ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild were denied at the net by Semyon Varlamov time after time, a 44-shot barrage in regulation that resulted in, alas, zero goals.
Coach Mike Yeo jokingly wondered aloud at the third intermission whether his team was “psychotic” to put itself through such angst. After all, the way this sport often goes, the next score in the scoreless game had the strong potential to be one of those bad-bounce goals that make a night of domination go for naught.
Mikael Granlund made sure that didn’t happen.
Granlund’s diving goal 5:08 into overtime gave the Wild a 1-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche in Game 3 on Monday. Minnesota pulled within 2-1 in the best-of-seven series after Varlamov stopped 45 of 46 shots, a franchise playoff record for shots on goal by the Wild.
“You see it so many times where teams do so well and get chance after chance after chance and then a fluky one goes in against you. Luckily. that wasn’t the case,” said Wild left wing Zach Parise.
Granlund, who had a career-high seven shots on goal, sliced toward the crease and moved parallel to the net with some slick stick work. Avalanche defenceman Erik Johnson, who saved Game 1 by racing to swat away a shot on an empty net, lost his balance and tried unsuccessfully to dive at Granlund, who then began to fall forward. Granlund extended his stick to knock the puck in, and the celebration ensued.
“We were playing really good. We were creating chances. We got rewarded. We need to just keep playing like that,” Granlund said.
Game 4 is at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday, when the Avalanche will be without defenceman Tyson Barrie. He took a knee-to-knee hit in the second period that yielded a penalty for Matt Cooke and a medial collateral ligament injury for Barrie. Coach Patrick Roy said he’ll be need four to six weeks to recover.
“Knee on Tyson Barrie is without a doubt the play of the game. We lost our best offensive defenceman,” Roy said, expressing confidence the NHL will suspend Cooke.
Darcy Kuemper made 22 saves, and the Wild goalie in his first career playoff start was just as good as Varlamov. He said he had a feeling this would be a one-goal game.
“I just tried to stick with it and make the saves I had to,” Kuemper said. “My teammates were obviously playing unbelievable and making it easy on me. I was just trying to do my job and stay sharp.”
After the Avalanche line of Nathan MacKinnon, Paul Stastny and Gabe Landeskog combined for 17 points and seven goals over the first two games, the Wild kept them from doing any damage. The Wild shuffled their lines, with veteran Dany Heatley’s move off the scratch list the most notable change, and played their style. They didn’t get enough guys to the net for long rebounds Varlamov has a tendency to produce, but they completely controlled the flow, even if there wasn’t much to show for it.
“We were a little on our heels. We could’ve been a little bit better, played a little more simple,” MacKinnon said.
After wasting a 4-2 lead in Game 1, giving up the tying goal with 13 seconds left to Stastny, as well as the overtime winner, the Wild badly needed to recapture some energy. They did from the opening faceoff, firing up a crowd that’s been waiting 11 years for a playoff series victory.
The Wild finally figured out how to contain the super-fast MacKinnon, forcing the 18-year-old wonder to have to stay in his own zone. They had the Avalanche on their heels for the majority of regulation. Cooke was all over the ice in his 100th career playoff game, colliding with just about every white Colorado jersey.
“We didn’t play up to what we’re capable of, there’s no doubt. But I’d rather give them credit. They played well. They were sharp. They were the better team on the ice,” Roy said, adding yet more praise for Varlamov.
Thanks to Granlund, the Wild avoided the huge hole.
“Let’s not kid ourselves. This is a huge win for us, not only to get the win but the way that we played the game, the way that we played our game,” Yeo said. “We know that next game is going to be even bigger and a tougher test, and we’re going to have to be real good. But there’s no question that we needed this one.”