ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Even though Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy played coy with the media Monday morning by not offering a definitive answer one way or another on center Matt Duchene's availability, there was no question on the player's part.
Duchene knew all along he would play in Game 6 of the Western Conference First Round series against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
Center - COL
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 1
SOG: 0 | +/-: -1
"I made the call [Sunday] that I was ready," Duchene said following Colorado's 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild
that evened the best-of-7 series at 3-3.
Game 7 is Wednesday at Pepsi Center in Denver (9:30 p.m. ET, CNBC, TSN, RDS2).
Duchene didn't feel like he was 100 percent when he stepped on the ice for his first game since injuring his right knee on March 29, but he felt comfortable and confident enough that he would be able to make plays and contribute, even with limited mobility because of the brace on his knee.
He was right.
Duchene started the game on the fourth line with Brad Malone
and Maxime Talbot
, but barely 12 minutes into the first period he was already back in Colorado's top-six forward group, on a line with Ryan O'Reilly
and PA Parenteau
Duchene had an assist on defenseman Nick Holden's game-tying power-play goal in the second period. He played 24 shifts totaling 18:24 of ice time. Roy was planning to only play him 10 minutes.
"He was great," Roy said. "After two periods I think he had 13 minutes, but he was flying out there. He was playing well, he was playing hard. I had to use him. When you're down 2-0, every plan you have you put in the garbage can. You have to readjust and that's what we did."
It wasn't enough to lift the Avalanche to what would have been a series-clinching victory, but Duchene is hoping that his performance in Game 6 is merely a prelude of what's to come in Game 7.
"This injury, it's one of the hardest injuries to come back from," Duchene said. "I've done it before. You have to put a metal thing on your knee and try to skate as well as you did before. It's probably not going to happen for me until after playoffs and I take it off, but there's other ways I can contribute and it's just trying to find those ways."
Duchene was especially effective on the power play, where his presence on the half-wall was obviously missing when he was out of the lineup.
The Avalanche were 1-for-18 on the power play through the first five games of the series, but Duchene made it look dangerous because of his ability to distribute from the half-wall.
Holden's goal at 4:47 of the second period was Colorado's first power-play goal of the series that actually beat a Wild goalie; the Avalanche scored a power-play goal into an empty net in Game 2.
"He's certainly very skilled on the half-wall, and him and Ryan [O'Reilly] together, they're certainly dangerous," Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said of Duchene. "They're so shifty, both of them. The penalty killers they don't really know what to expect because they have so many different variations of plays. It's definitely good to have him back."
Duchene said he's "still pretty far away" from being 100 percent, but he started to feel better and play better when Roy put him in between O'Reilly and Parenteau. It put him back in his comfort zone.
He hopes he can find it again Wednesday.
"There's a long way to go for me and I've gotta find it quick here for Game 7," Duchene said. "I've gotta find as close to my A-game as soon as possible, and I felt it start to come as it went on so it's going to happen."