Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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And ... back to Denver for the Wild, where Game 7 awaits

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild game coverage Updated: April 29, 2014 - 1:26 AM

Game 7. Wednesday night. 8:30. Denver.

Nothing better than a Game 7 and the Wild will play in its first since 2003 after beating the Colorado Avalanche, 5-2, tonight in front of a raucous crowd at the X.

The Wild is 2-0 all-time in Game 7’s. In 2003, the Wild rallied from two 3-1 deficits to beat Colorado and Vancouver in Games 7s. The one in Colorado ended Patrick Roy’s goaltending career. Wednesday, the Wild will try to end the coach’s season.

“We fought all year to be in that position if there was a Game 7,” said Roy, who coached the team that won the Central “It's in our building, in front of our fans. I think it's going to be exciting. It's great for our team. It's going to be a great experience. We're not happy to lose tonight but I thought both teams played really well, and it was a great hockey game. That game could have gone either way.”

The men with the letters on their chest – Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter – helped lead the Wild to a big Game 6 win.

Parise scored the winning goal with 6:29 left as part of a career-high four-point (two goals) night. That's also a Wild playoff record. He has points in all six games of the series and leads the Wild with 10. Koivu had two assists and was sensational on the winning goal, winning two board battles, pressuring Jan Hejda into a turnover and shooting the puck that Parise deflected.

“I knew we had someone in front of the net, I didn’t know it was Zach, so I just threw it in from the point,” Koivu said.

Koivu also won 17 of 28 faceoffs. And Suter recovered from a bigtime boo-boo by having two assists in a solid 26 minutes, 41 seconds.

The Wild got early goals by Parise (fastest playoff goal in Wild history 49 seconds in) and Mikael Granlund for a 2-0 lead. But with a chance to make it 3-0 on a 67-second 5-on-3, Suter shanked a shot and Ryan O’Reilly hit Paul Stastny for a shorthanded breakaway goal.

“I kind of fluffed that shot, and it ends up in our net,” Suter said.

The Avs tied the game on an early second-period power play, and that made for a tense rest of the second and third period.

But with the fans in the lower bowl standing the entire third, Parise scored the winner. And, for a change, Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella scored empty-netters. Remember, in the two overtime losses in Denver, the Wild failed to score with the net empty and it came back to bite them both times (a lot more on that in the game story on startribune.com/wild).

“There was a lot on the line for us, I thought for the most part we played a pretty solid game and dictated a lot,” Parise said.

When the game turned in the second, Mike Yeo shortened his bench and scrambled his lines. In the third, he reunited the Parise-Koivu-Charlie Coyle line. I wish I could go back to Twitter to see how many fans have to eat their words after Koivu and Parise teamed for the winner.

“I wanted to get Mikko and Zach together,” Yeo said. “The season was on the line for us and kind of the way the game was going, both of those guys were leading the charge up front, and for me, their determination, their kind of get-after-it attitude, I wanted those guys going out together, and I thought that everybody else did a real good job of it too.  We didn’t have enough of a spark, and we can’t just ask them to change mentally, we got to do something on our part to help them along.”

Most impressive about tonight is how the Wild did recover from that shortie.

“We have an opportunity to go up 3-0 and they score a shorthanded goal,” Yeo said. “It gave them an awful lot of life, and eventually we started to get a little bit of fear in our game, not necessarily afraid of them, just afraid of what we were losing, and with that we weren’t dictating, we weren’t on our toes, and we were kind of letting them come at us, so for me it was a shift mentally that we had to recognize that what we have to do here is win a period, and if we win a period at home, we give ourselves a chance to go play in a game 7, so seize the opportunity.”

On Game 7, Yeo said, “We have to be excited about this opportunity and go in there and play our best game of the series.  We are going there with a real purpose in how we play that game. And so it’s going to be fun. The way we played the third period was really big for me.  I looked at the overtime losses we had and when something happened in the game that shifted the momentum we were able to get it back.  And certainly having the intermission helped with that.  The other team is going to have a push, that’s a skilled group, they are going to make some plays, there is going to be a point in the game where they come at you and for me, this is kind of the one game in particular where we did a good job pushing back.  We said not tonight.”

The home team has won all six games in the series.

“You’d like to think the road team has a chance to win a game. The only thing that matters is we get ready to play our best game of the series,” Yeo said.

Yeo didn’t let matchups dictate tonight. He had no problem getting anybody out against Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Stastny. Landeskog and MacKinnon were each minus-3.

“It's all or nothing now,” said Matt Duchene, who returned from a knee injury tonight. “Win or go home. I think it's a great opportunity for a lot of us in here, a great experience. It's been a homer series so far. I think our home fans are going to be outstanding, and we can't wait to get back in front of them.”

Said Roy (I didn’t fact-check this yet), “In my Game 7, I might be wrong on a few numbers here, I think on the road I'm 0-6 and at home I'm probably 7-1, something like this. It is tough to win on the road Game 7, it is tough. When the home team is playing solid hockey, the fans, it's tough to win Game 7 on the road. I'd rather have it at home.”

The Wild practices in Denver on Tuesday afternoon. Talk to you afterward.

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