DENVER – No fluke finish to this one. No overtime, either. But plenty of punches and penalties.
Jose Theodore stopped 24 of 25 shots and the Colorado Avalanche used a three-goal first-period to rout the Minnesota Wild 5-1 on Tuesday night, tying their first-round playoff series at two games each. The first three games of the series – as well as the last two when these two teams met in the 2003 playoffs – all went into overtime and ended in 3-2 scores.
The series goes back to Minnesota for Game 5 on Thursday night, and it should be interesting – this game featured a whole lot of fighting, including some fisticuffs after the final horn sounded.
Minnesota had an astounding 111 minutes of penalty time, 24 by Derek Boogaard, who was ejected, and 35 by Stephane Veilleux, who received a 10-minute misconduct that was assessed at game’s end.
Colorado had 43 minutes of penalty time on a dozen infractions – the Wild were whistled 26 times.
“That’s hockey,” Avs forward Ryan Smyth reasoned. “I mean, I’ve been on the other end of the scale before, behind down and you just want to try to carry some momentum into the next game.”
Peter Forsberg, however, didn’t think the chippiness would spill over to Thursday, because this is still a tight series between evenly matched teams.
“These are low-scoring games and the power play is huge,” Forsberg said. “You don’t want to get down and you don’t want to play short-handed. Unless the game gets out of hand, it won’t be like it was today.”
The Avs swore they saw the sucker punches and errant elbows coming, too.
“When you get up four goals, five goals, it’s just going to happen,” said Forsberg, who felt fortunate to watch the rough third period from the safety of the bench with the game in hand. “If we were down, probably the same thing would happen. The good thing about all this is it’s 2-2 now.”
For the fourth straight time in this series, Theodore held Minnesota scoreless heading into the third period – and this time, the Wild were too far behind to mount another comeback.
Colorado outshot Minnesota 18-7 in the first period and by the time the Avalanche took a 5-0 lead in the second period, fists, elbows and penalties prevailed.
Less than six minutes in, the Avs were up 2-0 on goals by Andrew Brunette and Wojtek Wolski, who scored off a turnover forced by Ian Laperriere.
Another Minnesota turnover led to Colorado’s third goal when Joe Sakic and Forsberg corralled the puck in the neutral zone and Tyler Arnason swept in, picked it up at the Wild’s blue-line and fired hard past Niklas Backstrom from the high slot.
Ruslan Salei powered the puck past Backstrom from the left point to make it 4-0 in the second period and give Colorado its first power play goal in nine chances.
But the Avs failed to score on a 5-on-3 advantage after that when Boogaard was whistled for hooking and then received a 10-minute misconduct for a flagrant elbow to David Jones after play had stopped.
Boogaard was ejected in the third when he received his second 10-minute misconduct.
“I couldn’t wait until that game gets over,” Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. “I knew there was nothing to do. It was getting ugly, the guys were frustrated. The more they got frustrated, the more we got penalties. Guys were talking on the bench, we got bench penalties, it never stopped.”
Emotions escalated with 12:35 left in the period when Veilleux received a double-minor for roughing and cross-checking in retaliation for Cody McLeod’s check on Eric Belanger.
“It was like any playoff game. Guys start hitting and it becomes intense hockey,” Veilleux said. “They came out harder than us.”
With 21 seconds left in that four-minute man-advantage, the Avs scored their second power play goal when Milan Hejduk took a perfect pass from Smyth and sent it past Backstrom, who stopped 24 shots.
Still, Colorado’s concerns about its suspect special teams continue. The Avs went just 2-for-13 on the power play, failed to score on two 5-on-3 advantages totalling 3:35 and surrendered a short-handed goal to Mikko Koivu, his fourth goal of the series.
The Wild’s penalty kill was the only thing they had to smile about afterward.
“We don’t feel good about losing 5-1. But demoralizing? It’s 2-2,” Wild forward Brian Rolston said. “We feel good that we came in and won a game. We don’t feel good about what we did tonight. … They came after us hard and got three quick ones. They had us on our heels and then we got into penalty trouble and the game snowballed on us.”
Colorado coach Joel Quenneville couldn’t have been more pleased with the Avs’ fast start. But what about the fist-filled finish?
“I think the score had everything to do with what happened at the end of the game,” Quenneville said. “Those things happen in playoff series. We’ve got to be smart. I wouldn’t expect that being a factor going forward.”
Notes: Lemaire called out D Martin Skoula: “He probably played his worst game for the last three months.” … Koivu has scored a goal in each of the four games.