long enough for trends to make a U-turn toward New Jersey.
Folks, now we have a series.
The Devils were thanking their inspirational leader and top forward for another road trip to Los Angeles after a 2-1 victory in Game Five over the Kings in the Prudential Center. The best-of-seven series, which the Kings were on the verge of sweeping just a few days ago, became infinitely more interesting as it heads back to Staples Center.
"I go into every game expecting Zach to do something big," DeBoer said after the game. "I think you guys [ticked] him off a little bit. Keep doing it."
Parise opened the scoring with 7:15 remaining in the first period when he beat Jonathan Quick to the post and stuffed home a power-play goal for his first point of the series. Quick had nobody to blame for the miscue but himself after he was caught out of the net and made a sloppy passing attempt behind the net.
Thanks for the quickie, Quickie. See you in Game Six.
"It feels good," Parise said. "For us to get the first goal, that's always big. Every team plays better when they've got the lead. You can get the crowd going a little bit, get them excited. We were able to do that."
The Kings still have a 3-2 series lead, and the odds of winning it all remain in their favor as the Cup remains under lock and key for a trip back to Southern California. The seeds of doubt were blossoming in the visitors' dressing room Saturday and will be in full bloom if the Devils force a seventh game with another win Monday night.
And that's when the Kings gethistight.
Parise hadn't played poorly in the first four games. He had 15 shots on goal and was active in all four. He simply hadn't produced anything of consequence against a disciplined Kings' defense and the near-flawless goaltending from Quick. And that's where the laws of probability come into play.
Quick had been terrific throughout the playoffs, but he was bound to make a few mistakes along the way. He was beaten cleanly on Adam Henrique's winner in Game Four, which sent the series back across the country. He had a brain cramp Saturday when he abandoned his net on the power play.
Once again, Martin Brodeur was spectacular in goal for the Devils. Justin Williams beat him with a shot through a screen, but the 40-year-old outplayed Quick for the second straight game and made several key stops over the final two periods to secure the victory.
Bryce Salvador, who didn't score in the regular season, gave New Jersey a 2-1 lead in the second period when his wrist shot from the point found a hole with David Clarkson parked in front of the net and screening Quick. His fourth goal of the postseason was big, obviously, but the one Parise scored to push them in the right direction might have been more critical.
Enter the numbers.
The team scoring first had won each of the first four games. Los Angeles was 10-1 in that situation, New Jersey 9-2. The Kings had won a record 10 playoff games on the road and had not lost two straight in these playoffs. The Devils were 7-0 when leading after two periods.
"Whoever scores first, right?" Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "That's the way it's been. It tells you how close the series is."
Yes, there's more. New Jersey had a 4-8 record in the first three games of a playoff series this year, but is 10-1 after the third game with the win Saturday.
Only the 1942 Maple Leafs have come back from a 3-0 deficit in the finals to win the Stanley Cup. Eight percent have come back from 3-1 deficits. Eighteen percent have come back from a 3-2 series lead. But it hardly looks insurmountable.
Playoff hockey was restored Saturday, and Game Five came complete with big hits, scoring chances, great goaltending and genuine disdain that had been lacking. For a while, the Kings and Devils treated one another like high-school BFFs who were petrified to offend one another.
It changed in the first period Saturday when Los Angeles' Matt Greene dumped Patrik Elias from behind. The hit was more awkward than dirty, but it was enough to energize the Devils after their legs were unexpectedly heavy in the opening eight minutes. Clarkson unloaded with a big hit on Dustin Brown later in the game.
The energy multiplied during the two games in L.A., with fans looking to see the Kings win their first Cup. It was back in New Jersey for Game Five and will gain momentum in Game Six.
Parise wasn't just the heartbeat of the Devils on Saturday. There he was on the ice with a four-on-four and the Kings having the extra attacker in the final minute, breathing life and performing CPR into the entire series.
And now all hearts are pounding.
"We're going to try to ruin the party again," Brodeur said. "They're so close in L.A. to winning the Stanley Cup. I'm sure it's getting to them a little bit to have all these chances and not capitalize on them. We're just looking to stay alive."