ST. PAUL, Minn. — Don’t go to Zach Parise if you’re looking for a dynamite sound bite. The most personality fans from his home state saw this season came during that light-hearted commercial for Chobani yogurt played ad nauseam during the Olympics.
Padless, he’s not an imposing figure. Won’t win a fastest skater contest, either.
But when Wild owner Craig Leipold cut him a deal worth almost nine figures two summers ago, he and general manager Chuck Fletcher envisioned the kind of nights where Parise didn’t need to be.
Nights like Monday, when the 5-foot-11, 195-pound power forward from Minneapolis simply yet ferociously scrapped his way to the best playoff performance of his nine-year NHL career.
"Guys like that," Wild coach Mike Yeo said after his team’s Stanley Cup Playoffs Game 6 victory over the Avalanche, "usually find a way in a game like this."
With Minnesota facing elimination in a series its controlled for large stretches, Parise did. His two goals, including the game-winner, and two assists mark his first-ever four-point playoff outing. Moreover, he played a part in every Wild goal in a 5-2 victory, save for Marco Scandella’s sigh-of-relief-inducing empty-netter with less than a minute remaining.
With typical Parise modesty, the Wild alternate captain deflected any personal praise toward his teammates, who together blew a two-goal lead but answered to send the first-round affair back to Denver for Game 7 Wednesday.
"Everybody contributed," Parise said.
About 36 hours before this seesaw series’ latest thriller — a three-goal game in final tally only — Yeo told his players not to be heroes. Instead, he asked them to simply perform their respective duties.
Camping out in front of Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov and frequently getting his stick on the puck, Parise accomplished both.
"It was just a great, great game by him," said captain Mikko Koivu, who centered a line featuring Parise and Charlie Coyle in the third period and assisted on Parise’s tie-breaking tip-in at the 13:31 mark. "It’s not just points, it’s overall game. That’s what we expecting from him and every one of us in this room."
They needed it more than ever Monday.
Parise broke things open 49 seconds in, deflecting a Ryan Suter wrist shot off the inside of Parise’s knee and past Varlamov. It was his second goal of the series and extended his career-best postseason point streak to six games.
Less than 9 minutes later, Parise led the rush into Colorado’s offensive zone and earned the secondary assist on Mikael Granlund’s goal that made it 2-0.
More importantly, Parise flew to the goalmouth and made sure Varlamov — who came in with a .931 save percentage this series — couldn’t see around his screen.
"I think the way Varlamov’s been seeing the puck, I don’t think we’ve made it tough enough on him," Parise said. "I think we all need to get in front, get some more traffic, get some rebounds, get some screens and prevent him from seeing it."
After Colorado scored a shorthanded goal at the end of the first period and evened things up in an Avalanche-controlled second, Yeo decided to reunite Parise with old linemates Koivu and Coyle. The result: a left-point laser beam from Koivu that Parise tipped blindly past his right thigh.
3-2. Unlike Games 1 and 5, the Avalanche had no more answers.
"I wanted to get Mikko and Zach together," Yeo said. "At that time, the season’s on the line for us, and kind of the way the game was going, both of those guys were leading the charge up front and for me, their determination, their kind of get-after-it attitude, I wanted those guys going out together."
Parise also assisted on Jason Pominville’s empty-net goal with 1:26 to go, a welcome sight for a team that’s fallen in overtime twice this series after allowing a game-tying score with Varlamov pulled. Scandella ensured victory with his ice-length toss at the open goal.
It was a seminal evening for Parise’s young Minnesota tenure. When he left New Jersey two years ago to sign a 13-year, $98 million deal, he dreamt of serving as a rallying point for his home state’s diehard hockey community.
But not in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
"These games are fun when you win and you contribute," Parise 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."
Parise has experience in that department. His final year in New Jersey, the Devils reached the Stanley Cup Finals and lost to the Los Angeles Kings. Wednesday, he’ll play in his third first-round Game 7 contest.
And the Avalanche, who won the West’s Central Division and earned the conference’s No. 2 seed, knows who it’ll have an extra eye on during the most exciting scenario in hockey.
"We’ve been doing a good job on him, but tonight he had a great game," rookie Colorado coach Patrick Roy said. "You try to box out, and sometimes they find a way to get to the net."
Said Suter: "He goes to the hard areas and gets rewarded. It says a lot about what kind of player he is."