Even casual readers of this blog are probably aware that I haven't been the biggest supporter of Jose Theodore during his two years with the with the team. His inconsistency and propensity for soft goals have not exactly given me reason to rush out and by a sweater with the number 60 on it. Even when he seemed to seem to start turning things around this January, I expected the streak to be short-lived; I just didn't believe he had the mental fortitude to be a top-notch NHL goalie again.
It's taken 105 games, but I'm finally on board. In a big way. The Colorado Avalanche were dominated in almost every facet of the game last night save one: the final score. And that, of course, is because of Theodore. Theo was brilliant in the game, turning aside 38 shots with many of his saves being highlight-reel caliber. He stopped 16 of 17 shots in the first period, with 11 of those shots coming on 3 Wild powerplays. He stopped all 15 shots in the 2nd period, in what was probably his best period of the series. In that 2nd period he faced numerous odd-man rushes as both teams strangely fell out of their normal defense-first mentality. Other than a perfectly executed powerplay goal by Pierre-Marc Bouchard late in the first and a slapshot by Brian Rolston as time was expiring, Theodore was simply unbeatable.
As has been the case in every game of the series, the Avalanche scored first. And, as has been the case in the last 3 games, the opening goal was scored by Andrew Brunette. It came on the powerplay, one of two powerplay goals scored by the Avs in the game. The Avalanche powerplay has had some rough patches even in this series, but, in the end, it's been effective. The team has the 4th best powerplay in the postseason with a 22.2% effectiveness (6 for 27). It hasn't always been pretty, but the goals have been timely (more on that below).
The Wild had three powerplay chances of their own in the first period. While I question some of the calls (especially the first one, a Paul Stastny trip that was nothing of the sort), the Avs were playing on their heels for much of the period which tends to lead to penalties against you. Theodore and the penalty killers almost managed to weather the storm, turning aside the first 10 powerplay shots, but the Wild finally found a way to score a first period goal when Bouchard scored with just 40 seconds to go in the period. To the Avs credit, they didn't take another penalty the rest of the way, and I think that was one of the keys to the victory.
The second period started out normally enough, but strangely devolved into some atypical play for both clubs featuring about 5 minutes or so of back and forth odd man rushes. But Theodore was standing on his head with some terrific saves, including a pad save on Marion Gaborik that may have been his best save of the series. Around the halfway mark, Ian Laperriere and Derek Boogaard had a huge collision at center ice that, not surprisingly, sent the smaller Laperriere hard to the ice. It was an accidental hit - neither player saw the other - and Lappy was shaken up on the play. Many Wild fans in attendance showed their true colors by wildly cheering the injury. Honestly, I'd like to say more on the incident, but I'm loathe to suffer through any more attempts by Wild fans justifying reprehensible behavior like this. Besides, it's probably Tyler Arnason's fault.
Speaking of Arnason, we've all picked on him over the years and we've had plenty of justification to do so. He has only two points in the series, but has been a much bigger factor than I think some people may realize. In game four, it was his line on the ice after Salei made it 4-0 that caused fits for the Wild. Veilleux ended with a hooking penalty on the play, and that led to Derek Boogaard melting down. To me, that was the point in the game that sealed the victory. From there, the Wild were essentially limited to the hockey equivalent of drooling in a padded while being fed mashed peas.
Last night, it was Arnason who drew the penalty that led to the Brunette goal. And, in the 3rd, his line - a new-old line with David Jones and Ryan Smyth - was again giving the Wild fits in their zone and it led to an interference penalty by Sean Hill. That penalty led to what effectively was the winning goal, a blast by Wojtek Wolski. If I can get around to it this afternoon, I'm going to try to find out just how many penalties Arnason and his linemates have drawn in the series; I bet it's a reasonable number. And, by the way, Arnason has won 52.8% of his faceoffs in the series.
Wolski's goal was a crushing blow to the Wild, but it was about to get worse. Literally seconds after I was feeding my wife the 80%-of-teams-winning-game-5-in-a-tied-series-go-on-to-win stat, Paul Stastny finally got on the books when he backhanded Milan Hejduk's feed over Backstrom to make it 3-1. There was no way the Wild would score 2 more goals on Theodore. The Wild did score one late, meaningless goal making Stastny's goal the official game winner. Whether it was the winner or the insurance maker, it was great to see Statsny finally score his first playoff goal. If he can build on that momentum in game 6, we'll be in good shape.
