The State of Hockey might be feeling a little nostalgic about the Minnesota Wild’s first round opponent, the Colorado Avalanche.
Tonight’s Game 1 in Denver launches the third time the Wild and Avs have met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Of course, in 2003 the Wild stunned the heavily favored Avalanche in a Game 7 overtime thriller, with Andrew Brunette netting the game winner. After finishing his playing career, Brunette is back in the organization as the Wild’s hockey operations advisor.
Brunette isn’t the only former NHLer involved in the series—and the play—back with his old club. Brunette’s Game 7 winner was the last goal allowed by legendary netminder Patrick Roy. Now, Roy is in his first playoff series since that stunning defeat, as Colorado’s head coach.
Roy’s first year as bench boss was nearly as impressive as his first year in the NHL, leading the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup as a rookie. The Hall of Fame goaltender completely turned around the Avs during the regular season, leading the club to the top of the Central Division. Last year, Colorado finished dead last in the Western Conference.
Colorado’s game is predicated on speedy forwards and a goaltender likely to be a Vezina Trophy finalist. Down the stretch, the Avs were one of the hottest teams in the League, going 7-1-2 in its final 10 games of the regular season.
“We don’t want to change anything,” Roy said. “We want to play the same type of hockey we’ve been playing lately.
“You want to go into playoffs and let the excitement take over but remain under control; that’s the thing you want to do.”
While the Avs will try to open things up, the Wild blue line is poised to stunt Colorado’s offensive attack. The Avs finished fourth in the league in goals per game (2.99) but the young club doesn’t have much playoff experience. Regardless, the Wild will look to physically punish Colorado’s forwards.
“They’re a well rounded team,” Clayton Stoner said. “We’re going to have to play them tight—and when we can take some liberties—be tough in the corners and tough in front of the net. We need to establish where we want to be strong in front of the net and not allow second chance goals.”
The Avs probably weren’t expecting to face the Wild in the opening round. Until the final few games, it looked like they’d face the Chicago Blackhawks. But the Avs leapfrogged the St. Louis Blues to win the division and draw the Wild in Round 1.
“This is the beauty of our game, things like this happen,” Roy said. “We’re playing against a really good team, a team that played really well towards the end. A lot of people thought they could be in trouble at some point, and they won big games. We have a lot of respect for what they’ve been doing and we certainly are going to have to be ready for them, starting tonight.”
The Wild faces a challenge in Avalanche goaltender, Semyon Varlamov. The netminder set an Avs record for wins in a season, 41, and ranked among the League’s best in save percentage (.927).
Appearing in his second post season (last year as a member of the New York Islanders), Matt Moulson shared his thoughts on how to beat the netminder.
“Anytime you’re facing a good goaltender, and there are a lot of them in this league, you’ve got to get guys to the net, and pucks to the net with guys there,” Moulson said.
Often time, it is the details in the game that lead to scoring plays. For the Wild, the club wants to take care of the puck, establish a forecheck and keep Colorado’s chances against to a minimum. These details can lead to bigger moments, like Brunette’s Game 7 winner.
“It seems like every play can turn out to be an important play, no matter how small you may think it is at the time,” Moulson said.
The State of Hockey will be behind the Wild, as the club skates for hockey’s ultimate prize. Back in the team’s office Wild employees, who don’t have the duties of traveling with the team like the Lighthouse, showed their spirit in this photo. And yes, that’s Herb Brooks getting in on the action. Can someone Photoshop the Lighthouse in there?