Game 4: Mike Doyle's Five Takeaways vs. Colorado
Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he'll remember from each contest. Today, he looks back at a 2-1 win in Game 4 of Round 1 against the Colorado Avalanche:
The Wild put on another dominating performance in front of the State of Hockey crowd to draw even in the best-of-seven series with the Avalanche, two games apiece. While the Wild only outscored the Avs, 3-1, in the two games, the ice seemed slanted in Colorado’s end like a pinball machine, with Semyon Varlamov the solitary paddle blocking the onslaught. In the two games at Xcel Energy Center, Minnesota outshot the Avs, 78-34.
Minnesota played with desperation again tonight, possessing the puck in the offensive zone like a selfish kid hogging new toys on his birthday. The Wild chipped pucks in deep, retrieved it, cycled and wore down the Avs. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and the Wild only allowed 12 shots on goal, four coming on a power play with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. The last two minutes, Mikael Granlund gave a lesson in sacrificing the body for the good of the team. He lost his stick and blocked three shots in the waning few tics of regulation.
Down in the series, Games 3 and 4 were gut-check contest for the Wild, and the team responded in turn to send the series back to the Mile High City even.
Tonight the Wild was without forward Matt Cooke, who served the first of his seven-game suspension for a hit on Avs defenseman Tyson Barrie in Game 3. It was an unfortunate incident resulting in an injured knee for Barrie and suspension for Cooke. In the last two days, you’ve probably read opinion pieces that run the gamut from insightful to ridiculous, and, frankly, I’m tired of it so I’m not going to add to the minutia that’s out there.
In Cooke’s absence, Nino Niederreiter was placed on the third line with Justin Fontaine and Erik Haula. Again, the line was tasked with stopping the Avalanche’s top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Paul Stastny and Gabriel Landeskog. Two rookies and a 21-year-old held the line to one shot on goal. All in all, it might’ve been the club’s most outstanding defensive effort on the season…
In the first two games in Denver, the Wild’s neutral zone gap was far too loose, which allowed the Avs to gain speed in transition. Back on home ice, the Wild made the necessary adjustments and plugged up the middle. While the club’s forwards were tenacious on the forecheck, Minnesota’s defensemen did a fantastic job of controlling its gap.
It was a group effort from the Wild blue line, which has gained a ton of confidence after a couple of tough games in Colorado. Marco Scandella was an ice-eating monster, not allowing the Avs to gain any advantage through the neutral zone. He was a key on the team’s penalty kill (leading all Wild players in shorthanded time on ice with 4:06), which has shut down the Avs all series. Colorado’s lone power play goal came on an empty net. Tonight, the Wild PK was perfect shutting down all three Avalanche power plays. Not only was Minnesota’s defense stout, the blueliners got into the offense…
In the first period, the Wild started up right where it left off in Game 3, pressuring the Avalanche and keeping the puck in the offensive zone for large chunks of time. Not only were the team’s forwards pressuring down low, but Minnesota’s defenders also were active on the wall, hemming in the Avs down low like a well-tailored pair of pants. One such pinch led directly to the team’s opening score.
The Wild’s top line was on one of its ferocious forechecks and Avs defenseman Jan Hejda tried to softly wrap the puck to his wing, Jamie McGinn on the left wall. However, Jared Spurgeon read the play, tracked the puck and then put it back into the corner for Zach Parise. After he wrapped the biscuit, Spurgeon didn’t stand pat, and moved into open ice eluding McGinn. Parise took a step out of the corner and hit a wide-open Spurgeon in the wheelhouse. The defenseman wired a one-timer off the post and in.
In the first three games of the series, the Wild didn’t have much luck when it came to putting the puck past Varlamov. The club peppered the netminder like a bad piece of steak. However, tonight the team finally got a fortuitous bounce against the goalie. Some say it’s better to be lucky than good. However, my favorite quote pertaining to fortune: luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
In the second period, preparation met opportunity for forward Charlie Coyle. With the Wild on the power play, Jason Pominville fired a shot from the right side that was partially blocked and missed the net high. Coyle was drifting towards the goal, preparing to set up a screen in front of the net. It looked like the puck was going out of harms way but took a wicked bounce off the glass and into the slot. Momentarily the Avs took its collective foot of the gas, just long enough for Coyle to capitalize and push the puck past Varlamov. A reminder for everyone: don’t fall asleep at the wheel in playoffs.
Typically, I don’t like to pander to an audience, but a stick tap to all the fans in attendance during both games. In my three years of working with the club, I don’t think Xcel Energy Center has ever rocked so hard. The win tonight guarantees a Game 6 back here. Regardless of the outcome on Saturday, I know this place will be buzzing when the series shifts back to the State of Hockey.