Wild’s Granlund elevating game on national playoff stage
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Fresh off the biggest goal of his short NHL career, Mikael Granlund received an unexpected congratulations in a joyous Minnesota Wild locker room, but it wasn’t enough to elicit any extra elation out of the usually-reserved Finn.
Defenseman Ryan Suter’s kids were playing ball hockey in the team’s dressing room and stopped Granlund after his game-winning goal in a 1-0 overtime victory of Monday’s playoff game against the Colorado Avalanche. Granlund was wearing a wide smile after the game and got some congratulatory fist bumps from Suter’s kids.
"We’re trying to (get him excited) back there, but he just doesn’t say much. He just nods his head, I told my little guys ‘go give him knuckles,’ . . . he’s just really shy. He’s a really good kid."
Granlund gave the Wild plenty of reason to be excited on Monday.
Playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time, Granlund helped Minnesota overcome a standout game by Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov by scoring 5 minutes, 8 seconds into overtime to give the Wild their first win of the series and pull within two games to one with Game 4 on Thursday in Minnesota.
Showing off the skill he’d been known for as one of the top young prospects in the game and an international star, Granlund won a battle for the puck along the boards with Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda and cut to the net.
He crossed the front of goal, losing balance and falling while maintaining control of the puck and sliding it past Varlamov as he hit the ice.
"He’s got a lot of skills," forward Zach Parise said. "He’s got a lot of those. But that one was pretty."
Granlund’s list of memorable, skilled goals in his short career is growing.
He was memorialized on a postage stamp in his native Finland for scoring a lacrosse-style goal in the World Championships in which Granlund lifted the puck onto his stick from behind the goal and scooped it around the post.
Koivu, his Finnish countryman, has seen Granlund’s success in international play and is now seeing it translate to the NHL.
"Obviously it’s a big goal, but it’s more than that," Koivu said. "I think for an individual player, you can create a lot of confidence with that for the games in the future as well. It was obviously a great play, great move all the way to the end. Yeah, I’m very happy for him and I’m sure a big goal for him, as well coming off an injury and in the playoffs, so it’s huge."
Monday’s heroics won’t get him a spot on more postage, but he’s stamped himself into Wild lore. Granlund’s goal was the sixth overtime playoff goal in team history, which includes five against the Avalanche.
"Obviously this is one of the biggest ones for sure," Granlund said of ranking his career goals. "But these are fun games, these are playoffs and this is all about team effort and we did a really good job tonight. I think next game it might be someone else. When we play like that, I think it’s a different guy every time to step up."
For Monday’s game to even reach overtime was a monumental task for Varlamov and Colorado. Minnesota put up a team-record — playoffs and regular-season — for shots in a period in outshooting the Avalanche 22-8 in the first period. The Wild finished with a playoff-high 46 shots.
A Vezina Trophy contender, Varlamov stood up though, making 44 saves through regulation.
"You see it so many times where teams do so well and get chance after chance after chance and then a fluky one goes in against you," Parise said. "Luckily that wasn’t the case tonight."
Thanks to Granlund — and Darcy Kuemper’s 22 saves.
"He took it to a new level tonight," head coach Mike Yeo said of Granlund. "The goal he scored was just an amazing play, but his all-around game was very much the way he’s played for us all year. He had a few similar plays early in the game where he was able to beat a guy down low, and he was very aggressive at the net and eventually he got rewarded."
Granlund said the play happened so fast he hardly remembered the game-winning goal. His mindset after winning along the boards was just to get to the front of the net, a move he had tried a few times throughout the game.
"I was just trying to cut to the middle and get to the other side and shoot it," Granlund said.
For his Wild teammates, the goal just represented another step in Granlund’s development. Last year in his first NHL season, Granlund struggled to adjust to the speed of the players and smaller ice surface, limiting the playmaking game he had become known for in Finland.
With an offseason dedicated to becoming quicker, seeing and thinking the game quicker, Granlund has demonstrated the potential that made him a top prospect and Minnesota’s No. 9 overall draft pick in 2010.
"He’s had an awesome year," Parise said. "From where he was last year to where he is now, it’s incredible the leaps that he’s taken. For me, sitting next to him and watching him evolve, get more comfortable in the room and get more comfortable on the ice and see him get rewarded like that, it’s awesome."
No word if Parise gave him a fist bump too.
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