I've praised Theodore and Arnason today, so I might have well make it a trifecta by giving a virtual pat on the back to a guy I've criticized in the past - Joel Quenneville. Quenneville has done a terrific coaching job in the series and, interestingly, he's doing it by doing things that drove us crazy during the regular season. Okay, so he's not rotating his goalies, but he is mixing up the lines and sitting on leads - stuff that has prompted the writing of many critical words by me and several others. I'm not at all saying we were wrong, but that the moves he's been making are more effective in the postseason that during the regular season. Even his timeouts have been effective. His timeout in game 1 helped turn the momentum back into the Avs favor and his timeout last night late in the 2nd period to give his tired players a rest after an icing penalty was perfectly timed. In my mind, he's out-coached Jacques Lemaire in the series, and, frankly, I did not expect that.
Theodore: Pimp Cane. A huge check plus plus.
Sakic: Other than faceoffs, Sakic was not a huge factor in the game.
Physical Play: After the craziness of game 4, it's not surprising to see things calm down a bit. The Wild had one shift early on when they went hog wild, with Veilleux leveling John-Michael Liles and Mikko Koivu dropping Scott Hannan. After that, though, things calmed down significantly (unless you want to count Brent Burns elbowing Peter Forsberg in the head which no doubt was the most vicious elbow Mike Russo has ever seen). Even with the reduced number of hits, the advantage went to the Wild here.
Special Teams: The Avs had 3 PP chances in the game. They managed to get just two shots on net in the 4:33 they spent with the man advantage...but both shots were goals. Amazingly, in the two wins in Minnesota the Avalanche have taken just FOUR powerplay shots, but they've scored on three of them. The Avalanche continue to do well on the kill as well and the Wild have only converted 15% of their chances.
Holding the Lead: The Wild - and *ahem* the timekeeper - made it a little interesting, but really this one was over once Stastny made it 3-1. The way the Avs were playing defense (thankfully, the odd man rushes of the 2nd period were just a temporary glitch in the matrix) and the way Theodore was playing in goal, there was no way the Wild were coming back.
- The Avs have converted 4 of their 8 PP chances in Minnesota.
- With the win, Joel Quenneville evened his career playoff coaching record at 41-41
- I have no idea who Doug Johnson is, but I'm guessing he's a Wild fan. He's picked the 3 stars for all 3 games in Minnesota. Even though the Avs have won 2 of the 3 games, 6 of his 9 picks have been from the Wild.
Game 6 is Saturday night in Colorado. I really hope the Avs can finish it off then, and not just because I picked the Avs in 6 or because I REALLY need to catch up on some sleep. I don't think I have to remind anyone that the Avs are 0-3 in games where they could eliminate the Wild and last night showed we are far from in control of things on the ice. Let's just end this Saturday. Please.
