DENVER - The Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche are so evenly matched that neither team can win in regulation, and what keeps separating them in overtime is a funny bounce.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard took the pass from Brian Rolston from behind the net and sent it past Jose Theodore 11:58 into overtime to give the Wild a 3-2 win over the Avalanche on Monday night. It was the third straight overtime game in this first-round series, with the Wild winning two of them.
Going back to 2003, the teams have played five straight overtime games in the playoffs, all of which ended in 3-2 scores.
The Wild, which snapped a five-game road losing streak in the playoffs, were outshot 40-30 in regulation but controlled the extra period with most of the action in the Colorado zone, outshooting the Avalanche 11-7.
Theodore made great save after great save and the Avs caught all kinds of breaks. But just like in the two games that the teams split at the Xcel Energy Center, when the game-winners glanced off skates, there was a flukey ending to this one.
It looked like there was going to be an icing call but the puck took a strange carom off the backboards and bounced off the side of the net. Rolston beat Avs defenceman Jeff Finger to it, then passed it into the slot for Bouchard's first career playoff game-winner.
"It was an icing call, I guess it took a weird bounce and our defenceman went the wrong way so they were able to get the puck," Theodore said. "Then they attack right away with a couple of guys. It was more of a bad bounce then anything."
Rolston said he was "a little surprised myself, it came out and I had about two or three guys to give the puck to."
In these games, between these teams, the go-figure finishes have been the norm.
"We liked the fact it was going to be icing," Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. "It took a funny hop."
"We were fortunate on the last goal," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "I guess he thought there was an icing. The puck never got across the other side of the net, so Ralston could get it and make that play to Bouchard. It's strange the way it happened, but sometimes you need a break to win, and we got it."
Still, the Avs were kicking themselves for getting outplayed in overtime again.
"What I expect of myself is to make big saves, especially in overtime. Then again, anything can happen, and we saw another kind of weird bounce," Theodore said. "That's pretty much how the series has been played so far. We've got to turn the page and bounce back."
The teams return Tuesday night for Game 4, a rare back-to-back in the playoffs that was necessitated by the NBA's Denver Nuggets having the court Wednesday night for their regular-season finale.
That could hinder Avs left-wing Peter Forsberg, who's still dealing with a balky ankle and sore groin after rushing his return to the ice following his reunion with the Avalanche at the trade deadline.
Forsberg, 34, has been roughed up in this series, too, getting held and grabbed and thrown to the ice as he was in the second period, when Sean Hill wrapped him up for a takedown that resulted in a matching minor.
Of equal concern for the Avalanche is their third-period letdowns, including Theodore's.
He has held the Wild without a goal for the first two periods in all three games so far only to surrender multiple third-period goals as Minnesota keeps crashing the crease.
"That is costing us right now," Colorado captain Joe Sakic said. "That's the biggest reason why we are down."
The Wild erased Colorado's 1-0 lead with goals by Mikko Koivu and Rolston, whose short-handed goal with 8 1/2 minutes left in the third put Minnesota ahead 2-1 before the Avs tied it on Sakic's goal with 5:04 left. Aaron Voros knocked Colorado forward Andrew Brunette into goaltender Niklas Backstrom, and Sakic punched it in while Backstrom was on his back in the net, helpless.
The Avalanche went ahead 1-0 in the first period when Sakic's shot ricocheted off Backstrom and went right to Andrew Brunette, who smacked it into the net.
A former Minnesota star, Brunette was the hero of the Wild's first-round playoff win over Colorado in 2003 when he scored the game-winner in overtime of Game 7, the last goal surrendered by Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy.
Colorado missed a big opportunity to pile it on, however, going 0-for-6 on the power play, a continuation of their suspect special team play during the season.
"We had some pretty good chances," Sakic said. "But at this time of year it's production."
Otherwise, those missed opportunities open the door for fluke finishes.
Notes: The Avs were 3-1 against Minnesota at home during the regular season. ... Minnesota has allowed the first goal in seven straight playoff games, dating to Game 1 of the 2007 Western Conference quarter-finals against Anaheim. ... Sakic's 182 career playoff points are tops among active players and ninth all-time.