By Craig Schroepfer, WCCO Radio
In Game 6 of the series versus Colorado, the best players for the Minnesota Wild proved to be just that.
Zach Parise had a four-point night (2G, 2A) including the game-winning goal. Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter added two assists as Minnesota defeated Colorado 5-2 to even the series at 3-3, forcing Game 7 in Denver.
In Game 7, it was a trio of unsung heroes who led the Wild to their first playoff series win in 11 years. Minnesota trailed the Avalanche by one goal on four occasions, and four times the Wild rallied to tie the game – thanks in part to the line of Nino Neiderreiter, Kyle Brodziak and Dany Heatley.
Trailing 2-1 after the first period, Minnesota tied the game when Heatley was able to pick up a rebound in front of Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov and put it past him, making it 2-2.
For being scratched the first two games of the series and spending most of the season on the fourth line when he did play, it was a huge goal by Heatley and a pleasant surprise to Wild fans everywhere.
Nearly three minutes into the third period, Colorado took its third lead of the game when Paul Stastny scored on a wrist shot to make it 3-2. Almost four minutes later, Minnesota would answer as Brodziak made a pass through three Avalanche players to find the stick of Neiderreiter, who would fire a wrist shot that found its way off the goalpost and past Varlamov, tying the game 3-3.
The Wild would trail one more time in the contest with Colorado holding on to a 4-3 lead. With time running out in the game and possibly the season, Minnesota got another game-tying goal, this time from Jared Spurgeon, who took a pass from Neiderreiter in the left face-off circle of the offensive zone and waited as Nathan MacKinnon slid past him, trying to block the shot. With MacKinnon out of the way, Spurgeon was able to pick the top right-hand corner over Varlamov’s shoulder and score to tie the game 4-4 with 2:27 to play in regulation.
For the fourth time in the series, the game would go into overtime and at 5:02 of the extra session Brodziak and Neiderreiter teamed up again. Entering the Colorado offensive zone on an odd-man rush, Brodziak passed the puck to Neiderreiter who beat Varlamov from the same spot where he scored the third goal, this time glove side, to give the Wild a 5-4 win in overtime and the series four games to three.
“It felt different because I wasn’t sure if the puck went in,” Neiderreiter said of his game winning goal. “Everyone came celebrating and it’s an unbelievable feeling. As a little kid it’s the exact moment you dream about.”
When asked about the resiliency of the Wild in the hockey game, Neiderreiter said the team showed a lot of heart.
“The whole team stuck together with it for 60-plus minutes and in the end, we got rewarded,” he said.
Brodziak described the series-winning goal as “pure excitement.”
“You go from one end where Colorado are pressing and they throw a puck at the front of our net. Fortunately, we got out of our zone. Heatley showed some great patience and saw me and Nino breaking. It was a great pass and fortunately Nino was able to bury it,” Brodziak said.
On the night, Neiderreiter finished with two goals and an assist, Brodziak had an assist on the final three goals for the Wild and Heatley was a plus three on the ice with a goal and two assists.
The best players for the Minnesota Wild made sure there was a Game 7. The line of Neiderreiter, Brodziak and Heatley made sure the season would continue into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.