Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he'll remember from each contest. Today, he looks back at a 1-0 overtime win in Game 3 of Round 1 against the Colorado Avalanche:
Playoff hockey is just the best.
Tonight might’ve been the most exciting 1-0 game I’ve ever seen. It had everything—it was emotionally charged, physical, skill plays, big saves—except a lot of scoring. With the Wild skating for its playoff life and the Avs looking to build a nearly insurmountable 3-0 series lead, the tension inside Xcel Energy Center was thicker than Santa Clause’s playoff beard.
This season, Minnesota has played its best with its back against the wall. Tonight, the Wild came out of the corner swinging against the Avs. The Wild set several marks today, all of which I’ll try to cover, but let’s get started with the game winner…
Beast mode is a tag typically reserved for your more physical players when they decide to take over a game and not let anything get in their way. Tonight, all 5-foot-10, 186 pounds of Mikael Granlund would not be denied. The 22-year-old played his best game in a Wild sweater, a whirling dervish in the offensive zone, creating offense by going to the net with reckless abandon. That’s exactly how he scored the game winner, spinning off Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda, fighting through a hook, weaving between traffic, taking the puck to the net and making a diving play to finally beat Semyon Varlamov in overtime.
During regulation Granlund took the puck to the net all night, registering six shots and finally scored on his seventh. Before the game, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was mum on what his top two lines would look like. The trio of Granlund, Jason Pominville and Zach Parise registered 17 shots on goal. Minnesota was firing from the get go and played perhaps its best game of the year…
The Wild started the game like a funny car gassed up with rocket fuel. In the first period the club set a playoff record for shots in a period, outshooting the Avs, 22-8 (coincidentally the old high was 17, set against Colorado on April 17, 2008). After the first, it would’ve been hard to imagine the Wild would be able to keep up the pace, but the club continued to climb and pepper Varlamov, who looked like he was going to steal this game for the Avs. Overall, the club set a franchise record for shots in a playoff game with 46.
The most impressive thing about tonight’s win might’ve been the way the Wild played for all 65:08. Top to bottom, the team played with controlled desperation. Wild captain Mikko Koivu led with a complete two-way game, skating in 23:14 TOI, 2:10 shorthanded and winning 63 percent of his faceoffs.
Back on the ice at Xcel Energy Center, the Wild was allowed to have last change and took advantage by matching lines. For most of the game, Erik Haula, Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine were handed the unenviable task of going head-to-head with Colorado’s top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny. More often than not, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin were the defensemen paired against the line. When the club’s checking line was unable to match up with the Avs’ best line, the Wild was cognizant and didn’t allow them to gain speed through the neutral zone.
Any 1-0 game is going to have great goaltending. While Varlamov saw the volume of shots (seriously, his legs have to be heavier than a gorilla in a hot tub filled with cement), Darcy Kuemper was on his game in his first-career playoff start. The netminder looked confident, moving well and challenged the Avalanche shooters, making 19 saves for the shutout. He is the last rookie with a shutout in his first career postseason start since Boston’s Andrew Raycroft did it against Montreal (April, 7, 2004).
At some point in each series, the netminder needs to steal a game. While Kuemper didn’t have to steal this one, he has the ability to. Despite missing the final six games of the regular season and the Game 1, the 23-year-old was ready for the spotlight. After making 14 saves in the third period of Game 2, he got his feet wet and made a splash tonight.
At the end of Game 1 with the Avs’ net empty, Erik Johnson made a game-saving play by swiping the puck from the crease moments before crossing the goal line on a long looping attempt from Erik Haula. After clearing the puck, Johnson took the net off its moorings. The refs deemed the play unintentional, didn’t give him a penalty and the ensuing faceoff came outside of Colorado’s zone. After the game, conspiracy theories over Johnson’s intent were abound on social media, because, you know, that’s the place to throw wild speculation without any cognitive thought.
Personally, I thought that Johnson easily could’ve stopped and avoided knocking the net off, and that he was making it look like an accident. You know why this was my first thought? Because I’ve knocked the net off intentionally and made it look like an accident a number of times in different circumstances for a whistle. Heck, I’ve knocked opponents into the net on purpose for a stoppage of play. On an odd-man rush, if I was going to the net and my teammate blew the puck wide, causing it to carom around the boards and out of the zone? Blown tire, taking the net off. In the D-zone if you’re gassed at the end of a shift? Crosscheck your man into the post until the cage gets loose. If I’m Johnson in that situation, I’m definitely losing my footing once the puck gets cleared into the corner, causing a whistle and eliminating any chance the Wild has to score in the zone. I didn’t say anything because I had no proof, until tonight.
In the second period, Johnson was busting to the net hard and Ryan Suter knocked him off his feet. It looked like he would fall awkwardly into the boards, but got to one knee and stopped on a dime before he hit the wall. So, if he can stop after falling down to avoid injury, he should easily be able to stop when racing for a puck under full control. Unless, you know, he didn’t want to. Also, you might be thinking I’m crazy, but I figured out the major plot move in the second episode of this season’s Game of Thrones without any spoilers, so I’m pretty good at sniffing out conspiracies.