DENVER – Paul Stastny sweated out the trade deadline, wondering if his big, expiring contract and Colorado’s desire to beef up its blue line might lead to his departure from Denver.
Instead, he stuck around to help the Avalanche end a four-year playoff drought.
That decision by executive vice-president Joe Sakic to keep him in the Mile High City paid huge dividends Thursday night when Stastny sparked Colorado’s 5-4 win in overtime against the Minnesota Wild in their Western Conference playoff series opener.
“He’s obviously a really good player,” said Wild defenceman and fellow Olympian Ryan Suter. “He’s a really good player. He’s good in the faceoff circle, good on the power play. He’s just the total package, he plays hard on both ends of the ice.”
Stastny tied it with 13.4 seconds left in regulation, then beat Ilya Bryzgalov with another close-in wrist shot 7:27 into overtime, capping Colorado’s comeback from a two-goal deficit after two periods.
Those were the only two shots on goal that Stastny, who made $6.6 million this season, took all night.
Stastny is the first player in Stanley Cup Playoff history to score the game-tying goal in the last 15 seconds of regulation and then score the winning goal in OT, the Avs said based on information from the Elias Sports Bureau.
But Stastny, who also had an assist, credited his coach’s bold moves and teammate Erik Johnson’s hustle after his first career three-point playoff performance.
The frenetic finish included a daring roll of the dice by Patrick Roy is his playoff coaching debut: pulling goaltender Semyon Varlamov with 3:01 remaining for an extra skater.
“It’s the team we’ve got,” Stastny said. “We’re confident in ourselves. It starts with our coach. Three minutes left and he pulls the goalie, he has the confidence in us scoring and always playing to win. He never sits back. If he thinks it’s the best chance, then we believe in it, too.”
Pulling Varlamov, who led the NHL with a franchise record 41 wins, one more than Roy had when Colorado won its last Stanley Cup in 2000-01, nearly backfired when Erik Haula slapped a shot across the ice that headed for the empty net as the Pepsi Center crowd grew silent.
Johnson caught up to the skittering puck and slapped it away just before it crossed the goal line with 1:32 left in regulation.
“It’s 3 inches from losing the game,” Stastny said. “If that doesn’t happen, that hustle out of E.J., we’re not here in this moment.”
Haula was still shaking his head after the game.
“Obviously, that’s the game if it goes in and it didn’t,” Haula said. “And then they tie it up at 13 seconds. Like I said, that’s playoff hockey and now we’ve just got to bounce back.”
Game 2 is Saturday night.
Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn also added goals for Colorado, the Central Division champs. Haula, Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Kyle Brodziak scored for the Wild, who took a 4-2 lead after a three-goal second period.
The Wild spent the final period trying to play a prevent defence, not allowing the Avalanche to take advantage of their quickness. O’Reilly stole the puck from Brodziak and slid it over to McGinn, who batted it past Bryzgalov to make it a one-goal game at 12:47.
Then Stastny tied it and he won it.
“What a comeback,” Johnson said. “That’s the kind of stuff you dream about when you’re a kid, winning playoff games like that.”
The Wild knew they let this one slip away.
“They obviously had some luck with them and then in OT we hit a pipe and I think it was pretty close to going into the empty net, as well,” Haula said. “So, give credit to them. They never quit. They played a full game and I think they just got the bounces in the end.”
Johnson won’t dispute that notion.
“I think any time you come back like that in a playoff game, luck’s on your side a little bit,” he said. “I thought we played a good game toward the end. We’ll take it, but we realize we have a lot more to give and they outplayed us.”
NOTES: Parise had two assists. … The Avs were without F John Mitchell (head) and D Cory Sarich (back). They were already missing leading scorer Matt Duchene (knee). … Avs rookie Nathan MacKinnon had three assists.
Follow AP Sports Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton