Parise savors first trip to Conference Finals
PHILADELPHIA -- New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise is headed to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in his career.
It might have taken seven seasons, but for the 27-year-old Parise, it was certainly worth the wait.
"This feels really good," Parise said after the Devils advanced by beating Philadelphia 3-1 on Tuesday night to wrap up a five-game series victory. "I don't think there are too many people out there that expected us to be where we are right now. We always thought we could make it here, but you have to have things go right for you and you have to be lucky at the right times and [on Tuesday], we got a lucky bounce on [David Clarkson's] goal, so it was a good sign."
For a player who traditionally pours his heart and soul into every shift when he takes the ice, it's certainly a well-deserved achievement, as it is for a smattering of veterans who have been there and done that, including Stanley Cup winners Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora.
"I think Zach has been playing really good, taking leadership to heart and he's happy to be the captain and happy to lead," Brodeur said. "It's been really nice and for him. Being in this situation and being able to produce the way he does, is great.
"He had a tough run the last six or seven years, where we've gone one round out, two rounds out, one round out," Brodeur continued. "So this is nice for him."
Parise didn't register a point in Game 5, but the emotion and relentless motor were ever present. He logged 19:42 of ice time and generated a team-high five shots.
"This is fun for everybody and we're having a good time, especially after the way things went last year," Parise said. "We're happy to be in the situation we're in. It's a good feeling, but again, we're only halfway there. We know it's only going to get harder from this point."
Parise was one of five players on the team to appear in all 82 games this season and was second behind Ilya Kovalchuk with 31 goals -- becoming just the second player in team history to record five 30-goal seasons. It's quite a turnaround after Parise missed 69 games due to injury in 2010-11, when the Devils failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons.
"He's a great leader and has done a lot in this locker room," Clarkson said. "He's had leaders to follow like Jamie Langenbrunner, who won before, so Zach's done a phenomenal job all season. He leads by the way he plays out there. It's not hard not to play all out when you see how hard he's working."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale