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Avalanche ready for emotions of Game 7 vs. Wild

by Rick Sadowski

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- When the Colorado Avalanche acquired Max Talbot from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Steve Downie on Oct. 31, it was for precisely the kind of experience the young team will face Wednesday at Pepsi Center: Game 7 against the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference First Round (9:30 p.m. ET; RDS, TSN2, CNBC, FS-N, ALT).

The 30-year-old forward has played in far more Stanley Cup Playoff games (83) than any of his teammates, including four Game 7s.

Talbot scored both goals when the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in Game 7 to win the Stanley Cup in 2009, so he understands what it takes to win a game of this magnitude.

"It's definitely intense emotions," Talbot said Tuesday. "Game 7, you know that everybody's watching. I feel like it's a little bigger stage. You have to take it in. Every Game 7 I've played, you remember the guys that scored the goals, you remember little plays, the saves and the blocked shots, the things that made you win this game, made you move on to have a chance at the Stanley Cup.

"What makes Game 7 special is it's a do-or-die game. One team's going to go home and play golf. You do your best and you work hard not to lose this game and not to go home early. I think we've been good under pressure the whole season. The guys have reacted well, we've been great in the playoffs at home. It's going to be fun."

The Avalanche had a chance to clinch Monday at Xcel Energy Center but lost 5-2 to the Wild, who got a third-period goal from Zach Parise and two empty-net goals. Colorado coach Patrick Roy said it was the best road game the Avalanche played in a series in which the home team has won each time.

"We know we played a good game," Roy said. "This is very positive to me. I'm going to show them the good things we did, and we certainly want to see us repeating those things and more, and show them what didn't work well for us. This is very positive. It's a great experience for these guys.

"You cannot win a Stanley Cup without winning a Game 7, and here we are. Our players are going to learn how to play a Game 7. How good is this? They're excited about it and they should be. All year we battled hard, all year we wanted to have that home-ice advantage and we surprised the world of hockey by finishing first in our division, and today we receive the benefit of it. We're playing Game 7 in our building in front of our fans. How exciting is it for Denver not having playoff hockey for four of the last five years and now you're involved in a Game 7?"

The return of center Matt Duchene from his knee injury has given the Avalanche a boost. Duchene, who led the team in scoring with 70 points, logged nearly 19 minutes Monday and had an assist on a power play that went 1-for-18 in the first five games without him. He played most of the game with Ryan O'Reilly and PA Parenteau, and will skate between them again Wednesday.

"We had a great year together," Duchene said. "Those two I'm very comfortable to play with. I was happy when I got back with them. It was easier for me to read what's going on. It was instant chemistry again and we picked up where we left off. I'm still not 100 percent comfortable, but I think that will come with time. It's a big game, the kind of game you grow up dreaming about. For me, I'm taking it as a personal challenge."

Duchene said he would draw on his experience with Canada's gold medal-winning Olympic team to help him prepare for Wednesday.

"A great piece of advice I got before I played my first game of the Olympics was there's no way your body isn't going to be ready for the game," he said. "You don't have to waste time and energy thinking, 'OK, am I going to be ready?' You're going to be ready. All you have to do now is dial it in and relax.

"Trying to bring yourself down is actually more important than bringing yourself up. Everyone is going to be up. We all live and dream to be in these games. It's a special opportunity for us. I'm really excited."

Duchene's presence gives the Avalanche more depth and takes some pressure off the Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Nathan MacKinnon line. Stastny scored a shorthanded goal Monday, but Landeskog and MacKinnon have collected all their points at home.

"You have to embrace the pressure," said MacKinnon, who has two goals and eight assists. "We kind of forget about the outside pressure; we kind of enjoy it. We have a system in place that makes it easier. We're a very deep team and the load's kind of shared by the team to perform well. We've played some great hockey all year and I don't think it should be over [Wednesday]."

MacKinnon said he's talked to Talbot, Alex Tanguay (who is recovering from season-ending hip surgery) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who he's been living with since training camp, about their Game 7 experiences.

"The biggest message they told me was it's the same game but the stakes are higher," MacKinnon said. "It's important to enjoy it, embrace it, and have some fun with it and relax out there."

Roy said it's probably fitting that the Avalanche and Wild would play in Game 7, taking into account how well the teams played in the final weeks of the season.

"If I look at the big picture, we were almost the best two teams in the last stretch of the season," he said. "Then it's normal what we're seeing so far. They played well in their building and they won big games. We played well in our building and we have to play well. Both teams had to be resilient at some point. [Wednesday] we're going to have to be resilient again. I love to have that game in our building."

Talbot said the Avalanche should be accustomed to games like this because they've managed to ignore the pressure to mount comeback wins throughout the season, twice in this series.

"How great have we been in the games down a goal? I think we've played with a lot of confidence this year in a lot of these key moments where the boys reacted well," he said. "We've been the underdog throughout the season and surprising everybody. [Wednesday is] a chance to surprise even more people.

"It comes back to 'why not us?' It started with three simple words at the start of the year. This is fun. The more you do it, the more you believe, and the more you believe the more it happens again."

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