NEWARK, N.J. -- Zach Parise can usually be found sunny-side up, the kind of gentleman for whom every day brings a reason for optimism. So when the Devils' captain begged off his usual postgame obligations after the Rangers shut his team out in Game 3 Saturday afternoon, it was either a sign of frustration or a hint of fortitude and resolution to follow. On Monday night, Parise answered, lifting his team into a tie series and an entirely new posture. With two goals and an assist in the Devils' decisive 4-1 victory in Game 4 against the Rangers, Parise gave his teammates reason to smile anew. "Feels much better," said Devils forward Adam Henrique. "Zach pulled us up and it's a new series now."
It was a signature game for the New Jersey captain, who had managed a lone assist and a minus-4 rating in his previous five playoff games. "Your best players have to be your best players," said Devils coach Pete DeBoer. "I knew he would respond."
Indeed, Parise and all the Devils forwards intensified their forecheck on New York's defense, turning what had been a strength for New York into a rare liability and ultimately goading New York into some late-game shenanigans. As certainly as the Devils were reeling after the previous game, the Rangers made an unseemly number of errors in Game 4 and now have adjustments to make. "We have to hold onto more pucks," said Ranger coach John Tortorella. "We had the yips."
The Devils came charging throughout the first period. At the eight-minute mark, Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador snapped a seemingly harmless shot along the ice that wormed through a mass of legs and slid between the legs of Henrik Lundqvist, who dropped to the ice too late to stop the shot. On the heels of Lundqvist's shutout in Game 3, the goal changed the tenor of the contest.
Even so, Salvador then gave the puck away two minutes later to Ranger forward Carl Hagelin, but Hagelin rang the ensuing shot off the iron behind Martin Brodeur. The shot, incorrectly registered as a shot on goal, was New York's first of the game, after half the period had elapsed.
The Devils extended the lead at the 12- minute mark, jumping on a Ranger turnover and converting a two-on-one between Parise and Travis Zajac. It was Zajac's sixth goal of the playoffs. That play sent Ranger defenseman Michael Del Zotto to the end of the bench after he skated past his coverage. He had earlier made a pair of errant passes that led to Devil scoring chances. It was an unusually bad game for the third-year defenseman, who followed a strong rookie year with a sophomore slump and then a resurgent season in which he has become one of New York's steadier players. Of Del Zotto, Tortorella admitted, "It was a struggle for him. He hasn't had many games like that." With Rangers forward Brandon Prust suspended for Game 4, Tortorella inserted Stu Bickel, normally a defenseman, into a forward position. He later moved Bickel back to defense when he decided to put Del Zotto on the end of the bench early in the second period.
The teams played a scoreless second period, before Parise put New Jersey up, 3-0, in the third by jamming a rebound past Lundqvist for a rare Devils' power-play goal. "The looks have been there," Parise said of the power play. "We haven't made the right plays. We either have to score or get some momentum after that."
A monstrous three-goal lead in this series is enough to require a mercy rule. Instead, the Rangers had none. Less than two minutes after the goal, Rangers enforcer Mike Rupp, the enforcer who had heretofore played with properly controlled aggression throughout the playoffs, delivered one of those childish messages of intimidation that is somehow supposed to translate into goals 48 hours later. Rupp delivered a robust, but clean, check behind the Devils' net, but then skated by Brodeur, his former teammate in New Jersey, and threw a jab at the goalie as he was passing by. Shortly after that, the coaches, Tortorella and DeBoer, traded colorful pleasantries as they leaned over the boards and started pointing fingers.
"I never got punched like that in my career," said Brodeur "It's the first time. It surprised me more than anything. Now I know I can take a punch."
Del Zotto played only one shift for the rest of the period and sat for much of the third. On just his second shift of the final stanza, he helped New York break Brodeur's shutout bid, screening Brodeur as Ruslan Fedotenko beat him with a clean 30-footer.
Parise then closed the scoring with an empty-net goal with 1:29 to play. On the goal, Brodeur recorded his fourth assist of the playoffs, setting a record for goalie helpers in a postseason. It was the veteran netminder's 186th straight playoff start, so the resume is getting encyclopedic.
The subtext here for Parise may include his impending free agency in the offseason, but for now, the captain has simply given his team a new sense of hope in the series. Implied in the words of Tortorella after Game 3 -- "We find a way" -- was the notion that New Jersey did not have the industry to do the same. The Devils had played well in a losing effort and there was no certainty that they could play as well two nights later. Parise made sure they did. "He was pretty fierce, pretty determined," Salvador said later. "We just followed him."