It took 65-plus excruciating, tension-filled, heart-palpitating, nail-biting minutes, but the Wild finally beat Semyon Varlamov.
The Vezina Trophy contender brought his “A” game into Xcel Energy Center for Game 3 on Monday night, but so did Mikael Granlund.
Finally, on the franchise playoff-record 46th shot, the Wild pulled off a 1-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche to cut the deficit in this best-of-seven, first-round grinder to two games to one.
Granlund, who spent the night cutting to the Avalanche net for scoring chances, beat Varlamov on his seventh shot of the game on an incredible individual effort. After taking Jason Pominville’s handoff in the corner, Granlund circled the net, won a board battle with Jan Hejda, spun away from the 6-4 defenseman, cut to the net, deked past defenders and scored his first career playoff goal 5 minutes, 8 seconds into overtime into an open net while falling to the ice.
“He’s got a lot of moves, but that one was pretty,” said linemate Zach Parise, who assisted on Granlund’s winner and also had seven shots. “He was great all game. A lot of jam plays, a lot of stuff plays, he was all over the puck and moving well.
“It’s great to get rewarded and for him to get rewarded because he did so many good things.”
Darcy Kuemper, in his first career playoff start, made 22 saves for the first playoff shutout in Wild history.
It was a huge victory. Only three teams in NHL history have rallied from a 3-0 series deficit in the playoffs, so with two off days between Game 3 and Thursday’s Game 4, the Wild avoided more than 48 hours of doom and gloom.
“It was not a must-win, but it kind of was,” captain Mikko Koivu said.
Added defenseman Ryan Suter, part of the defense that shut down Colorado’s much-ballyhooed first line of Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Nathan MacKinnon, “We had to have that one.”
That seemed impossible for much of the night. Varlamov, who broke his coach Patrick Roy’s franchise record for victories in a season (41), looked unbeatable as Wild fans urged on their maddeningly snakebit team.
In the first period, the Wild outshot the Avalanche 22-8 in a one-sided display. Minnesota broke the team record for shots in a playoff period.
“I was kind of in there watching their goalie make save after save,” Kuemper said.
Yet at the end of the first, the scoreboard read, “0-0.” Same thing after the second (31-15 on shots in favor of the Wild) and third (44-20).
“The part where I give our guys a lot of credit is being mentally tough enough to stay with it,” said coach Mike Yeo, whose team also killed off four power plays — three in the second period. “It felt like we were taking it to them pretty good, so to not get frustrated, to not start to drift and get away from our game, that’s something good teams do.”
Granlund missed the final six games of the regular season because of a head injury. He returned in Game 1, but the center spent the first three games getting punished physically. Every time, Granlund has gotten back up.
“This is not a timid guy,” Yeo said. “Coming back off injury, you know it’s going to take a couple games for him to get going at least, and he showed tonight that it was only going to be a couple. He took it to a new level. The goal he scored was just an amazing play.”
Said Granlund: “The way they play D-zone, if you beat the guy, when you win a battle against that team, you need to go to the net and a lot of times you have a lot of room there.”
After the goal, Granlund hopped to his feet and jumped face-first into the glass as exhilarated teammates converged. The fans, full of pent-up energy after watching Varlamov swallow and stop pucks all night, erupted.
“It’s now 2-1,” Granlund said in typical understated tone. “We need to focus on the next game. It was one step for us.”