ST. PAUL, Minn. – Jose Theodore’s strategy for each game, as he explained after one of the best performances of his career, is hardly scientific stuff.
Just locate the puck and keep it simple, he said. Theodore, simply, has been a force in front of the Colorado net. Wojtek Wolski and Paul Stastny scored 79 seconds apart early in the third period, rewarding Theodore and the patient Avalanche with a 3-2 victory and a 3-2 series lead on Thursday after weathering a relentless effort by the Minnesota Wild.
“They played a solid game. In the end, we didn’t panic,” Theodore said after stopping 38 of the 40 shots that tied a playoff record for Minnesota.
“I just tried to make every save,” Theodore said. “Like I say, they’re a great team and I’m going to have to be ready for the next one.”
Game 6 is in Denver on Saturday night. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, more than 80 per cent (158 of 196) of the Game 5 winners of previously tied playoff series have advanced to the next round in NHL history. But on the edge of elimination, the Wild spoke defiantly about their effort afterward.
“We kept going and playing hard and getting chances through the whole game because we felt we would get it,” coach Jacques Lemaire said, “but we had no breaks. Nothing. Rebounds, we were close, but never got the puck on the stick, and the great chances we had, he made some saves.”
After losing their touch and their cool in an ugly 5-1 loss in Denver two days before, they hustled from end to end, set the tone early with several hard, clean hits, and gave Theodore all he could handle by outshooting the Avalanche 32-14 over the first two periods.
He handled almost all of it.
“He was the only reason we were in the game. Great’s not even the word to describe it. Being tied going into the third was almost like winning going into the third,” Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said.
Theodore denied all kinds of shots from every angle, whether it was a toe save of still-scoreless Marian Gaborik’s wrister from just outside the crease, or a glove squeeze of yet another windup and sizzling slapper by Brian Rolston.
Rolston, who sent eight shots on net, scored too late with 2.5 seconds left. Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s power-play goal in the first period was the only other puck that Theodore let past, and that was hardly his fault. Brent Burns set it up with a pretty cross-ice pass, and Bouchard blasted it into the back of the net so fast that Theodore had barely begun to lean the other way.
“He made quite a few saves, obviously,” Rolston said. “We outshot them pretty good. I think more traffic is needed, obviously, all the cliches I’ll throw at you. But he played well. He played very well. This is the playoffs, and sometimes it takes a little bit more to score in the playoffs.”
Following a behind-the-net interference penalty by Minnesota’s Sean Hill, Wolski sent a shot through goalie Niklas Backstrom’s pads for a 2-1 lead with 14:54 remaining.
Then came the knockout blow by Stastny, the regular-season goals leader for the Avalanche who was searching for his first score of this series. He took a smooth pass by Milan Hejduk and made a nifty pivot to lift a back-hander over Backstrom.
Andrew Brunette also got a goal for Colorado, giving the Avs a 10-1 advantage in first and second period scoring in this series. Bouchard’s was the first in that category for Minnesota.
Gaborik has had a rough time. After getting 42 goals and 41 assists in a career-best regular season, he’s still looking for his first point.
“We just have to try to stay positive and keep working hard. The chances are there,” he said.
The Avs certainly weren’t ready to declare themselves in the clear.
“They won the division for a reason. They’re not going to whine and pout about it. They’ll come right back out on Saturday,” Stastny said.
Added Ian Laperriere: “There’s no such thing as a driver’s seat. That’s the toughest game to win, that fourth game. We know that, and they’re going to be desperate like they were in the second period. They’re going to come at us really hard.”
Notes: Theodore’s personal playoff record for saves is 56 as a rookie in 1997 for Montreal in a 4-3 triple-overtime win over New Jersey. … Minnesota wings Mark Parrish (concussion) and Branko Radivojevic (knee) were scratched as a result of injuries suffered earlier in the series. Defenseman Erik Reitz and rookie forward Benoit Pouliot made their playoff debuts, in place of Petteri Nummelin and Chris Simon. … Six of Wolski’s 18 goals during the regular season were winners, tying for the team lead. … Minnesota has held a lead in the series for only 4 minutes, 31 seconds out of a possible 324:23.