Denver – They say a Stanley Cup playoff series never begins until the road team wins, and they are wrong.
The Wild’s first-round series against Colorado has been compelling since the first anthem, even with the home team winning every game. This series has proved so confounding and dramatic that, for the players, keeping track of time has been almost as hard as maintaining an unbruised lip.
As the teams prepared on Tuesday for Wednesday’s Game 7 at Pepsi Center, they looked back on games decided by millimeters and milliseconds, yet so much has happened in the first six games that the series feels as if it has lasted months.
Was it really just two weeks ago that Avalanche coach Patrick Roy pulled a goalie with more than three minutes left, then stole Game 1 in overtime?
Didn’t that new goalie — Ilya B-something, wasn’t it? — actually play in a couple of games in this series, or was that last year?
Was it really this month that Matt Cooke took out Tyson Barrie’s knee?
Is it our imagination, or have Nathan MacKinnon and Mikael Granlund entered and exited athletic puberty in a fortnight of pressurized games that age players in dog years?
“I think when you look back and think back, you go, ‘Oh, man, it’s been a while,’ ” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. “When you’re into the game and you play, then you think, ‘Oh, man, this goes fast.’ So it’s a little bit of both.
“It seems like it’s gone so fast since Game 1 and we started the playoffs, and here we are getting ready for Game 7.”
Most of the players on the current roster have only read and heard about the drama of a seven-game Stanley Cup playoff series. Even as they have lost, won, traveled and practiced; even as they have suffered bruises and cuts and opponent-inflicted indignities; they have carried themselves as if there is no other place they would rather be.
“It gets long, but both teams have had to do it,” Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. “It does seem like it’s been a long series. We’ve grown to hate each other, and that’s what playoff hockey is.”
That might be the best way to describe the quality and intensity of these playoffs: Olympic-caliber hockey seasoned with grudges.
“In the Olympics, you face guys you grew up playing against,” Suter said. “But this? Every other night you play against each other, and you remember what happened two nights before, and you want to make sure that doesn’t happen again — or you want to be the initiator. It’s intense and that’s what makes it so fun, and so hard.”
Six games have produced an exponential number of plays that, at the moment, promised to sway a game or the entire series.
The Wild appeared to have secured Game 1, with a two-goal lead in the third period, before Kyle Brodziak’s turnover led to a Jamie McGinn goal, Roy pulled his goalie, and the Avs won in overtime.
In Game 2, MacKinnon executed figure 8s around Wild defenders, and Minnesota’s season again reached the brink.
In Game 3, the Wild dominated the puck but didn’t score until Mikael Granlund scored in overtime while airborne.
In Game 4, the Wild again dominated the puck and again won by a goal.
In Game 5, the Avs for the second time tied the score after pulling their goalie, then won in overtime.
In Game 6, the Wild again blew a two-goal lead before surging in the third period.
“Every game has been different,” Koivu said.
The players are likely to be saying the same thing after Game 7.
“We dream about it when we’re kids,” Suter said. “ ‘OK, Stanley Cup Final, Game 7, right now, first to five wins.’ ”
Suter paused, smiled, and said: “I don’t know why you dream about playing in a Game 7. You’d think you’d want to get it over with earlier.”