As far as homecomings go, what transpired at the Prudential Center Thursday night was decidedly not Phil Jackson returning to the Knicks.
Rather, the response was somewhat closer to Pat Riley’s return to New York after spurning the Knicks for the Heat in 1995.
“I wasn’t expecting any cheers,” Zach Parise said after he was booed by the announced crowd of 14,772 every time he touched the puck in the Devils’ 4-3 overtime win over the Wild. “I was kind of anticipated that.”
With the win, the Devils improved to 30-27-13 to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. The Devils have 73 points, but trail eighth-seed Columbus by three points, who have two games in hand. The Blue Jackets host the Rangers Friday night in Rick Nash’s first game in Columbus since being traded.
“We needed this win badly,” Travis Zajac said. “We haven’t talked about [how many points needed to qualify for the playoffs]. We’re not going to worry about that because it’s just irrelevant at this time. All we can worry about is the wins. One game, that’s all you can worry about. If you start talking points and what could be and what might not be then you lose your focus.”
Parise was the recipient of boos throughout his first trip back to the Garden State after signing a 13-year, $98 million contract with Minnesota as a free agent on July 4, 2012. The boos began in pregame warmups and reached a crescendo when he was announced as one of the Wild’s starters.
Parise finished with six shots on goal, including a third-period score, in 20:58 of ice time.
“I don’t know [if] surprised [is the right word to describe the fans’ reaction to Parise],” Devils head coach Pete DeBoer said. “I understand the fans’ disappointment in him leaving, and I also know we should all be very thankful for the time he put in. I know I feel privileged to have coached him. I hadn’t watched him in a while. You realize, seeing him tonight, why he’s so special. He’s always around the net, winning battles, in the crease. He’s a special player.”
The Devils went into the third period with a 2-0 lead thanks to Michael Ryder and Mark Fayne. Ryder’s goal was his 17th of the season and his first goal since Jan. 11.
And that’s when two of the NHL’s lower-scoring teams began trading goals.
Parise halved the deficit 21 seconds into the third with his 24th goal of the season (and 13th on the power play) but Jaromir Jagr’s tally 3:13 later allowed the Devils to regain the two-goal advantage.
Mikael Grandlund’s no-angle goal with 9:24 left cut the lead to 3-2, and Matt Cooke tied the game with 4:32 left in regulation. Andy Greene’s game-winning goal two minutes into the extra period sent the Devils to their ninth OT win of the season.
“We have a little more urgency in overtime as a group because of our [0-8] shootout record,” DeBoer said. “I don’t think there’s any secret about that. So you get a little more aggressive.”
The Devils lost Tom Sestito for the game to an elbow from Jared Spurgeon with 2:01 left in the first period. Replays showed Spurgeon got his arm up to brace himself against an on-rushing Sestito, and the Minnesota defenseman appeared to hit the Devils’ left wing high. Sestito had to be helped off the ice.
DeBoer said Sestito was “coherent” after the game, adding the left wing “feels all right but wasn’t able to come back” into the game.
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.