Despite close score, Wild had control


ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With all due respect to our advanced-stats friends, my 5-year-old daughter could have come up with a fairly obvious analysis of about the most lopsided one-goal playoff game played this season in the NHL playoffs.

The Minnesota Wild outshot, outchanced, outhit, outhustled, outwhatevered the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night to even their first-round series.

The black piece of rubber central to this sport belonged to only one team.

So spare me the in-depth analytics on this one; when the ice is this tilted in one direction, the only surprising statistic was the score itself.

How the Wild beat the Avs only 2-1 underlines just how amazing Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov continues to be.

But he can't score goals.

The Wild outshot the Avs 78-34 in the past two games, completely controlled puck possession and shut down some of the NHL's best young offensive talent.

"Desperate," Wild winger  Jason Pominville said in explaining his team's dominating win. "We pushed the pace. We were hard. We were good with the puck. We didn't really turn any pucks over. We played in the O-zone, and if you do that, they'll take penalties and they'll be chasing us like they did for the most part the last couple of games. We outshot them like we did because we were doing a lot of good things."

Wild coach Mike Yeo worked a great bench as well, getting the matchups he wanted with the last line change and rotating his lines with great rhythm.

The tone was set when Wild blueliner Jared Spurgeon scored just 3:47 into the game, underlying a forceful start that saw Minnesota get the first seven shots on goal.

From there, the Wild never relented. The Avs were chasing the game all night long.

The evening was capped with Game 3 OT hero Mikael Granlund blocking shot after shot as the Avs pressured with six attackers. Nary a puck got through Granlund.

The crowd went crazy, the buzzer sounded and the Wild were tied in the series.

"That was great to see," Wild star blueliner Ryan Suter said of Granlund's shot-blocking heroics. "That's what it takes to win at this time of the year. He really laid it all on the line and did a great job."

Added Yeo: "This is the attitude that our whole group has. Everybody is committed to playing a certain way."

Just not sure you can say the same about the Avs' players after the past two games.

With just over three minutes to go in the game, Colorado had eight shots on goal. Eight. That's just three more than the Wild's Spurgeon had himself.

The Avs ended the night with 12 shots, as the Wild established a franchise record for fewest shots allowed. It was also the second-fewest shots allowed by an NHL team in playoff history. (The San Jose Sharks had only 10 shots against the Calgary Flames on April 15, 2008.)

"Our execution is not quite there," a calm and composed Patrick Roy said in his postgame remarks. "We seem to rush some plays. We're not patient enough with the puck. These are the things that we're going to have to do better."

But give the Avs coach credit. While underlining his team's shortcomings, he also stayed positive. His young team needs that right now. The seed of doubt has been planted.

"We just need to be involved," Roy said. "Hey, it's possible that if you put a puck on net, you're going to take a body check. You're going to have to take those hits. We have enough talent to find ways to generate more chances and more shots on net than what we had tonight."

The Wild have shut down one of the NHL's most potent offenses two games straight.

"That is a team that didn't win the division by accident," Yeo said of the Avs. "They've got a lot of creative players and a lot of very skilled players. Whether it's penalty kill, whether it's taking care of the puck, whether it's defending, we have to make sure we continue to respect that."

I asked Roy if his very young squad, faced with the adversity of a hostile road crowd the past two games, was overwhelmed just a little. That perhaps, like it or not, this is just part of the learning curve.

"It could be. It could be," Roy responded. "But think about it, one power play, one power-play goal could have won Game 3. One power-play goal tonight and we might still be on the ice. Then, when you have the performance that we have from our goaltender, there's no reason to not believe in ourselves. We're going to have our fans [next game]."

The Avs have the worst power-play percentage in the playoffs, just 1-for-15 through four games and 0-for-8 in the two games in Minnesota. Roy is spot on to underline it as a huge factor after a pair of one-goal losses.

In the meantime, the Avs have to find a way to control the puck more at even strength, or else this thing isn't turning around.

"We got to slow down their forwards," Avs center Paul Stastny said. "Our D have to do a better job of moving the puck but, at the same time, our forwards have to get open. Because if we don't come out clean, we'll get caught just chipping it out and they're going to throw it right back down our throats.

"Last two games they did that. They were hungry on us, forechecking on us, and we didn't do a good job of slowing it down and getting it out as a five-man unit."

Not if the Wild have anything to say about it. They hope to just pick up right where they left off on this night when the puck drops Saturday in Denver for Game 5.

"We feel good. Hopefully, there's a little momentum with that," Yeo said. "But they're going to be home and feeling good. We have to be ready to get back out and be ready to dictate."