With his father at peace so, finally, is Zach Parise.
It wasn't difficult to see the type of intense burden Parise was playing under the first three months of the season as his father, J.P., battled lung cancer. The strain was especially torturous that terrible final month when his dad deteriorated quickly.
"I don't know how else to say it, it was really, really hard before," Parise said Friday. "I was constantly in a funk and it was tough to get out of it. It affected me on the ice, it affected me off the ice. Lately, I've just felt better."
With family at his side, J.P. Parise, a popular former North Star, died Jan. 7. A month later, Zach still desperately misses his biggest fan every day. But that stress he endured for months as he watched his father in so much pain has vanished.
"It's almost as if after the [Jan. 16] funeral, I don't know if closure is the right word, but it was like, 'He's OK now,' " Parise said. "He's at peace, he's not suffering anymore. Going and seeing the way that he was and what he was dealing with, it took a toll on us. It was awful.
"Once I knew he was not feeling like that anymore, everything was kind of lifted off. It's still horrible. Don't get me wrong. Everything that happened, when you see a family member like that, it just kills you. But I … feel like a load's been lifted off my shoulders knowing he's at peace."
Parise's strong play since his father passed away is one big reason the Wild has points in seven of its past eight games and has won four in a row heading into Saturday's game against Colorado.
"You still deal with certain things," Parise said, referring to sad moments and sad days. "You kind of get used to that new normal and I think that probably has a lot to do with this."
In eight games since Jan. 15, Parise ranks second in the NHL with seven goals. Since returning to the lineup three days after his dad's death on Jan. 10, Parise ranks third in the NHL with 46 shots.
Despite missing seven games this season, Parise is tied for 12th in the NHL with 21 goals, is 15th in the NHL with 162 shots and leads the Wild with 39 points and a plus-11 rating. Coach Mike Yeo is thrilled all the Wild's leaders (Parise, Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek) are playing their best hockey this season at the same time, but Parise's relentlessness mirrors the Wild rediscovering its game.
"His second efforts, the drive that he brings day in and day out, that stuff's contagious to the rest of the group," Yeo said.
During the Wild's two months of losing, which included 12 losses in a 14-game stretch, the Wild looked lethargic. It looked the complete opposite during a 3-0 win against Chicago on Tuesday, and you can even see the Wild's renewed enthusiasm in Friday's practice.
"Winning does that," Parise said. "It makes it easier to come to the rink. When you're losing, you feel like there's a dark cloud everywhere. Unfortunately, we kind of got sucked into that whole losing thing. We couldn't find a way to get ourselves out of it, and eventually that depression seeps into practices and games. It's amazing what a couple wins can do."
Suter, a plus-6 the past five games with three assists, agreed, saying, "It's all confidence."
Yeo said the Wild's not skating faster, but it's back to playing north-south hockey and executing better, which makes the team look faster. There are two games left in the homestand — vs. Colorado and Vancouver on Monday — before the Wild heads to Winnipeg on Tuesday. These are three teams the Wild's chasing in the standings.
The Wild, which upset last year's Central Division champion Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs, hasn't played Colorado since outscoring it 8-0 in consecutive wins to start the season. The past few months the Avs, one point ahead of Minnesota in the standings, have changed the way they've played, abandoning the rarely used man-on-man defensive-zone coverage.
"If we're expecting the games to go the way they did in Games 1 and 2 of the year, we'd be sorely mistaken," Yeo said.