Well guys, that was unfortunate. But we played as well as we have in a long time, and I was very impressed. A couple of really bad bounces and mistakes gave this game up for us, but it was a fun game to watch and a hard fought battle on both sides. I love playoff hockey.
The game started out a little scary; Nathan MacKinnon made a trip to the penalty box with a holding call (resultant from his attempts to be aggressive), and I immediately got apprehensive. Those suspicions seemed to be confirmed when the Wild scored on a deflected shot 49 seconds into the game. Uh oh.
However, the Avs answered very well, and stood up for themselves. They skated smoothly, and kept their heads. After a series of two sets of matching penalties some very dogged play by Ryan O'Reilly and P.A. Parenteau, the Avs gave up a second goal. A bit of hesitancy on defense and a moment of confusion on the part of Semyon Varlamov combined to let a Mikael Granlund shot though the 5 hole (Actually, Rycroft pointed out that Varly's left pad got hung up on his stick, and that stopped him from closing up on the shot).
After Duchene spent a couple of shifts on the 4th line with Malone and Talbot, Roy decided that he was looking good enough, and bumped him up to the top line with Parenteau and Radar. He scrambled all of the lines, dropping Jamie McGinn down to the third line (where I personally think he works best). After Mikko Koivu trips up Parenteau, the ensuing power play with Duchene reunited with his old line looked fantastic. This team really missed his presence.
Paul Stastny was called for slashing a few minutes later, and as the Avs were looking good killing it off, Andre Benoit accidentally chipped a puck out of the zone. The Avs were stuck with a 5 on 3 for more than a minute. They did an excellent job killing it off; really well done. Just as time expired, Radar blocked a shot, and passed it to Pauly Walnuts, who had just popped out of the penalty box. He was all alone in the frame, and skated down and scored a short handed goal to bring us within 1. Excellent play by the entire team.
The Avs went into the intermission with some very high points, despite being down. Gabriel Landeskog was playing beastly, Varly had to make some really good saves. Maxime Talbot had been like a dog with a bone, just worrying everyone all period. The Avs faced a shot deficit 6 to 9, but they looked really good.
Matt Duchene is looking more comfortable as the play goes on. Its not like he was looking out of place, but he keeps catching my eye as he does awesome stuff. He and Ryan O'Reilly are meshing together like no time has passed at all. They may as well have been playing together for the last few weeks.
The third and fourth lines have both looked great tonight, too. They are driving possession and overpowering their Wild counterparts. After a particularly effective 4th line shift that was spent entirely in the Minnesota zone, Matt Moulson slashed MacKinnon's stick out of his hands, and the Avs went back on the PP.
This PP was a thing of beauty. The Duchene line was perfect, with the Dutchie-Radar Mind Meld in full force. Like Abbott and Costello, Like Sonny and Cher.... They work so well together. Its amazing, especially after so much time. Two no look passes combined resulting in a Nick Holden PP goal after he had snuck in, and there was much rejoicing. Seriously. I think my neighbors think I'm crazier than they thought I was this morning.
Also, Varly almost pulled a Marc Andre Fluery getting caught out of the net, but we escaped unscathed, and I breathed a giant sigh of relief.
After that, the Wild gained some energy, and proceeded to make themselves a giant pain in our collective backsides. Varly had to stay strong, and the D helped him out a lot, but its like the Wild got their heads back into their systems and put pressure back on. They spent copious time in the Avs zone, and were dangerous the entire time.
Zach Parise was called for tripping, but they got Andre Benoit on a matching embellishment charge. He totally deserved it. He looked like he stepped on a land mine with his jump. Tone it down a bit, dude. The ensuing 4 on 4 was a lot of fun, with back and forth speed plays. Erik Johnson especially started to play better as the game went on, and he flashed a lot of skill on his shifts late in the second period.
The third started off as a careful balance between urgency and precision, with both teams feeling the need to score, but both being worried about making a deadly error. It was so... careful. But the ice was really open, with none of the usual Minnesota trap.
The Avs were awarded a PP after a frustrating shift and Talbot got cross checked in his teeth by Clayton Stoner. The man advantage was so much fun to watch. Even tho we didn't score, that PP set the tone, and the Avs started flying. We looked as good as we have at any time since game 2, maybe even better. The ice was wide open, and our speed was feeling good, and the Wild couldn't play their game.
However, it didn't help. With 6 minutes left, Minnesota scored another ricocheted shot on goal, and it went off Zach Parise about three feet in front of Varly. Just like that, the open game was gone, and the Wild were protecting their lead, and the Avs were feeling desperate. We had a couple really good chances as we tried to get even, but the Wild were just good enough to keep sustained pressure off of them. We pulled the goaltender at 2:44 remaining, and while it started off well, the Wild were able to get an empty net goal with 86 seconds remaining. Patrick Roy decided that we may as well keep Varly on the bench and do our best, but we couldn't get control in their zone, and they scored a second EN goal.
- Despite the score, the game really was close. The two EN goals blew the score out of proportion, and the shots were exactly even, but we still played really well. I never felt like we were out of it until the final minute of the game.
- Duchene's return was absolutely critical to our success this game. His presence allowed the lines to roll in a completely different way, saying nothing about how he seemed to make every player on the ice better by just being there. Guys like Parenteau, McGinn, and Talbot all played better than they usually do. Hejda seemed to snap out of his funk some what. The D was pinching right, MacKinnon was given more of a free hand, and everything just... worked. We looked like a totally different team.
- The Avs came back from 2 goals down. That makes me really happy, with how much we've struggled to score in Minnesota.
- On a related note, of the three goals that the Wild scored, two were deflections that Varly had little chance on, and the one that he could have had he made a tiny mistake when his pad got stuck on his stick. If one of those had gone a little differently, the game would have been very different.
- The Officiating was much more even today. I barely saw anything that I felt wasn't fairly called. The one thing that I noticed was a call on Paul Stastny that probably should have been tripping, but whatever.
- Granlund is a hell of a player; he scares me. I would love to have him on our team, tho.
- Speaking of awesome Wild players (I know, I know, its a hard thing to talk about...): Zach Parise had 4 points tonight, only one of which came on the BS empty netters. That guy can play hockey. 3 other Minnesota players had multi-point games.
- Avs only had one takeaway, to Minny's 9.
- Also, the Avs were outhit 18 - 32. I don't like that.