Slide over Andrew Brunette, Nino Niederreiter is joining you in Minnesota Wild history.
Just like Brunette 11 years earlier, Niederreiter scored in overtime to beat the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 and send Minnesota into the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.
A big, physical forward, Niederreiter had a breakthrough season in his first year with the Wild, scoring 14 goals and 22 assists. And he upped his play in the final games of the series against Colorado.
"He raised the bar," Wild head coach Mike Yeo said. "So, he got himself in trouble now because this is what we expect."
Eleven years ago, it was Brunette who beat goaltender Patrick Roy, Colorado’s current coach, with a fancy move that gave Minnesota its first playoff series victory. This time, Niederreiter fired a hard shot past Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov to give the Wild a 5-4 overtime win in Colorado on Wednesday night.
Minnesota will face the Chicago Blackhawks, who ousted the Wild in the first round last year, in the conference semifinals.
"It’s definitely going to help us a lot," Niederreiter said of beating the Avalanche. "We know exactly the way we have to play, even on the road or at home. Now we’ve got to look ahead against Chicago and see what they’re up to and we’ll see how it’s going to be."
Minnesota simply refused to go away.
The Wild faced two elimination games and came out victorious. Minnesota is 3-0 all-time in Game 7s and is 9-5 in NHL playoff elimination games, including a 5-1 mark against the Avalanche, after winning Games 6 and 7.
"Proud of our guys right now," Yeo said. "This game in a lot of ways kind of reflected the series, just continually having to battle back and deal with adversity and keep pushing forward. Obviously, very proud."
The Wild had their backs against the wall in Game 7 on Wednesday night. Colorado had taken a lead four times only to see Minnesota tie the game later. Mikko Koivu scored his first goal of the series to erase a 1-0 lead in the first period, and Dany Heatley had his first of the series in the second period to tie the game 2-all.
Niederreiter’s first goal of the game and first of the series erased a 3-2 lead and Jared Spurgeon scored with 2 minutes, 27 seconds left in the third to push the game into overtime.
"We don’t quit," Spurgeon said. "That’s the thing we’ve been taught from Day 1 of camp, something we’ve instilled. The guys did a great job. Even after they scored that go-ahead goal, we had pressure on them and a couple chances before that. It’s a fun thing to be a part of."
Then it was Niederreiter joining Brunette in Wild lore in overtime.
Heatley found Kyle Brodziak in transition and Brodziak passed to Niederreiter entering the offensive zone. Niederreiter, the offseason acquisition in his first year with Minnesota, did the rest by sniping a shot high past Varlamov for the game-winner.
"We knew we had to stick with it," Niederreiter said. "That’s exactly what we did. I think we showed a lot of heart out there and let it all out tonight."
Niederreiter was almost an afterthought with the New York Islanders the past few seasons after New York made him the No. 5 overall pick in the 2010 draft. Niederreiter spent all last season in the minors with Bridgeport before the Wild gave him a new chance in the NHL, sending Cal Clutterbuck to the Islanders in a draft-day trade.
Niederreiter is one of several new faces in Minnesota this year and helped the team to its second straight playoff appearance.
Last year, Chicago was the top seed and beat the Wild in five games in the first round on its way to winning the Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks beat the St Louis Blues 4-2 in their first-round series.
Minnesota advances in the playoffs for the first time since Brunette and the 2003 Wild made it to the conference finals.
"It’s very important," Yeo said of getting over the hump of winning a series. "The way we’ve dealt with this series, the way that we’ve continued to fight, getting to this game, to see the growth and maturity of a lot of our players and just kind of really starting to get a feel for the soul of your team. This is definitely something we can say, ‘Let’s keep building off of this.’ For me, a big part is also saying, ‘Let’s not stop here. Let’s keep going.’"