By WCCO’s Craig D. Schroepfer
The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs got off to a rocky start for the Minnesota Wild.
Game 1 saw Minnesota with a two goal lead going into the third period only to see the Avalanche rally to tie the game and then winning it in overtime by a score of 5-4. In game 2, Minnesota was unable to stop Colorado’s transition game in the neutral zone as the Avalanche out-skated the Wild, winning 4-2.
With Game 3 taking place at Xcel Energy Center, Minnesota made some lineup changes hoping it would lead the Wild to their first victory in the series.
Out were forwards Kyle Brodziak and Stephane Veilleux, replaced by Justin Fontaine and Dany Heatley. In goal was Darcy Kuemper, who played well in relief for Ilya Bryzgalov in Game 2. The end result was Minnesota playing was might be considered their best game of the season, winning 1-0 over Colorado in overtime.
Fontaine was terrific Monday night playing on a line with Erik Haula and Matt Cooke. The line was able to shut down Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon who has terrorized the Wild up and down the ice by holding him to only three shots on goal during the entire game.
In Game 2, Colorado was able to skate freely throughout the rink, setting up the Avalanche’s offense attack. In Game 3, Minnesota shut down the neutral zone and didn’t allow any space for the Colorado forwards to get any great scoring chances. Any shots on net were snared right away from Kuemper who was seeing the puck like a beach ball.
Meanwhile the Wild was throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Minnesota peppered him with 22 shots in the first period while their team defense held Colorado to only eight shots on goal. In the second period shots were nearly even, nine for Minnesota and seven for Colorado. The third period saw the Wild out shoot the Avalanche 13 to five.
Despite Minnesota’s best efforts the game remained scoreless after three periods. Heading to overtime you just had the feeling in the building that the Wild were going to be rewarded for their hard work and that someone was going to step up and be the hero.
That someone turned out to be Mikael Granlund.
Granlund worked his way through three Colorado players to beat a sprawled out Varlamov, giving Minnesota their first win in the series 1-0. For Granlund, it was his first career playoff goal.
Granlund said of his goal after the game “Well, right now it feels real big but it’s one step for us. It’s 2-1 in the series and we need to enjoy this for a little bit before focusing on the next game.”
Head coach Mike Yeo praised Granlund after the game saying “You know it’s going to take a couple games for him to get going (coming back off an injury) and he took it to another level tonight. The goal he scored was just an amazing play and his all-around play tonight was just like he has played for us all year.”
The Wild have a couple days off before game four of the series on Thursday night. Minnesota still has a lot of work to do as they trail Colorado two games to one in the series. However game three showed us how well the Wild are capable of playing and why they still have a chance to win this series.
It’s good to see a Minnesota team finally get rewarded for their hard work in a game they deserved to win.