-- DENVER -- First he heard his nickname being shouted.
In explaining how that become his nickname, Nathan MacKinnon rubbed his face where a playoff beard has started but needs work. The nickname is a bit of a dig at the inability of the Avalanche's 18-year-old star to grow a thick playoff beard.
Regardless of the origin, it got his attention. In the first playoff game of his career -- and at this point the one playoff overtime of his career -- MacKinnon took a pass from Tyson Barrie. He wanted to attract a Wild defenseman behind Ilya Bryzgalov, which he did, and then he heard his name being shouted by Paul Stastny.
He looked up.
"I saw his big paddle there. The big thick blade he's got," MacKinnon said after the game.
He backhanded a pass to Stastny and it was over. The Colorado Avalanche's 5-4 comeback win in overtime was complete, giving the young Avs a 1-0 series lead against a Minnesota Wild team that looked in complete control of the game heading into the third period.
The game-winner was a moment that brought an eruption of celebration from a Pepsi Center crowd that has waited four years to witness a playoff game, but it was only just one moment in a game that was filled with memorable ones for Colorado.
The game featured the first career playoff goal for Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, who opened the scoring in the first period. It featured the first career playoff win as an NHL head coach for Patrick Roy and, in a suite somewhere, Joe Sakic celebrated his first win as the team's vice president of hockey operations, a position he was promoted to last May.
It also featured the gutsiest call we've seen a coach make yet at the outset of this postseason.
Down a goal in the third period, Roy's first inclination to pull Semyon Varlamov came with four minutes left in the game when he spotted Minnesota's third defensive pair on the ice. That, he decided, was a little too aggressive.
Instead, he waited until there was 3:01 left in regulation to pull his goalie Varlamov. He called out his lines, and when Stastny heard his name followed by Ryan O'Reilly's, he knew something was up.
When Stastny looked up, Roy let him know what was going on. Varlamov was being pulled, they were going with the extra attacker.
"I was kind of shocked a little bit," Stastny said, then he thought it through. "Why not? There's an icing. They were tired."
See, Stastny assumed it wouldn't last beyond the next whistle. But then came a stoppage in play, some fresh players on the ice for the Wild and Varlamov remained on the bench.
This wasn't a momentary decision to take advantage of a tired opponent. Roy was going for the tie and it was going to be the guys on the ice -- Barrie, Erik Johnson, Stastny, MacKinnon, O'Reilly and Landeskog -- who were going to do it.
"All in," Roy explained after the game. "All in. It was nothing else at all. I have a lot of trust in my players. I asked them a couple times if they needed a timeout. I know they're going to give everything they have -- sometimes you just want to push their limits."
Roy was pushing and the Avalanche responded, but not before the Wild nearly ended it with more than a minute to go.
Minnesota forward Erik Haula, who already had one goal in his first career playoff game, sent a puck down the ice that looked like it was going to end this game and Roy's goalie-pulling experiment in failure.
MacKinnon was on the right side of the ice and had a great view of Johnson sprinting down the ice to prevent the goal and who knows what else in this series.
"I thought it was going in," MacKinnon said. "It was going to the left. It hopped back. You know, when he dove I just kind of prayed that he [would] keep it out. Thank God he did."
"We're two inches from losing that game," Stastny said. "EJ makes an unbelievable play."
It set up a game-tying goal from Stastny with 14 seconds remaining in the game. That group had been out there since Roy pulled the goalie and with whatever energy they had left, sent this game to overtime. They could barely celebrate.
"When Paulie scored I was happy, but I didn't have much left in the tank to celebrate," MacKinnon said.
They left it on the ice and in doing so crushed a strong effort from a Wild team that deserved better. Minnesota may not have the high-octane stars and riverboat gambler coach, but the Wild have four lines that can play. Zach Parise's line got a goal when Charlie Coyle notched Minnesota's first score of the playoffs. The fourth line got on the board with a huge second-period goal when Jonas Brodin made a nice pass to free up Haula, who beat Varlamov.
It wasn't enough. Roy and his crew never lost confidence. Even down two goals in the third. Or playing without a goalie for three exciting, exhausting minutes.
It's what they've been doing all season, and for one playoff game it continued.
For about the past month, Roy has been practicing his six-on-five during every morning skate with the hope that one day he'd pull his goalie and the practice would eventually pay off. Did it ever.
"Tonight, it could be a huge moment in our playoff run," Roy said. "I think this win for us should bring a lot of momentum to our team."