MINNEAPOLIS – Pavol Demitra put one in. Now Minnesota needs Marian Gaborik to get going.
The day after directing responsibility for leading the Wild attack toward him and his longtime Slovakian pal, Demitra scored a third-period goal in Game 2 of the Western Conference quarter-final matchup against Colorado to help propel Minnesota to an overtime victory that evened the series.
“This is obviously very energizing. That’s a huge win for us,” said Demitra, whose production dipped from 25 goals in 2006-07 to 15 this season.
Demitra was scoreless in the final 14 games of the regular season, likely his last with the Wild with free agency looming this summer.
Gaborik? Over these first two games, he sent only three shots on net and was guilty of four giveaways.
“We have to put Gabby on a roll, and I think he got a lot of chances,” Demitra said after Minnesota’s 3-2 victory late Friday. “He was working hard tonight, and he just needs a little break for one goal and he’s just going to keep rolling.”
Though the Wild have been consistently aggressive and take a 61-48 advantage in shots to Denver for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Tuesday, the Avalanche have made it difficult for Gaborik, Demitra and fellow scoring-line stalwarts Brian Rolston and Pierre-Marc Bouchard to find much room.
Colorado has blocked 40 shots in two games, and Adam Foote – with help from Minnesota native Kurt Sauer – has so far successfully hounded Gaborik and his line.
“He’s got great speed, a good shot,” Foote said of Gaborik. “You need to try and figure out where he is on the ice very quickly to contain him.”
Both Keith Carney’s winner in Game 2 and Mikko Koivu’s shot in Game 1 glanced off Avalanche skates and made it past goalie Jose Theodore. He wasn’t worried about giving up a pair of third-period goals – plus one more in extra time – in each contest.
“When you throw pucks at the net, that’s what happens,” said Theodore, whose performance was solid throughout most of the first two games.
Koivu, who is fast becoming a legitimate star in his third season with the Wild and slowly escaping the shadow of older brother and Montreal Canadiens centre Saku, is a big reason why the series is tied.
He stole a pass near the opposing blue line on Friday and turned it into a slap-shot goal with 1:49 remaining in regulation, before Milan Hejduk’s deflection evened the score in the final minute.
“He was playing well before the playoffs, as good as he can play,” Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. “He just carried his work through the first two games. He can play with anybody, and the line goes well.”
The Wild rested almost everyone who played the previous night and held a skeleton practice Saturday afternoon at their alternate facility in Minneapolis before flying to Denver. Even Lemaire stayed away.
Mark Parrish’s concussion kept him off the travel list, but fourth-line forward Branko Radivojevic was declared “probable” by the team for a Game 3 appearance after hurting his right leg on Friday. He returned to the ice after the injury, which Lemaire called an inspiration to his teammates.
Nick Schultz, whose appendectomy earlier this week stole one of Minnesota’s best defencemen, skated for about 30 minutes Saturday and said he felt good afterward. He was scheduled to be on the trip, though he likely won’t play until at least the second round – if the Wild advance.
The blue-liners are tired, but they’re playing about as well as they can against Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic and the rest of the dangerous Colorado offence.
“Sometimes when you play extended minutes like that your game drops, but these guys seem to keep their game going all throughout,” Schultz said.
The Avs didn’t practice at all on Saturday. They had one health concern with a left leg injury for right wing David Jones, but coach Joel Quenneville said he didn’t plan to call a player up from the minors if Jones can’t suit up.
Despite the missed opportunity to take a devastating 2-0 lead, Colorado couldn’t be upset about the way this closely matched series unfolded in St. Paul.
“We knew it was going to be tight always with these guys,” Foote said. “The last three years we’ve had a lot of overtimes and shootouts with these guys so we kind of expected something like this.”
Clearly, this is far from decided.
“It’ll be nice to get in front of our fans, but I don’t think (the Wild) are going to care very much about where they’re playing,” Sakic said. “It’s going to be more tight games.”
Added Forsberg: “Two good goalies. Two good defensive teams. It’s going to be 3-2, 2-1, whatever.”