Jose Theodore was stellar in goal for the Avalanche Monday night at Pepsi Center. Unfortunately for Colorado, Niklas Backstrom was just a hair better.
Backstrom stopped 44 of the 46 shots he faced and Pierre-Marc Bouchard netted the game winner 11:58 into overtime to give Minnesota a 3-2 win and a 2-1 lead in the series heading into Tuesday’s Game 4 in Denver.
Bouchard’s goal came on a somewhat strange play.
With Avalanche defenseman Jeff Finger giving chase on a play that would have been whistled dead for icing against the Wild, the puck took an odd bounce behind the Avalanche goal. Minnesota’s Brian Rolston took advantage by corralling the carom and feeding Bouchard in the slot for the game-winner.
The loss overshadowed a solid performance by Theodore, who totaled 36 saves in the game – including 11 in the extra session. In addition, tonight’s game was the third straight overtime contest in the series, with all three ending in a 3-2 final score.
“You know, it’s 2-games-to-1, so we have to come out ready to play tomorrow,” said Avalanche captain Joe Sakic. “I think we have to be better defensively. It was another tight game, and that’s what we expected from here on out.”
Colorado went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead on Andrew Brunette’s first goal of the playoffs. Wojtek Wolski gained the offensive zone and showed patience by holding the puck long enough to find a streaking Sakic, who put a shot on Backstrom from the left faceoff circle. The Wild netminder stopped that attempt, but Brunette was left all alone on the weak side and banged home the rebound at 15:19.
Both teams had a handful of quality scoring chances in the middle frame, but Theodore (14 saves in the period) and Backstrom (17 stops) stood toe-to-toe.
Minnesota actually put the puck into Colorado’s net at 3:26 of the second period, but instead of a tie game, the Wild received a penalty on the play. Wild left wing Aaron Voros was called for goaltender interference after running over Theodore prior to the puck going into the net.
The Wild came out with a pair of goals in the third period to take a 2-1 lead. Mikko Koivu tied the game on a centering feed from Todd Fedoruk at 7:13, while Rolston added a short-handed goal following a Minnesota 2-on-1 rush at 11:32 off a pass from Pavol Demitra.
Like he has done on seemingly a nightly basis lately for Colorado, Sakic again produced some late-game heroics. Sakic picked up a loose puck following a scrum in front of the Minnesota goal and put a backhand attempt past a sprawling Backstrom with 5:04 remaining in the third, sending the contest to overtime.
Sakic, making his 13th appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, continues to rack up points and move up the scoring charts.
Sakic’s assist on Brunette’s first-period goal was his 181st career playoff point, breaking a tie with former Avalanche defender Ray Bourque (180) for 10th place on the all-time list. He later recorded his 182nd playoff point on his game-tying goal in the third. Sakic leads all active players in playoff points and career playoff goals (84), a list on which he ranks seventh all-time.
Since 1995-96, no other player in the league has scored more goals or recorded more points in the postseason (77 goals, 171 points) than Sakic.
In the first three games of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, the Avalanche hasn’t allowed a goal in either the first or second period. The Avs have outscored Minnesota 4-0 during the game’s first two frames, tallying two goals in each period during that span.
With Game 4 set for tomorrow (Tuesday) night, the Avalanche will be playing postseason games on consecutive nights for the first time since Games 6-7 of the 2003 Western Conference Quarterfinals, also against the Wild (April 21-22, 2003). Minnesota won both of those contests to take the series.
The only other time the Avs have played back-to-back playoff games since moving to Denver was in 2002 against the Los Angeles Kings, when Colorado and L.A. split a pair of games at STAPLES Center.