ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Wild players slowly made their way to center ice after officials escorted Colorado Avalanche forward Patrick Bordeleau to the bench following a post-game skirmish.
With sticks held high, the Wild saluted the home crowd, who did the same to the players, both parties in appreciation of the other. Both sides fulfilled their duties in Game 6 of the first-round series with Colorado, and now Minnesota is headed back to Denver for Game 7.
Home ice advantage has meant everything in this series between the division-winning Avalanche and the Wild, the wild card leaders. On Monday at the Xcel Energy Center, it meant Minnesota finally getting a long-needed empty-net goal — two, in fact — and rallying when momentum was lost.
"There is going to be a point in the game where they kind of come at you," Wild head coach Mike Yeo said. "For me, this is kind of the one game in particular where we really did a good job of pushing back and we said, ‘Not tonight.’"
Not on home ice, not in front of the Wild crowd, not in Game 6.
Minnesota sent the series to a Game 7 in Colorado on Wednesday night by overcoming the Avalanche’s push, particularly with the goaltender pulled late in the game.
Colorado scored with 14 seconds left in Game 1 after pulling goaltender Semyon Varlamov and Minnesota was inches away from an empty-net goal in an eventual overtime loss. In Game 5 on Saturday, the Wild were unable to corral a loose puck with an empty-net ahead. Again, the result was a late tying goal for Colorado at 6-on-5 and an overtime win.
But "not tonight."
Jason Pominville added his first goal of the series into an empty-net with 1 minute, 26 seconds left and for good measure, Marco Scandella added another empty-netter, flipping the puck high from deep in the defensive zone into the open net.
Pominville’s marker, the long-awaited empty-netter, sent off a celebration on the bench and Yeo gave a big fist pump as punctuation on the moment.
"We were due for an empty-netter," defenseman Ryan Suter said.
"Yeah, we should’ve just taken one tonight and used one of the other ones a different night," Yeo said.
One was all Minnesota needed in Game 6 after overcoming tough breaks that Yeo has been waiting to see go the Wild’s way during the series went the other way again.
Minnesota led 2-0 in the first period and had a 5-on-3 advantage on the power play. Suter fanned on a shot at the point right as Paul Stastny was coming out of the box. Ryan O’Reilly was in place to pick up Suter’s miss and send it out to Stastny for a breakaway goal.
"At that point, it gave them an awful lot of life," Yeo said. "Mentally I think we started to get a little bit of fear in our game. Not necessarily afraid of them, just afraid maybe of what we were losing. And with that we weren’t dictating, we weren’t on our toes and we were kind of letting them come at us."
Colorado added a power-play goal in the second setting up an elimination period for the Wild.
Yeo entered the locker room for the second intermission. He didn’t talk Xs and Os.
"For me it was just kind of a shift mentally that we had to recognize, that what we had to do there was win a period," Yeo said. "We win a period at home, and we give ourselves a chance to go play in a Game 7, so seize that opportunity."
Zach Parise helped Minnesota seize Game 7 by tipping home a Mikko Koivu shot from the blue line to give the Wild a 3-2 lead with 6:29 left and two empty-net goals later, the Wild have another chance to win a game in Colorado.
"I guess the one thing is I hope we’re due," Yeo said. "You’d like to think that the road team has a good chance of winning a game. But for me the only thing that matters is we get ready to play our best game of the series."