New Jersey Devils\' goalie Johan Hedberg (1), of Sweden, blocks the shot of Washington Capitals\' Jason Chimera during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, March 2, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Richard Lipski)
WASHINGTON - The red mark, wider than a ball point pen and courtesy of a stick to the face, began below New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise's right ear, stretched along his swollen jaw, and ran all the way down to his chin.
"It doesn't look normal," Parise acknowledged. "It hurts to open my mouth."
If it was difficult to smile, Parise still was quite happy Friday night, even if a collision left him "shaken up" and off the ice midway through the second period. That's because he already had notched a hat trick, helping the Devils snap a four-game losing streak by beating the Washington Capitals 5-0.
"He's the heartbeat of our team," New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer said about his captain. "He's a key piece, obviously. And he's a tough kid. He doesn't go down very often."
Parise raised his total to a team-high 27 goals—including pairing with a somersaulting Dainius Zubrus for two that came 29 seconds apart—but left the game at the 9:40 mark of the second period, when he was sandwiched between Washington forwards Matt Hendricks and Brooks Laich near the boards. Laich's stick smacked into Parise's jaw.
"I know Brooks Laich, and he's not a dirty player," DeBoer said. "I'm sure it was an accident."
Parise agreed with that assessment, and said Laich apologized afterward.
"I knew it wasn't intentional," Parise said.
Parise stayed down for a bit while being checked, then was helped off the ice. He said he was given the standard NHL tests to make sure he didn't have a concussion.
"I was a little shaken up at first," Parise said. "And then after a little while, it went away."
He was on the bench in the third period, smiling while chatting with teammates, and played briefly on a power play with about six minutes left.
"Just precautionary," DeBoer said about resting Parise for most of the third period. "He could have played. If the game had been closer, he would have played."
Devils goalie Johan Hedberg, playing in place of Martin Brodeur for the first time since Feb. 9, made 23 saves for his first win since Feb. 4 against Philadelphia. Hedberg collected his third shutout of the season and 20th of his career. Less than four minutes into the game, he made an athletic play to swoop across his crease and block Troy Brouwer's shot after Laich sent a pass right in front of the net on a 2-on-1.
"We took over from there," Hedberg said. "We scored some huge goals, and I think we kind of took a little of their jump away."
"We put that in, and could have been a different outcome," Hendricks said. "Who knows? Got to regroup now and all those cliches."
The Capitals had won three games in a row, but this performance drew full-throated boos early and often.
The Devils needed about 11 1/2 minutes to register their second official shot on Michal Neuvirth—and they made it count. Parise got his first of the night by knocking in a sensational no-look, between-the-legs backhand pass from David Clarkson on a power play to make it 1-0.
"We've talked about doing that play. We've tried it in practice," Parise said. "But I wasn't expecting it. It was an awesome pass."
At the 17:50 mark of the opening period, Ilya Kovalchuk's shot from the right wing trickled through Neuvirth's legs, and Parise tapped the puck home. A half-minute later, the score was 3-0, courtesy of former Capitals forward Zubrus' highlight-reel goal. Leaving his skates, he pushed Clarkson's assist into the net the goal, and then Zubrus' momentum carried him into a backward tumble.
"Embarrassing," Parise said. "I don't think the somersault was necessary."
In its previous game, against the visiting New York Islanders on Tuesday, Washington overcame a 2-0 deficit in the final 3 1/2 minutes of regulation, then won on Alex Ovechkin's overtime goal. But there would be no such comeback on this night.
Indeed, things only got worse for the four-time reigning Southeast Division champions, who remained ninth in the Eastern Conference and in danger of missing the playoffs.
"For whatever reason, there definitely seemed to be a sag after the two goals. And the third goal—it seemed like a deflated team," Washington forward Jeff Halpern said. "It's a complete knock on the guys in the room—all of us, myself included—for just having absolutely no response."
Notes: The Devils were playing the second half of a back-to-back after losing 4-3 in overtime at Boston on Thursday. ... New Jersey avoided what would have been its first five-game skid of the season. ... Washington was seeking its first four-game winning streak since Dec. 28 to Jan. 3. ... Neuvirth had never lost in regulation in six previous career starts against the Devils, boasting a 1.46 goals-against average and .950 save percentage.