DENVER – Midway through Game 5 of the Wild-Avalanche playoff series, familiarity seemed to breed contempt when Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Koivu battled for the puck along the boards in the Colorado end.
Once the puck worked free, Landeskog, the Avalanche captain, held on to Koivu’s stick and the Wild center gave him a shove to the face. Then as Koivu skated toward the puck Landeskog jumped on Koivu’s back and landed a few punches to the back of his head.
The result was a matching minor for roughing, and the Avalanche scored on the ensuing four-on-four on its way to a 4-3 overtime win and a 3-2 series lead.
That was Saturday, but it feels like a lifetime ago now. By the morning of Wednesday’s Game 7, the teams had seen enough of each other to last all summer.
“I was thinking about it driving here [Wednesday] morning,” Landeskog said. “Seven games against the same team, that’s a lot of games. Especially in a row. You develop, I wouldn’t say hatred, but it’s a rivalry.”
Things were somewhat testy early in Game 7. Avalanche forward Jamie McGinn was in the net, blocking the path of goaltender Darcy Kuemper on Colorado’s first goal. In the second, Avalanche center Matt Duchene nearly checked Kuemper behind the net, drawing the ire of the Wild.
As the game moved into the third period the teams were more cautious and held their tempers in check. Instead of big hits there were big goals, including Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon’s tying one with 2:27 left that sent the game into overtime tied 4-4, where Nino Niederreiter scored at 5:02 to win it.
The Wild and Avalanche don’t have the history of Detroit-Colorado, but it is a definite budding rivalry. The teams had met in the playoffs twice before this spring, with each winning a series. Considering how chippy this seven-game series became, and with both being in the Central Division, plenty of battles are ahead.
“The way our divisions are lined up, how important every division game is, how close every game was not only through the regular season but the playoffs, too, certainly it’s a budding rivalry,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
The regular season is important, but rivalries are built in the playoffs, and this series has jump-started a good one. There were questionable calls and non-calls, plenty of scraps after the whistle and Wild forward Matt Cooke’s knee-to-knee hit on Colorado’s Tyson Barrie that sidelined the Avalanche’s best offensive defenseman for four weeks and got Cooke a seven-game suspension.
It’s safe to say the players are sick of each other after seven games. Wild forward Zach Parise agrees.
“You definitely respect them as players and how good they are and how good of a team they have, but the longer the series goes there’s always those games within a game,” he said. “You do have hatred, or whatever is the right word, but you have animosity that’s built up for the first six games.
By the morning of Game 7, Landeskog was ready to say goodbye until next season.
“I’ll be sick and tired of seeing Parise, [Mikael] Granlund and Koivu after this series,” Landeskog said. “It feels like a lifetime we’ve been playing against those guys.”