This is what it was supposed to feel like, and look like.
These are the kinds of nights Wild management imagined when it brought Zach Parise home.
In his biggest game in green to date, Parise played his best, scoring two goals and totaling a career playoff-high four points Monday in leading the Wild to a 5-2 victory in Game 6.
With a crowd of towel-waving fellow Minnesotans filling the X with noise, Parise fought to the front of the net and deflected in two pucks, giving the Wild its first goal, and its go-ahead goal to send this playoff series back to Colorado for a Game 7.
“Guys like that usually find a way,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
Parise wasn’t buying the storybook angle late Monday night. He already was anticipating Game 7, and bigger games to come.
“These games are fun when you win and you contribute,” he said. “But I think when we signed here, we didn’t sign here to win a first-round game. We look at the big picture. But tonight we were able to force a Game 7.
“That’s what we wanted to do when we skated this morning and we did it, and now we have to get a win in Denver.”
That’s the way Parise speaks, from a team perspective, and with the perspective of a player who has helped a team reach a Stanley Cup Final.
Wasn’t there anything special about the way he played, or felt, on Monday?
“I just felt good tonight,” he said. “I felt like I had a little extra jump, and I felt like I was making good plays when I had the puck on my stick, and it’s one of those nights when you want to just keep touching the puck.”
The famous saying is that luck favors the bold. It works that way in hockey, too. Parise was bold enough to fight his way to the net, where Ryan Suter’s first-period shot glanced off his leg and into the net, and where, in the third period, Mikko Koivu’s shot from near the blue line flicked off Parise’s tape and in.
“I got a couple of fortunate bounces,” he said.
In his past four-plus periods, Parise has erased a scoring drought and the growing perception that many of the Wild’s best players have come up small in the scoring column during the playoffs.
Jason Pominville has only one goal — an empty-netter — although he has produced a couple of clutch assists the past two games. Koivu hasn’t scored a goal in his last 13 playoff games.
Parise hadn’t scored a playoff goal for the Wild until the third period of Game 5, when he blazed a wrist shot past Semyon Varlamov for what seemed like a pivotal goal. Now he has three goals in two games.
“I think it’s at the point where we all needed to elevate our game at this time of the year,” Parise said.
Give Koivu credit for taking the key shot of the game. Parise deflected it in with 6:29 remaining.
Parise had plenty of choices when he became a free agent two summers ago. He chose the Wild for location, yes, but also because he believed he was joining a team that could win.
While youngsters such as Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle have justified that assessment in this series, Parise and Suter are contractually obligated to lead this team.
Monday, Parise was all over the ice, throwing body checks that looked harder than usual, scrapping on the forecheck. His effort is never in doubt. What he has had to prove is that he can match up with other stars for this team.
Last year, the Wild was outclassed by the Blackhawks’ front-line players. In this series, Nathan MacKinnon has been the fastest and best player on the ice. Monday, though, was Parise’s night, a night during which he produced ugly goals and a picturesque ending.
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