ST. PAUL, Minn. – After letting a late lead slip through their fingers, it would have been easy for the inexperienced Minnesota Wild to wilt under the playoff pressure and the steely glares from Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche.
Keith Carney, who has seen just about everything in his 16 NHL seasons, simply wouldn’t let them.
Carney’s overtime slap-shot goal lifted the Wild to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night, tying the series 1-1 and giving a huge sigh of relief to more than 19,000 towel-waving fans.
“It was tough because we thought we had the game won there in the third, a questionable call on the penalty, but we just talked about refocusing and not letting that beat us,” Carney said. “Just continuing to play our game and do the right things on the ice. We felt if we did that then we’d get the right result.”
Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu appeared to have scored the winner with 1:49 to go in regulation when he stole a pass just outside the Colorado blue line and ripped a slap shot past Jose Theodore for a 2-1 lead. But Wild defenceman Kim Johnsson was called for a hooking penalty with 1:09 to go, and Milan Hejduk tied it with 43.8 seconds to play.
The late goal sucked the wind out of the Xcel Energy Center, but the 38-year-old Carney revved it right back up with just his second goal of the season.
“It’s great,” defenceman Kim Johnsson said. “You know he works really, really hard every single game, and seeing him get that, it’s just great.”
Niklas Backstrom made 24 saves, and Pavol Demitra also scored for the inexperienced Wild, who were on the brink of disaster when the Avs rallied to tie it.
Lose this one, and the Wild would have taken a 2-0 hole back to the Pepsi Center, where the Avalanche had 27 wins this season – the third most in the NHL.
With the depleted blue line huffing and puffing thanks to the loss of Nick Schultz and Kurtis Foster to injury, Carney had just enough left in the tank to get one past Theodore, who made 28 saves.
Game 3 is Monday night in Denver.
“You can always say you’re satisfied splitting,” Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. “But when you win that first one, you’d like to go home 2-0.”
Forsberg scored his 64th career playoff goal to give Colorado a 1-0 lead heading into the third period, but Theodore was a little shaky again in the final 20 minutes of regulation.
He gave up two goals in the third period of Game 1 on Monday night and two more in this one. This time, Sakic couldn’t bail him out as he did in overtime in Game 1.
Demitra tied it at 1 with a power play goal early in the third period, and Koivu’s brilliant play down the stretch had the Wild fans roaring.
Not so fast.
Hejduk and the Avalanche didn’t give in. He deflected a shot from John-Michael Liles through Backstrom’s legs, and the Avalanche looked to be in good shape.
But overtime was over nearly before it started, thanks to Carney, one of the few Wild players with significant playoff experience.
He has played 86 career playoff games and was a stalwart on defence for Anaheim during its run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003.
The Wild need him now more than ever. The injuries to Foster and Schultz forced Jacques Lemaire to play Brent Burns, Kim Johnsson and Martin Skoula major minutes against the slick-skating Avs.
“It’s tough to lose two defencemen that we rely on a lot,” Carney said. “But we’re excited about the playoffs and we’re ready to play. As a team we have to kind of rally around and fill that void.”
Lemaire tried to limit the minutes of Carney and fellow 38-year-old Sean Hill in Game 1. But he spread them out a little more evenly on Friday night, thanks to the strong all-around effort from Carney, who played nearly 16 minutes, but was still going strong in overtime.
Carney pounced on a loose puck and let loose with a slap shot just outside the faceoff circle that glanced off a skate and squeaked past Theodore.
“They just threw the puck at the net. They got a shot off a couple of skates and it went in,” Theodore said. “I wouldn’t say it’s bad luck. When you throw pucks at the net, that’s what happens. We saw that (Wednesday) night in our overtime goal. In overtime, you just throw everything at the net.”
Notes: Colorado RW David Jones left the game in the second period with a left leg injury and did not return. … Forsberg is third among active NHL players in career post-season goals. … Skoula played with a sore left leg. … Avalanche D Jordan Leopold, a Hobey Baker winner and star at the University of Minnesota, was a healthy scratch for the second straight game. … Wild LW Aaron Voros started in place of Mark Parrish, who is out with a head injury.