DENVER – The Minnesota Wild kept on insisting all they had to do to take the series back home was clone their effort and energy from Game 5, because, really, there was absolutely no way Jose Theodore could duplicate his fantastic performance in the net.
Theodore and the Colorado Avalanche withstood another onslaught from the relentless Wild for a series-clinching 2-1 win Saturday night. Theodore stopped 34 shots, including a glove save off Kim Johnsson’s shot with 21 seconds left and the underdog Avs took the series in six games.
The Wild won their first division crown this season but Minnesota held a lead in the series for only four minutes, 31 seconds out of a possible 384:23, and not a single second on this night.
Ben Guite and Ryan Smyth scored goals for Colorado, which heads into the second round riding a three-game winning streak and a red-hot goaltender.
The Wild lost their cool in Game 4, when they were whistled for 111 penalty minutes in Denver, and they never recovered, losing the next two despite regaining their discipline and peppering Theodore with plenty of pucks.
“He was great,” Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. “None better than Game 5 in Minnesota where he single-handedly got us that key victory. He’s been very consistent, very quick, very alert, sharp. He really complemented our defence well.”
Minnesota had just three minor penalties on this night and Colorado just one. Why then, did the Avalanche play so well when Wild coach Jacques Lemaire insisted his was still the better team 5-on-5?
Because of Theodore, whose game sizzled once again after his performance stole Game 5 for Colorado.
“I think the key game was Game 5,” Lemaire said. “It was huge. We probably played our best game and lost it.”
Theodore didn’t have to be quite such a saviour Saturday night as the Avalanche tightened up their play, but he still had to make several spectacular saves.
“I’m really proud of the way the guys played in front of me,” Theodore said with his usual dose of humility.
But not nearly as proud as his teammates were of him.
“You knew if you made a mistake, he was going to be there,” Peter Forsberg said. “We’ve just got to make sure we help him out in the second round.”
“He stole a game in Minnesota the other night, which we needed him to do,” Avs enforcer Ian Laperriere said. “Tonight he was solid. Didn’t give up any rebounds, nothing.”
Smyth’s one-timer from the left circle off a behind-the-net pass from David Jones broke a 1-1 tie in the second period and energized both the Avalanche and the Pepsi Center crowd. Before that goal, the action was mostly in the Avalanche zone as the Wild outshot Colorado 15-8 in the period and erased a 1-0 deficit with a goal just 36 seconds in.
In the third period, Forsberg had a terrific back-hander, but it hit the post with about 8:20 remaining, and the final minutes were a frenzy as the Wild scrambled to catch up.
“I thought tonight we played a solid game, probably our best of the series,” Theodore said. “We knew against these guys it was going to be tight. The third period was probably our best period, and nobody panicked in here.”
After getting 42 goals and 41 assists in a career-best regular season, Wild forward Marian Gaborik was still looking for his first point of the post-season when he assisted on Voros’ tying goal. Pavol Demitra ignited a 3-on-2 break and passed to Gaborik, who fed Voros for a goal past Theodore’s glove side for a 1-1 tie.
Minnesota had another odd-man break later in the period but, and this one was short-handed, but Ruslan Salei recovered in time to thwart the breakaway goal.
“I thought we were playing a great game,” Voros said. “It seemed like we were having more quality chances, just weren’t able to put many by him.”
For the sixth straight game, the Avalanche struck first, this time on a short-handed wrister by Guite, who took a perfect pass from Joe Sakic after the Avs captain stole the pass at the Colorado blue line and fed to Guite for his 100th career playoff assist.
The Avs had a chance to double their lead in the waning seconds of the period on the power play, but Niklas Backstrom, who stopped 28 shots, made an outstanding save of Salei’s shot from just outside the crease to keep it a one-goal game.
The Wild got a boost when defenceman Nick Schultz returned to the ice less than two weeks after undergoing an emergency appendectomy.
During his absence, the Wild’s depth on defence was a big concern. The blue-liners forced into extended playing time performed impressively over the first few games, but they seemed to lose their energy and focus in Game 4 before bouncing back in Game 5.
But his return wasn’t enough to send the series back to St. Paul for a Game 7.
“Life goes on,” Gaborik said. “We just got to take positives from this. … I wish I would have made the difference. But it was very tight out there. They did a great job defensively. We tried to find a way every game out there.
“Either it was tight or it was Theodore.”
Notes: Minnesota prevailed in the only other playoff series between these teams, in 2003. … The Avs advanced beyond the first round for the ninth time in 11 trips to the playoffs since 1996. … Sakic tied Bryan Trottier (184) for ninth place on the all-time playoff scoring list. … Colorado D Scott Hannan took a stick to the face from Voros but returned to the ice.