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 5-2 win in Game 6 of Round 1 against the Colorado Avalanche:
It had to be this way.
After what could’ve been a soul-crushing loss in Game 5, the Wild stared down elimination and punched it in the mouth, forcing a Game 7 in the Mile High City on Wednesday.
Minnesota has seen its fair share of adversity this season (and this series) and has continually reached deep within its reserves by responding with clutch wins. Tonight was no different. After building a 2-0 lead in the first period, the Avs scored late in the first and tied things up in the second. It looked like Colorado had the momentum in the final period, but Minnesota locked things down, only allowing the Avs three shots in the final 20 minutes.
Zach Parise came through with the game winner at the 13:31 mark of the final frame, in typical fashion, tipping home a long shot after establishing position in front of the net. It wasn’t the first time Parise found himself in a similar situation…
The Wild started the first period faster than a cheetah shot out of a cannon. Just 26 seconds into the game, Avs forward Nathan MacKinnon took a holding penalty on Charlie Coyle. Twenty-three seconds later, Minnesota had a 1-0 lead. The goal, scored 49 seconds into the game by Parise, set a new franchise record for fastest goal to start a playoff game breaking Richard Park’s record (3:20 set on May 5, 2003).
It was Parise's second-straight game with a goal, this one much grimier than his Game 5 effort. If you’re willing to pay the price to stand in front of the net, where defensemen dish out crosschecks like rice at a Chinese restaurant buffet, good things eventually will happen. Parise was in the midst of absorbing a crosscheck as Ryan Suter pinched in from the point and put a shot on net. The puck deflected off the inside of Parise’s leg for his second of the playoffs. Parise set up the Wild’s second goal by heading to the net again…
The Wild executed a pristine three-on-three rush for its second goal. Parise moved the puck through the neutral zone and wide to Jason Pominville, who allowed room to open up in the high slot after Parise drove the middle lane. Pominville threw the puck back across the ice to a trailing Mikael Granlund. Avs defenseman Nick Holden reached for the pass, but it got by him, and Granlund dragged the puck for a low wrist shot on net that beat Semyon Varlamov through the 5-hole.
On the replay, you can clearly see that Varlamov was thinking about Parise crashing the net to the right of him. Varlamov was square to Granlund initially, but began to move to his right, ever so slightly, and the puck beat him through the wickets.
All three of the Wild’s goals, with Varlamov in net, came with traffic in front of him or going to the net. It’s been like that all series, so look for Minnesota to continue to create havoc around the cage.
Coming into the game tonight, the Avs scored two game-tying goals with Varlamov pulled for an extra attacker. Earlier today, I was asked on the radio, “What’s the best way to defend a 6-on-5 when the opponent pulls the goaltender?” Well, the best way is not to let them enter the zone and score on the empty net. Like I said, easier said than done. But, once the opponent enters the zone and gains control, coverage is quartered. The two wings and defensemen are responsible for a quadrant, with the center acting like a safety valve in each area. The weak-side wing sags into the slot to clog up the middle, the goal to keep pucks on the outside, and tie-up sticks if it gets into a scoring area.
Realistically, and I don’t have the numbers to back this up, but the odds of scoring with your goalie pulled, not once but twice in a series, can’t be very good. There is not “right time” to pull the tender for an extra attacker, but obviously Roy likes to do it with a lot more time on the clock than other coaches. Tonight, it didn’t work out for the Avs, as the Wild scored twice on the empty net. The most important thing when playing 6-on-5 is to have a heightened sense of awareness for your surroundings (quadrant) and the urgency of an emergency medical technician.
Avs forward Matt Duchene skated in his first game since sustaining a left knee injury to his medial collateral ligament in late March. The center led the Avalanche in scoring during the regular season with 70 points. He started the game on the fourth line, but quickly was placed on the second line and made an impact.
Coming into the game, I figured Duchene would be rusty after missing nearly a month. If he was, he didn’t show it much and was a crucial ingredient to the Avs’ power play as he controlled the puck along the half wall and helped set up the club’s second goal of the game. With the series returning to Colorado, the Wild has its work cut out for Game 7, but you already knew that.