Jose Theodore has come a very long way over the past season. If there was any one complaint many of us still harbored about him, it was that he still wasn't really "stealing" games for the Avalanche. - Joe, Mile High Hockey
For two periods, the Avalanche played hockey's version of rope-a-dope, allowing goalie Jose Theodore to absorb blow after blow while doing little of consequence in the offensive end of the rink. - Rick Sadowski, Rocky Mountain News
It was reminiscent of Patrick Roy at his most larcenous in the postseason, including in memorable single games against Detroit, St. Louis, and New Jersey in the Avs' championship runs. Theodore had a 50-save game in overtime as the Avalanche closed out Dallas two years ago, and he got the acclaim he deserved that night. But this was better, especially considered in the context that it didn't come out of nowhere, but is simply his recent play pushed up a notch. - Terry Frei, Denver Post
Thursday night, Theodore showed a restless sellout crowd of 19,364 exactly why he was the winner of the NHL's 2002 Hart and Vezina trophies and is largely considered the NHL's Comeback Player of the Year. - Michael Russo, Star-Tribune
But what an unforgettable performance it was by Theodore. The man who was nearly booed out of Denver last year stole this one, pure and simple. He stopped 31 of 32 shots after two periods, while Colorado put just 14 on Niklas Backstrom, and the Wild had relentless pressure in the Avs' end virtually the entire second period. - Jose Theodore, Adrian Dater
One hockey player can matter more than all the others. One player, on his game, can turn an ocean back and send the tide the other way. On a night when it was beaten at every other position, the Avalanche needed a game like that from goaltender Jose Theodore. - Dave Kreiger, Rocky Mountain News
"Save by Theodore" Wow, I hate those three words. What an outstanding game by Jose, though. - David Kingsbury, Hockey in Minnesota
By the time the final horn sounded last night at the Xcel Energy Center, and command of what has been the most brutally contested series in the NHL playoffs was ceded to the Avalanche, there wasn’t much an objective viewer could say outside of "the Wild should have won that game." - Aaron D'Albey, The Dog and Pony Show
In the realm of Jose Theodore, time, speed and distance have no relevance. He is on his own, in the moment, in his area of interest. There are no sounds, no distractions, no blurs, no vague impressions. - Woody Paige, Denver Post (uh, pass the mushrooms, dude)
I realize that Wild fans are mad at Lapperriere because he threw some extremely tame (gloves on) punches at Gaborik on the last game of the regular season, but you don't cheer for an injury and/or boo an injured player. -Jibblescribbits
After losing their touch and their cool in the ugly 5-1 loss at Colorado two days earlier, the Wild came out firing and skating at a frenetic pace. They were noticeably physical, especially in the first half of the first period, but they maintained their discipline with only two penalties over the first 40 minutes. -Associated Press
Wojtek Wolski was a wide-eyed 20-year-old rookie when he made his Stanley Cup playoff debut with the Avalanche in 2006 after spending most of the season with his Brampton Battalion junior team in the Ontario Hockey League.All Wolski did was collect a goal and two assists in a 5-2 win at Dallas in Game 1 of the Avalanche's first-round series, which the team won in five games. - Rick Sadowski, Rocky Mountain News
The beauty of hockey...the home team now has to go to enemy territory, with their backs absolutely against the wall and win, otherwise the local Minnesota golf courses will be seeing a spike in business. Even the numbers are against us, considering the team that wins game 5 has won 80% of every playoff series.
How confident can Minnesota be when considering how well they played last night, and lost to a team that admittedly came out "flat"? Even yet, manage to get more than one puck past Jose Theodore, who apparently is channeling Ken Dryden? - Dan, Deuce by Definition
Avalanche fans know better than to get overconfident with a 3-2 series lead. Four times in the team's history the Avs have blown such leads to lose a series — to Minnesota, Dallas, Detroit and Edmonton. Two other times, they lost 3-1 series leads, to Los Angeles, only to win Game 7. The Avs have overcome a 3-2 series deficit before, and it won them a Stanley Cup in 2001 against New Jersey. - Adrian Dater, Denver Post
Gaborik wasn’t just snake-bitten, he was terrible. Looked to me like he’s completely devoid of confidence and caving under the pressure.
He showed his frustration every time he skated to the bench after yet another shift in which he either fouled up a scoring chance by missing the net or whiffing or getting robbed or turning the puck over by just losing it off his stick.He’s squeezing that composite stick of his so tight, it’s amazing it didn’t snap. - Michael Russo, Russo's Rants
The playoffs have been somewhat similar to the Wild’s regular season; meaning a roller coaster ride of wins and losses and emotions all intertwined carrying Wild fans on this crazy trip of highs and lows. Yet that is what the playoffs are all about. - Derek Felska, The State of Hockey News
The 'Marian Gaborik watch' continues, as he has not scored a single point in this series. The Wild captain is so gripped by this drought, he has, IMO, stopped effectively skating altogether. Despite scoring a goal in game 2, Pavol Demitra has virtually done nothing else. Eric Belanger? Qui? The Wild offense is being carried by Brian Rolston and Mikko Koivu, and precious little else. - Wild Road Tripper, Hitting the Post