For many, the Colorado Avalanche were expected to roll over the Minnesota Wild in their first-round series, but as all hockey fans know, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are full of surprises. The Wild p;layed the Avalanche tough all series, and it came down to just one goal, in overtime of Game Seven.
The series started in Colorado, with the Avalanche holding the top record in the Central Division. The two teams traded goals in the first period, but the second was largely owned by the Wild, with goals by Erik Huala and Kyle Brodziak gave Minnesota a two-goal cushion heading into the final period. Jamie McGinn brought the Avalanche within one goal early in the third period, and with only 14 seconds to go, and the net empty, Paul Stasny tied the game with a rebound over a sprawling Darcy Kuemper. Stasny cemented his heroic effort by scoring the over-time winner from the same spot on the ice, giving the Avalanche a 5-4 win.
Despite the score, Game Two was a dominating performance by the Avalanche, and in particular, 18-year old Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon scored his first NHL Playoff goal to tie the game after an early Wild lead, and added two assists on goals by captain Gabriel Landeskog in the second period. On a late penalty by Ryan Suter, Marco Scandella scored short-handed to bring the wild within one goal with 90 seconds to go, but Stasny sealed the 4-2 win with an empty-net goal. The MacKinnon-Landeskog-Stasny line scored all four goals for the Avalanche, a combined 11 points.
The Wild returned home to the XCel Energy Center in Minneapolis trailing 2-0, and in need of a big win. It wouldn’t be “big” in terms of score, but the Wild got the win, and in spectacular fashion. Neither Darcy Kuemper (20 saves) or Semyon Varlamov (44 saves) could be beaten in overtime, and the first goal off the game would be the game-winner, as the teams went to overtime in a score-less tie. After two shots to each side, Mikael Granlund would be the hero, with one of the nicest goals of the entire first-round. The Wild’s 1-0 win avoided a 0-3 deficit, and they trailed the Avalanche 2-1 after three games.
The Avalanche dominated at home in Game Two, and thus, it was the Wild’s turn in Game Four. Jared Spurgeon set the tone with an early first-period goal, and aside from a burst of offense from Ryan O’Reilly mid-way through the second, the ice seemed to be tilted towards Semyon Varlamov‘s end. The Avalanche managed just 12 shots-on-goal in the game, a record low, as the Wild’s 2-1 victory brought the series back to even, 2-2.
The Avalanche returned home to Denver, desperate to stop their losing streak, and take a stranglehold on the Wild. After a short-handed goal by Cody McLeod, the Wild and Avs traded goals, with Colorado holding the lead with 20 minutes to go. The Wild bounced back with two goals in three minutes to re-take the lead, but with 84 seconds to go, PA. Parenteau tied the game with a snapshot through traffic. Nathan MacKinnon would once again be the hero, scoring the over-time winner and completing the Avalanche comeback, taking a 3-2 series lead.
The Wild returned to the Twin Cities in a must-win Game Six, and just 49 seconds in, Zach Parise took the 1-0 lead. The Wild would never give up that lead, with Kuemper making 21 saves, as Minnesota forced one more game.
Game Seven was needed, and the Pepsi Center was the site for the all-deciding battle on the final day of April. Four times the Avalanche held the lead, and four times the Wild battled back to tie it. Erik Johnson‘s goal with less than 10 minutes to go had many believing the Avalanche had won the series, but with just 150 seconds left, Jared Spurgeon scored to send the game to overtime. Ilya Bryzgalov was the Wild’s goaltender in the extra frame, after Darcy Kuemper was injured in regulation. The Wild were all over the Avs in overtime, and it seemed inevitable. Finally, Nino Niederreiter kept the puck on a 2-on-1, beating Semyon Varlamov bar-down, winning the game 5-4, and the series 4-3.
The Wild are off to face the Chicago Blackhawks for the second straight year.
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