Avalanche center Paul Stastny (center) celebrates with teammates after scoring the game-winning goal during the overtime period of Game 1 of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Wild on Thursday.
Chris Humphreys/Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Everything was going the Minnesota Wild’s way through the second period on Thursday night in the playoff opener at Colorado.
Minnesota held a 4-2 lead. The much-maligned Kyle Brodziak had scored his first career playoff goal and rookie Erik Haula kept up his production even while moving to the fourth line because Mikael Granlund returned to the lineup. The Wild added a power-play goal from Ryan Suter and killed off three penalties.
Then two turnovers turned into Avalanche goals, one coming with 13.4 seconds left in regulation, and Minnesota’s missed opportunities to take control of the series with a 5-4 loss to Colorado.
"That one stings a little bit," Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner said after the game. "I feel like we kind of gave them that game a little bit. Obviously they played good and they scored some key goals at some key times. We just got to regroup. We like a lot of parts of our game, but at the same time, I think we gave it to them a little bit with a few mistakes.
"It’s one of those things that we just got to be better. We know that we’re close. We know that we’re right there. It’s one game. We’ll be alright."
There were plenty of chances for the Wild. The most notable coming with just over a minute left in regulation as Erik Haula sent a clearing attempt the length of the ice.
Avalanche coach Patrick Roy had made the bold move to pull goaltender Semyon Varlamov with more than three minutes left in the game down only one goal. Haula’s attempt was scraped away just inches from scoring an empty-net goal that could have sealed the game.
Yeo said he was never told by officials why Minnesota never received a penalty with Johnson sliding into the goal and knocking it off the moorings. The Wild had been called for a penalty on a similar situation earlier in the game, and head coach Mike Yeo said he didn’t get an explanation for why there was no penalty and why the ensuing faceoff came out to the neutral zone.
"Not bad, but only not bad," Yeo said of how his team responded to the tying goal with 13.4 seconds left. "We had a few shifts where we started to get her going, but I just know that there’s another level. I thought we were on our heels a little bit, particular in our D-zone where I know we can be much more aggressive in how we pressure and take away time and space."
In overtime, Jason Pominville hit the post minutes before Paul Stastny scored the game-winner for Colorado, the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed as the Central Division winner. An opportunity to steal a game in Denver was instead a stinging loss for Minnesota.
The Wild have shown resiliency all season long, particularly in dealing with injuries. Now they have to bounce back from a tough loss in the series opener.
"That’s the challenge, that’s playoff hockey," head coach Mike Yeo said. "There’s disappointments and clearly that’s one tonight. I don’t think that we responded as well as we have in the past a little bit. We gave up the third goal, but I thought that kind of put us on our heels. Clearly they’re going to have some momentum at that time, but we have to be able to re-establish it and get back to our game and I don’t think we did a particularly great job of that."
A close game should have been expected between Minnesota and the Avalanche. The two teams have played one-goal games in 10 of their 14 playoff meetings, including nine of the last 10 games. Six of the contests have gone to overtime.
During the regular season, two of the five meetings went to a shootout with each team winning. Colorado won a one-goal game and two games were decided by two goals, each with a late empty-net goal.
"No. 1, I liked the way that we responded when we were down early," Yeo said. "No. 2, I felt that when we were playing our game, I don’t feel we ever had a time in this game where I felt like we were completely on top of our game, but I felt like when we were close to it, we were very effective. The third part for me is I know we can be a lot better."