NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise bristled when asked if his club could come back against the Los Angeles Kings if he and Ilya Kovalchuk don’t play well.

“Who said we’re not playing well,” Parise shot back.

Through the first four games of the Stanley Cup finals, the Devils’ dynamic duo combined for just one point — an empty-net goal by Kovalchuk that sealed a 3-1 victory in Game 4 that kept New Jersey’s season alive. It will take a lot more for New Jersey to rally all the way back from the 3-0 series hole they fell into.

And they will need Parise and Kovalchuk to fill up the score sheet. Kovalchuk entered Saturday night’s Game 5 with 19 playoff points, tied for the NHL lead with Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar. Parise piled up 14 points in the first three rounds, good for a sixth-place tie, but he has none in the finals.

“I think we’re playing fine, we’re just not scoring,” Parise said. “If that’s what you think is the difference between playing well and not playing well, that’s your call.”

Devils coach Peter DeBoer backed up his captain just hours before New Jersey faced its second straight do-or-die game.

“Zach’s game is so much more than the stat line,” DeBoer said Saturday morning. “He’s the heartbeat of our team. He’s the identity of our team. He forechecks, he backchecks, he kills penalties, plays in all situations. He really is our barometer. He’s the guy that makes us go, whether he’s scoring or not.

“He’s creating opportunities. They’re eventually going to go in. He’s had these type of situations before. I’m not concerned about his game. I know it’s going to come.”

The Devils’ offensive woes aren’t limited to Parise and Kovalchuk. The Kings’ defense, backstopped by goalie Jonathan Quick, has stymied New Jersey by limiting the Eastern Conference champions to only five goals in four games. The Devils scored one in each of the first two games, none in the third, and three in their lone win of the series.

“I thought we’ve been playing fine all along,” Parise reiterated about his team. “You look at the chance in the third period (of Game 4) that Travis had, it bounced off the boards, comes back in front, he’s got an open net and it bounces over his stick. In some of you guys’ minds, that’s the difference between playing bad and playing good. I understand that, I get that.

“We did have good chances. You hope those keep coming and we’ll capitalize on them. That’s our job and we understand that. We take it personal. Trust me, if it was because of a lack of effort, you guys could yell at us all you want. But we’re trying, we’re working hard, we’re trying to make things happen. If we keep doing that, we feel it’s going to work for us.”

Kovalchuk wasn’t about to proclaim his slump over once he found the net in Game 4.

“I don’t really care about that,” he said. “I just care about the win, and it was a big win. Our third line gave us a huge goal and that’s all that it takes. At this time of the year, it doesn’t matter who scores the goals. You just want to score more than the other team.

“Both teams are really defensive-minded, and I think that’s why we’re in the Stanley Cup finals because the best defense is going to win.”

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