The New Jersey Devils faced the Minnesota Wild tonight in Newark, and while the cross-conference game meant very little in the standings, it meant a lot to New Jersey fans. Former Devils captain Zach Parise made his first appearance on the Prudential Center ice after hitting free agency and signing a long-term deal with the Wild. The winger said before the game that he was looking forward to returning to the arena where he played seven seasons as part of the home team, but admitted he was unsure how his return will be met by the fans. Parise was showered with boos throughout the night, but the fans left happy as the New Jersey Devils won the battle against a familiar foe, 4-3.
Parise stepped onto the ice for pregame warmups and was almost immediately greeted by boos throughout the arena. It was not an unexpected reaction. Back in 2012, Parise was at the end of his contract, leaving him the options of re-signing a new deal with New Jersey or test the waters of free agency. The Devils had made it to the Stanley Cup Finals the previous season, and though they lost to the Los Angeles Kings, it was expected that he would stay with the Devils after coming so close to hockey’s ultimate prize. Parise said the decision between staying with the team that drafted and developed him or picking his hometown team was a difficult one.
“It was brutal,” he said. “It’s a life-changing thing, and you want to make sure you’re making the right decision.”
Eventually, Parise did decide to leave the New Jersey organization, signing a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Minnesota Wild. Fans understandably felt betrayed by the move, especially considering that Parise had given every indication during the playoff run that he wanted to stay and win a Cup with the Devils. Effigies and Parise jerseys were burned and, at the time, the words “Zach Parise” were never too many words away from some various use of profanity. Two years later, the feeling of betrayal has not ebbed. New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur said he understands where the fans are coming from, but does not blame Parise.
“He was one of the fan favorites, no doubt about that,” said Brodeur “Losing him affected our organization in a big way, and that’s what the fans care about. Hockey players have a different view than the fans. Us, we know it’s part of the business.”
Brodeur added that he felt the Devils organization had a chance to sign Parise, but waited too long to start negotiations. Part of the policy for the organization is to not discuss contract extensions during the course of the season, citing it as a possible distraction to the players. Since New Jersey was in the Stanley Cup Finals, not distracting the players is a wise move, but considering Parise signed with the Wild only 23 days after the team was eliminated, some discussion beforehand would have been prudent. Had the New Jersey Devils resigned Parise, they may not have had the fall from grace that has happened over the past few years, and a familiar friend-turned-foe would have been on the winning side of the battle on Thursday night.
The opening period started as expected, with two evenly matched teams in a strategic mental duel, neither side giving much or generating much. Adam Henrique took an early high-sticking penalty to give Minnesota a temporary edge in play, but the WIld were unable to find a way to get past New Jersey goaltender Cory Schneider. Likewise, when Parise took a hooking penalty midway through the period, the Devils could not beat Ilya Bryzgalov. New Jersey broke the ice (so to speak) late in the first period. Michael Ryder took a pass from Patrick Elias and blasted a shot past the Minnesota goaltender, giving his team a 1-0 lead that they would take into the first intermission.
That would not be all they would carry into the second, as the Devils were gifted a five minute powerplay with just over two minutes remaining in the first. Nate Prosser was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for allegedly elbowing Tom Sestito, who had laid a check on Prosser and injured himself in the process. The officials were not in a good position to see the hit and let the injury to Sestito influence their decision. The league is required to review all game misconducts that happen during NHL games, but it is unlikely that anything will come from this particular one.
The second period would start out well for the Wild, as they killed off the remaining two and a half minutes of the Prosser penalty and would use that momentum to eventually draw a holding penalty against physical New Jersey forward Tuomo Ruutu. The ensuing powerplay would not work out as planned for the Wild. Adam Henrique would enter the Wild’s defensive zone and draw a few members of the Minnesota team to the boards. Using the opportunity, Henrique backhanded a pass to a wide open Mark Fayne, who fired a rising wrister over the shoulder of Bryzgalov to score the second shorthanded goal of his career. The rest of the second would be relatively uneventful, as the Wild struggled to generate offense and the Devils seemed content to sit back and defend their 2-0 lead.
The third period would change the pace up considerably. Parise made his own personal mark by breaking Schneider’s shutout bid just 23 seconds into the period. A shot by Ryan Suter would fall right on Parise’s stick, who easily tucked it into the empty net. The boos would again surround the area as the PA announcer revealed Minnesota’s goalscorer. They would soon be turned into cheers again shortly after when ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr answered with a goal of his own just three minutes later, a one-timer right in the slot. The 3-1 score would hold until midway through the period, when Minnesota would again pull within one on Mikael Granlund’s eighth goal of the season. The Wild finally appeared to come alive with that goal, forcing the Devils to take two consecutive penalties shortly after the Granlund tally.
Those penalties would burn the Devils in the end. Noted pest Matt Cooke would tie the game at three just seconds after the second penalty ended. New Jersey seemed shell shocked as regulation ended, having watched a game they held firmly in hand slip away from them so easily. Schneider, especially, had a poor period, allowing three goals on only 10 shots faced. The normally solid goaltender seemed to be fighting the puck throughout the night, perhaps thrown off from the change in pace of the third period compared to the first two.
Regulation ended with close scoring chances for both teams and overtime began with the same. Devils defenseman Andy Greene would get the gamewinner just two minutes into overtime, his eighth goal and third gamewinner of the season. Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias would pick up assists on the goal, giving them both three assists in the game. Greene’s goal left New Jersey Devils fans happy leaving the arena, having, for this night at least, won the battle against a familiar foe.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
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