|Ryan Smyth scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal for Colorado, which heads into the second round riding a three-game winning streak and a red-hot goaltender in Jose Theodore.
WATCH highlights from the Avalanche's win
For the second straight game, Theodore was brilliant in goal, stopping 34 shots Saturday night as the Avs advanced to the second round of the playoffs with a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild in Game 6 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series.
Theodore stole Game 5 with a brilliant 38-save performance in a 3-2 victory at the Xcel Energy Center. He was every bit as sharp in Game 6, capping off a brilliant night by peering through a mass of bodies to glove Kim Johnsson’s wrist shot from the high slot with 21 seconds left.
“Theodore was great all series long,” Colorado center Peter Forsberg said. “He won a few games by himself. He gives the team confidence going into the second round.”
The sellout crowd at the Pepsi Center erupted when the final horn sounded, celebrating the Avs’ ninth trip to the second round in 11 playoff appearances since the franchise moved from Quebec to Denver for the 1995-96 season.
Ryan Smyth’s goal midway through the second period snapped a 1-1 tie and enabled Colorado to become the first Western Conference team to clinch a second-round berth. The seventh-seeded Avs will play top-seeded Detroit if the Red Wings can beat Nashville either Sunday or Tuesday.
“The couple of days off will be nice,” defenseman John-Michael Liles said. “Guys can get a little rest and heal some bumps and bruises.”
It was a disappointing ending for the playoff-inexperienced Wild, who won the first division title in franchise history and led 2-1 in the series after taking Games 2 and 3 in overtime. But they were beaten 5-1 in Game 4 and lost Game 5 despite outshooting the Avs 40-17.
"It is a learning experience,” Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said of the loss. “You look at Colorado as an example. They never panicked. They played the same game all the time. We had the edge on many occasions in the series. They never panicked. They just kept playing their game. They knew they were going to get chances and they had to capitalize on (them), and that's what they did. And that is experience."
The Wild scored just two goals in the first two periods of the six games and held the lead for just 4:31 of a possible 384:23 — largely because of Theodore. “He played well, there's no question about it,” Minnesota forward Brian Rolston said of Theodore. “Tonight I think they had maybe a little more gas than us, but we still had good opportunities on net.
“In the series, we really didn't get the bounces. Maybe sometimes that can be for a reason, but our effort was there every night, which is important in the playoffs. It's very disappointing, for sure, but I guess we have to be proud of the way we played. We played hard. Their goalie was the difference."
Minnesota also paid the price for a rash of injuries, particularly on defense. Nick Schultz returned after missing the first five games following an appendectomy, but Kurtis Foster missed the series with a broken leg, and forward Mark Parrish sustained a concussion in the series opener and didn’t play again.
"A lot of injuries but we did a pretty good job overall in the series,” defenseman Martin Skoula said. “Just that one game that we lost 5-1; other than that I think we did a pretty good job, but still, it wasn't enough."
The Avalanche took the game’s first penalty, but it led to a shorthanded goal that put Colorado ahead 1-0 — the sixth straight time that the Avs scored first.
The Wild controlled the puck for most of the two-minute penalty against Smyth, but were kept to the outside by Colorado’s penalty-killers. With the power play in its final seconds, Joe Sakic got control of the puck and threw a pass that sprung Ben Guite for a breakaway. Guite went in alone and beat Niklas Backstrom with a 10-foot wrist shot for a shorthanded goal at 8:02. It was Sakic’s 100th playoff assist.
Backstrom kept the deficit at one goal with a number of excellent saves in the opening period and was sharp at finding stray pucks in crowds of legs and sticks. His work paid off when the Wild scored the tying goal on the first shift of the second period.
Marian Gaborik, the Wild’s top regular-season scorer but pointless through five games in the series, got his first point when he found Aaron Voros alone in the left circle. Voros snapped the puck past Jose Theodore for the tying goal just 36 seconds into the period.
Theodore was sharp under pressure early in the period, facing 10 shots in the first six minutes. But the Avs regained some momentum midway through the period when Pavol Demitra was called for interference after he buried Smyth to prevent a shot at a wide-open net. The Avs didn’t score, but they generated some offense for the first time in a while.
Colorado went ahead to stay at 12:20 when Smyth finished off a play he started with a smart move along the left boards.
Rather than try and put the puck into a tangle of players in front of the net, Smyth backhanded it down the dasher and behind the net. Tyler Arnason got control, continued toward the right corner and backhanded the puck to David Jones behind the goal line going the other way. Smyth circled back to the left faceoff dot and made himself available for a pass, then one-timed Jones’ feed into the top right-hand corner for his second goal of the series.
Backstrom kept the Wild in the game late in the period with a big stop on Arnason’s one-timer.
Though the Wild were the team desperate for the tying goal, the Avs continued to carry the play through the first half of the third period. Defenseman Brent Burns cleared a loose puck out of the crease early in the period with Backstrom down and out, and Backstrom made a big stop on Andrew Brunette when the Colorado forward circled out from behind the net to the goaltender’s left.
Colorado nearly took a two-goal lead with about 8½ minutes to go, but Peter Forsberg’s backhander hit the post after he made a great move through traffic. Theodore then got a break when Eric Belanger’s wide-open shot from the slot hit a body and deflected barely wide of the net.
In the final minutes, the Avs did a brilliant job keeping the Wild from mounting any kind of pressure. Backstrom had to stop a breakaway attempt by Cody McLeod with 1:10 left, the last of his 28 saves, before leaving for an extra attacker.
“I thought the third period was one of our best, in all aspects of the game,” Avs coach Joel Quenneville said.
Quenneville feels playing such a competitive opening-round series will benefit his team in the conference semifinals.
“We have a lot of momentum exiting this series,” he said. “We’re think we’re on the improve as a team. We’re getting contributions from all lines.”
Material from wire services and team online media was used in this report.