ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The smile on Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo's face two summers ago was as wide as the July day was long.
A few days after the Wild signed forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts on July 4, 2012, they were introduced to hundreds of local media types inside the entrance at Xcel Energy Center. Yeo was a few chairs down the main table from the franchise's newest star players, but the presence of his grin was conspicuous.
Left Wing - MIN
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 10
SOG: 24 | +/-: 1
It's not hard to believe the coach was thinking about nights like Monday.
With the Wild trailing their Western Conference First Round series against the Colorado Avalanche 3-2, Yeo and the Wild needed a big night from their big guns in Game 6. With the season on the line, the biggest gun delivered.
Parise scored the first goal, the game-winning goal and assisted on two others and Minnesota staved elimination with a 5-2 win against the Avalanche.
The Wild can now advance to the second round with a win Game 7 on Wednesday at Pepsi Center in Denver (9:30 p.m. ET, TSN, CNBC, RDS2, ALT, FS-N).
"Guys like that usually find a way in a situation like this," Yeo said.
Parise gave the Wild a lead 49 seconds into the game Monday and Minnesota went up 2-0 almost nine minutes later. With a 5-on-3 power play and a chance to put in the dagger early, the Wild coughed up a shorthanded goal to Paul Stastny and surrendered the lead entirely on a power-play goal by Nick Holden 4:47 into the second period.
Holden's goal took the 19,314 in attendance out of the game and the wind seemingly out of the Wild's sails.
"I thought they had a really good second period," Parise said. "They had some good zone time and were able to tie it up. But we had a good push when we needed to."
That push came from Parise and captain Mikko Koivu, who despite not scoring a goal in this series, has made his mark with five assists. With the game tied 2-2 at the end of 40 minutes and the season hanging perilously in the balance, Yeo decided to put Parise and Koivu, as they have many times this season, back together on a line.
"The season's on the line and both of those guys were leading the charge up front," Yeo said. "For me, their determination and get-after-it attitude, I wanted those guys going out together."
The move worked brilliantly.
With Parise battling in front, it was a Koivu shot from the left point that Parise managed to somehow get a stick on that pinballed past Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov for the eventual winner.
"He's a big-time player and that's what big-time players do," Suter said. "He goes to the hard areas and gets rewarded. It says a lot about what kind of player he is."
In the goal's aftermath, the same man who has tried on several occasions to eliminate the fly-by celebration looked primed to jump into the stands.
"It was the build-up I think," Parise said. "The situation, the series, the game, the time of the game, when you finally get a good break … there's a lot of emotions going through your body. You just get so pumped and so excited, you don't even know what you're doing."
From the drop of the puck Monday, Parise said he had a good feeling.
"You just want to win," Parise said. "I just felt good tonight, I thought I had a little extra jump. It just felt like I was making some good plays when I had the puck on my stick and it's one of those nights when you just want to keep touching it and keeping having the puck. I got a couple of fortunate bounces and a tip on the second one."
For Parise, the game-winner was his third of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He assisted on Jason Pominville's empty-netter with 1:26 left to give him four points on the night, a new career playoff high.
And while the win was nice, Parise said he understands the stakes. After all, he was playing in the Stanley Cup Final with the New Jersey Devils a few weeks before signing with his hometown team.
"These games are fun to contribute, but when we signed here we didn't sign here to win a first-round game," Parise said. "We look at the big picture, but [Monday night] we were able to force a Game 7. That's what we wanted to do when we skated this morning, and we did it. We've gotta get a win in Denver."