Wild dump Avalanche, force Game 7
By Jess Myers, The Sports Xchange
SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- Left wing Zach Parise inked a massive contract to come back to his home state two summers ago on a blisteringly hot July day. At the time, it was chilly spring nights like Monday that many Minnesota Wild fans surely envisioned.
Parise broke a 2-2 tie in the third period with his second goal of the game, and the Wild forced a seventh game in their first-round Western Conference playoff series, beating the Colorado Avalanche 5-2.
Parise also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal by center Mikael Granlund as the Wild sprinted to an early 2-0 lead, but Colorado eventually captured the momentum.
"We've been doing a good job on him, but tonight he had a great game," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said of his team's efforts to neutralize the Wild's marquee player. "You try to box out and sometimes they find a way to get to the net."
With the teams matching each other stride for stride in the final period, Parise tipped a shot by center Mikko Koivufor the eventual game-winner with 6:29 remaining. Right winger Jason Pominville and defenseman Marco Scandella scored empty-net goals in the final two minutes as the Wild forced a deciding game, which will be played Wednesday night in Denver.
The winner of Game 7 will face the Chicago Blackhawks in round two.
Wild coach Mike Yeo juggled his lines in the third period to pair up Parise and Koivu, and it worked.
"I wanted to get Mikko and Zach together," Yeo said. "At that time, the season's on the line for us, and kind of the way the game was going, both of those guys were leading the charge up front, and for me, their determination, their kind of get-after-it attitude, I wanted those guys going out together, and I thought that everybody else did a real good job with it, too."
Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper finished with 21 saves.
"These games are fun when you win and you contribute, but I think when we signed here, we didn't sign here to win a first-round game," said Parise, who, along with defenseman Ryan Suter, agreed to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts on July 4, 2012. "We look at the big picture. But tonight, we were able to force a Game 7. That's what we wanted to do when we skated this morning, and we did it, so now we've got to get a win in Denver."
Center Paul Stastny and defenseman Nick Holden scored for Colorado, and Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov stopped 18 shots.
The Wild ignited the crowd early, scoring 49 seconds into the game. Avalanche rookie center Nathan MacKinnon was whistled for holding on the first shift of the game, and Minnesota's power play clicked immediately. Varlamov stopped a shot by Parise, but the rebound went to Suter. Parise tipped the defenseman's shot past Varlamov for a 1-0 lead.
Near the midway point of the first, Minnesota went up 2-0 on Granlund's second goal of the playoffs. After a feed from Pominville, Granlund ripped a shot from the right circle that found a tiny gap between Varlamov's knees.
The Wild had a five-on-three power play for more than a minute late in the first and looked poised to take a 3-0 lead, testing Varlamov with two shots. Their attempt at a third shot changed the momentum of the game.
Suter fanned on a shot from the point just as Stastny was getting out of the penalty box. The whiff allowed center Ryan O'Reilly to control the puck and pass to Stastny, who was all along at center ice. Stastny came in on a breakaway and made it 2-1 with a wrist shot that beat Kuemper on the stick side.
Colorado's power play, which struggled throughout the series, finally clicked in the second period. O'Reilly's cross-ice pass to Holden led to a tap-in goal with Kuemper out of position, creating a 2-2 tie after 40 minutes.
"The second period I felt was our best period on the road so far," Colorado left wing Gabriel Landeskog said. "We forechecked well and we cycled the puck well, and that's something we're going to have to bring with us to Pepsi Center. We played well overall, just details here and there."
Center Matt Duchene, who led the Avalanche offensively during the regular season, returned to the lineup Monday. He missed the team's previous 13 games after suffering a knee injury in late March.
NOTES: After having the 27th-ranked penalty kill unit in the regular season, the Wild turned into the league's best playoff team with a man in the box. Prior to the Avalanche power play goal in the second period of Game 6, the Wild killed 19 of Colorado's first 20 power plays in the series, allowing only an empty-net power-play goal late in Game 2. ... With C Matt Duchene's return to the lineup, the Avalanche scratched rookie C Joey Hishon, who made his NHL debut in Game 4. Hishon did not record a point in the two games he played. ... Still smarting from a few controversial non-calls in the Wild's Game 5 loss in Colorado, the sellout crowd in Minnesota gave a rousing round of boos when the on-ice officials were introduced prior to Monday's game. ... Avalanche veteran F Alex Tanguay, who played just 16 regular-season games and had hip surgery in February, was on the ice for Colorado's optional skate Sunday. He is not expected back until next season.