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Stastny lifts Avalanche to Game 1 win vs. Wild

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- Paul Stastny scored at 7:27 of overtime Thursday at Pepsi Center to give the Colorado Avalanche a 5-4 come-from-behind win against the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of their Western Conference First Round series.

The Avalanche sent the game to overtime when Stastny scored with 13.4 seconds to play in regulation during a 6-on-5 skating situation. Stastny beat Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov from the base of the right circle off a rebound of defenseman Erik Johnson’s shot from the left circle.

"EJ shoots it from one side to the right of Bryzgalov, and [Bryzgalov] poked it out to me, and I tried to get a quick release," Stastny said of the tying goal, which came on his first shot of the game.

The winning goal came from near the same spot but at the other end of the rink. Tyson Barrie passed to Nathan MacKinnon, who drew a Wild defenseman to him before dishing the puck to Stastny for his third assist.

"That overtime one, all five guys end up touching it. Barrie tracks a couple of guys and once he gives it to MacKinnon, I saw their defense diving in at him," Stastny said. "I was trying to yell at him because I knew I was open. When you get the puck, you want a quick release because you know the goalie's not going to be ready. It was fortunate to squeeze in."

Nine of the past 10 playoff games between the Avalanche and Wild have been decided by one goal.

Game 2 of the best-of-7 series will be played Saturday (9:30 p.m. ET; RDS, TSN, NBCSN, FS-N, ALT) at Pepsi Center.

"Once again, it shows character in this dressing room," Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. "Once again, there's no quitting in here. We all wanted this so bad and we worked so hard to get home-ice advantage and we weren't going to let this one slide.

"Paulie was able to put two in, that was huge. He played well and he's got high expectations for himself. He puts a lot of pressure on himself and certainly he wants to be that guy and certainly tonight he was. He's been one of our best players all season.”

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy pulled goalie Semyon Varlamov for the extra attacker with 3:01 remaining in regulation, but had actually considered the move earlier.

“We almost did it at four minutes," Roy said. "It went through our minds. At one point they had their third pairing on the ice, and it was, ‘Should we take a shot at it?’ But I thought it was really pushing it, but at the same time you have to go with your gut feeling. This is what the playoffs are -- sometimes you have to see things, and I thought that’s what we did as a team.”

Johnson kept the Avalanche within striking distance with 1:32 left in the third period when he chased down a puck heading for the empty net. Minnesota forward Erik Haula had backhanded the puck from the Wild zone, but Johnson managed to knock it away inches from the goal line, also dislodging the net on the play.

"Originally, I didn't think it was going to go in," Johnson said. "I didn't think it had enough speed. When it landed it picked up speed. I kind of slowed down a little bit and I just got there at the end before it went over the goal line. I inadvertently knocked the net off, which actually helped. I would have gotten out of the way, but the net came off.

"I think any time you come back like that in a playoff game, luck's on your side a little bit. I thought we played a good game towards the end. We'll take it, but we realize we have a lot more to give and they outplayed us. What a comeback. That's the kind of stuff you dream about when you're a kid, winning playoff games like that. You have to give credit to the Wild; they outplayed us tonight."

Stastny praised Johnson for setting up his heroics.

“It's three inches from losing the game. If that doesn't happen, that hustle out of EJ, we're not here in this moment," he said.

Wild coach Mike Yeo said he was a little puzzled that Johnson wasn't penalized for knocking the net off because Mikko Koivu was whistled for delay of game early in the second period for dislodging the Avalanche net. Colorado didn't score on the ensuing power play.

"We got called for a penalty earlier in the game on something that was sort of similar," Yeo said. "I didn't get an explanation (for Johnson's play)."

The Wild outshot the Avalanche 12-6 in the second period, when they scored three times to build a 4-2 lead.

"It's really disappointing," said Wild left wing Zach Parise, who had two assists. "We're in the driver's seat. We're in a really good position going into the third and really throughout the third we were in a good position. We made some mistakes, and it was in our net and that's the game. Our mistakes unfortunately cost us and got them back into the game."

Yeo called the outcome "clearly a disappointment" and said his team didn't play with enough aggression after the Avalanche pulled with 4-3 on a Jamie McGinn goal at 7:13 of the third period.

"We're all disappointed," he said. "Normally, we're a team that plays with a little more confidence in those situations. Not that we weren't confident, but we weren't aggressive enough. I know we can be a lot better."

Wild defenseman Ryan Suter broke a 1-1 tie at 11:05 of the second period on a power-play goal when he moved in from the blue line and put a screen shot past Varlamov, who made 29 saves.

Minnesota was 1-for-2 with the man advantage.

The Avalanche responded to make it 2-2 when O'Reilly scored during a 4-on-4 situation, one of the few times Colorado was able to use its speed. Barrie brought the puck up from his end and passed to MacKinnon above the left circle. MacKinnon slipped the puck to O'Reilly, who hammered the puck by Bryzgalov with a shot from above the left hash marks.

Minnesota countered with goals from Haula and Brodziak that came 2:04 apart.

Haula took a pass from Jonas Brodin and cut inside Colorado's Brad Malone on the left side. He moved to the front of the net and slid the puck between Varlamov's pads at 16:08.

Brodziak scored from the slot with 1:48 left in the second after taking a pass from Matt Cooke along the end boards after Nino Niederreiter beat Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda to the puck. Hejda checked Niederreiter as Johnson followed the play. But Cooke gained possession and passed to a wide-open Brodziak, who fired a shot by Varlamov's right shoulder.

The Avalanche struck first on a goal by Landeskog at 13:14 of the opening period, but the Wild tied it 1-1 at 15:20 when rookie Charlie Coyle swept the puck by Varlamov from the bottom of the right circle.

Bryzgalov made 26 saves.

Colorado was 0-for-4 on the power play. Minnesota killed off all 11 Colorado power plays in five regular-season games between the teams, four of which the Avalanche won.

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