2014 NHL Playoffs: Wild topple Avs 5-2, knot series and force Game 7
Home cooking sure can be a great cure for what ails a team. Have trouble scoring goals? A wonky power play? Feeling cheated by calls in your last road game? A game at home should fix that because home is certainly where the victories are in this series between Colorado and Minnesota that is now headed to a seventh game after the Wild’s 5-2 win on Monday night. Minnesota forward Zach Parise scored twice and added two assists and Darcy Kuemper made 21 saves as the Wild made it six victories in six games for the home team in what has been a furious and fun series.
Both teams utilized, and fell victim to, momentum swings that embody two enthusiastic, generally young and inexperienced squads that are battling to see who can figure out this playoff puzzle first. Consider the total shots on goal by period: In the first, Minnesota, 9-6; in the second, Colorado, 14-6; and in the third, Minnesota, 8-3 for a total of 23 apiece. That’s fitting if you consider the sum total of chances and momentum were about equal for the evening, though both teams enjoyed long, dominant stretches.
Some observations from the series-tying game:
• The Avalanche were unable to get the Wild off their game plan, especially early. Only 26 seconds after the opening face-off, Nathan MacKinnon was called for holding Minnesota's Charlie Coyle, and Parise scored 23 seconds later by deflecting a shot past Colorado netminder Semyon Varlamov. Mikael Granlund put the Wild up 2-0 at 9:35 when Varlamov, with his stick caught in his pad, couldn’t prevent an easy five-hole tally.
• In a 2-0 hole with a raucous Xcel Energy Center firmly behind the Wild, Colorado coach Patrick Roy used his timeout 12 minutes into the first. Despite the fiery, bombastic persona he cultivated as a Hall of Fame goalie, Roy has become a somewhat calmer bench boss. This is a patient Roy, one who understands that he has a very talented but inexperienced squad to work with, one that hasn’t been through the playoff wars as a unit and is still prone to mistakes. Paul Stastny’s slash of Cody McCormick's legs at 14:49 was unnecessary, but the Avs were able to overcome that penalty, and the delay of game call on Andre Benoit less than a minute later, and a gain a little momentum of their own. With Minnesota pressing the attack during its five-on-three power play, Wild defenseman Ryan Suter left himself exposed when his shot was blocked by Ryan O’Reilly, who picked up the loose puck and caught Stastny coming out of the box with a long pass that he converted to a goal to bring Colorado within one.
• Welcome back Matt Duchene. The Avs’ forward had been out since Mar. 29 with ligament damage in his left knee and was not expected to play in the series. Starting the game on the fourth line, Duchene worked a cycle-pass sequence to O’Reilly and then Nick Holden to help Colorado even the score at 2-2 in the second period. He finished the night with an assist and was -1 in 18:52 of ice time. "It's a start, I guess," Duchene said after the game. "You've got to learn to trust an injury like that coming back, and as the game went on I felt more confident with it. There's still a long way to go for me. But next game is Game 7, so you lay it all on the line."
• Though the Avs are loaded with young skill, they still need some veteran help to pull off important plays. Max Talbot, one of Colorado's few veterans with playoff experience (the 30-year old has 82 games worth) saved a goal in the third period when he managed to contain Wild forward Dany Heatley without taking a penalty. As Heatley was about to convert a centering pass into a net with a lot of open room in front of it, Talbot, skating from Heatley's side, reached his stick around the Minnesota forward and thwarted the scoring threat. That was a big-league defensive play and the sort of thing that the rest of the younger Avalanche players will need to learn how to do.
• Avs defenseman Erik Johnson is a 26-year old, not a raw rookie, but this is his first playoff series. His lack of experience showed when Parise, generously listed at 5’11” and 195 pounds, was able to nudge his way to the front of Colorado's net against Johnson and tip Mikko Koivu’s 55-footer in for a 3-2 lead with 6:29 left to play in the third.
• Roy has shown a willingness to pull his goaltender earlier than conventional thinking usually allows and it has worked. By pulling his goalie with a few minutes to play instead of 60 or 70 seconds, the Avalanche have score six times in 20 tries this season, a 30 percent success rate that is certainly higher than the league average. So Roy pulled Varlamov with 2:44 to go in Game 6 and the Avs buzzed the Wild's net for a minute of controlled ice time, but the move backfired as the Avs allowed a pair of empty-net insurance goals by Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella that produced the final 5-2 score.
• If the Avs survive Game 7 at home, at some point during these playoffs, they will need to win a road game, perhaps several. In the postseason, home teams feed off the positive emotional push from their crowd and often gain an advantage. Good teams–the ones that can excel on the road--find ways to neutralize the fans by creating scrums, freezing pucks, and creating match-up problems without the benefit of last changes.
The Wild and Avalanche will meet in Game 7 on Wednesday night in Denver at 9:30 p.m. ET (CNBC, TSN, RDS2)