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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Nino the OT hero as the Wild moves on to meet Chicago in 2nd round; Kuemper injured

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: May 1, 2014 - 3:49 AM

Nino Niederreiter’s in big, big trouble now.

One game after Mike Yeo said he watched Niederreiter take his game to another level, Niederreiter raised that bar to new heights by scoring his first two career playoff goals and assisting on another ginormous goal to lift the Wild to a 5-4 overtime victory over the Colorado Avalanche and hoist his team into the second round for the first time in 11 years.

The Wild now advances to play the defending Cup champ Chicago Blackhawks in the conference semifinals. They beat the Wild in five games last year and are playing great hockey right now. But the Wild is a different team right now and had the edge during the season series.

Date                         TIME (CT)        Chicago vs. Minnesota        Networks (Games 4-7 TV announced later)
Friday, May 2               8:30 p.m.        Minnesota at Chicago                NBCSN, TSN, RDS 
Sunday, May 4              2 p.m.               Minnesota at Chicago                NBC, TSN, RDS 
Tuesday, May 6            8 p.m.               Chicago at Minnesota                CNBC, TSN, RDS2       
Friday, May 9               TBD                Chicago at Minnesota                TSN 
*Sunday, May 11         TBD                Minnesota at Chicago                TSN 
*Tuesday, May 13        TBD                Chicago at Minnesota                TSN         
*Thursday, May 15       TBD                Minnesota at Chicago                TSN   

Niederreiter, the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft, was acquired last June from the Islanders for Cal Clutterbuck.

On the first day of training camp way back in September, Yeo said the first thing he noticed about Niederreiter was his “silly hard shot.” Tonight, Niederreiter let the hockey world see that weapon.

Four times tonight the Wild rallied from a one-goal deficit (they finally figured out to go high on Varlamov; same could be said for most goalies, and Crawford in Chicago, by the way). Once, less than four minutes after Paul Stastny made it 3-2 2:55 into the third, Niederreiter ripped one over Semyon Varlamov’s blocker. In overtime, Dany Heatley sprung Kyle Brodziak and Niederreiter on a 2-on-1. Brodziak fed Niederreiter coming into the zone and he sailed one over Varlamov’s shoulder.

The thing was in and out so quick off the back bar, even Niederreiter wasn’t sure it was in. Brodziak sure did. He began jumping up and down screaming. The bench exploded onto the ice, the coaches and trainers were in elation on the bench. After the game, so many happy players in the locker room, including congratulating owner Craig Leipold and GM Chuck Fletcher.

After Erik Johnson made it 4-3 with 8:44 left, Niederreiter also set up Jared Spurgeon’s game-tying, overtime-forcing snipe with 2:27 left.

What a victory. The Wild never led til that final Niederreiter shot, it overcame a goal that probably should have been wiped out to open the game when Jamie McGinn was on top of Darcy Kuemper, it overcame a rollercoaster of emotions all game long. And it controlled play most the game. The Avs went through long stretches without chances, but as we have learned all series, it doesn’t take much for Colorado to bury one.

“I’m incredibly proud of our guys right now,” Yeo said. “This game in a lot of ways reflected the series, just continually having to battle, and battle back and deal with adversity and keep pushing forward. Obviously very proud.”

The Wild is the first team in NHL history to score four tying goals and win a Game 7, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. 

So many unsung heroes tonight.

Heatley, scratched in Games 1 and 2, scored a tying goal and had two assists. Outstanding.

Brodziak, a goat in Game 1 and scratched in Game 3, was elevated back up to the third line with Niederreiter and Heatley, provided great play all night and had three assists.

The biggest question coming out of this game is Kuemper’s health.

In the second period tonight, Matt Duchene collided with Kuemper behind the net. Kuemper fell and his head hit Ryan Suter’s knee. He looked shaken up but stayed in the game. The Stastny and Johnson goals probably should have been stopped. With 8:13 left, Suter went over to Kuemper to talk to him. He skated to the bench, talked to Yeo and Ilya Bryzgalov stood up and finally entered the game after athletic therapist Don Fuller pulled Kuemper.

Kuemper missed the final seven regular-season games and couldn’t start Games 1 and 2 of this series with a concussion. I think he had a relapse and Bryzgalov will likely start Game 1 of the Chicago series (John Curry served as backup in overtime).

The Wild did an extraordinary job protecting Bryzgalov. He didn’t have to make a single save the final 8:13 of regulation and only one in overtime, a “series-saving save,” Suter called it, when he stopped Stastny’s snipe with his shoulder.

From Elias: 

The winning goaltender for Minnesota in its Game 7 victory at Colorado was Ilya Bryzgalov, who faced only one shot on goal after he relieved injured starter Darcy Kuemper with 8:13 remaining in the third period. The only other seventh game in NHL playoff history in which the winning goaltender did not start the game was Edmonton's 7-4 victory in the decisive game of the 1984 Smythe Division Final against Calgary. Grant Fuhr recorded the win for the Oilers after replacing starter Andy Moog, who allowed three goals in the first 26 minutes of the game.

-----

Suter also made a series-saving save perhaps when he dropped to his belly shortly before Niederreiter’s winner to stop Gabriel Landeskog’s 2-on-1 pass to Stastny alone in the slot.

Yeo didn’t have an update on Kuemper postgame. He said Kuemper wanted to keep going, keep battling, but it was clear he couldn’t any longer.

“If only we had any experience dealing with this,” Yeo said sarcastically. Zach Parise jokingly called the goalie carousel and a “never-ending circus.”

Yeo said, “We’re fortunate we got good depth in that position and it shouldn’t change anything for us.”

Yeo talked a lot postgame about the growth and maturity of his players and he’s starting to “feel the soul” of his team. Parise said the same stuff postgame, about how this is why he came to Minnesota, and how we’re seeing the growth of the Granlunds and Coyles and Ninos and Haulas and Brodins and Scandellas right in front of our eyes.

Just a roller coaster of a series and a roller coaster of a game. Mikko Koivu, Heatley and Niederreiter all scored their first goal of the series.

The Blackhawks will be quite the challenge. They’re playing better than they’ve played all year, they’re not just skilled, but they compete so hard and they just rallied against St. Louis after being down 2-0 in the first-round series.

“We’ve got more confidence [than when we played them in last year’s playoffs, we’ve got more momentum,” Yeo said.

But there will be challenges. Chicago is rested and the series opens Friday, meaning the Wild coaches are in the air right now preparing. Oh, yes, that’s right. The Wild, for a 2-day trip to Denver, packed for 5 days, you know, just in case the team had to immediately go to Chicago. A certain beat writer did the same.

The Wild’s on the way to the Windy City right this moment. It has Thursday off and will be on the ice at the United Center on Friday morning for the first time.

The Wild will have to enjoy the day, then reset and refocus, Yeo said.

For more quotes, read the gamer and my Twitter account. I’ve got to get some shut-eye. Flying to Minnesota in the morning, then onto Chicago. No practice Thursday. I’ll talk to you at some point, but as you can imagine, I’ll have to accelerate a series preview into Friday’s paper, so I’ll be in and out of communication with you.

I’ll be on KFAN at 9 a.m.

Here's some quotes courtesy of Avs PR.

AVALANCHE PLAYERS

Colorado G Semyon Varlamov

On Minnesota’s Win: “It’s not easy to win against a good team, like I said. I mean, I think they played well against us the whole series.”

On The Season: “I think we started the season really well and I think we just kept doing well all season long. We won the division, you know, that’s a big deal for us, but nobody wants to lose in the First Round. I think the whole organization and coaching staff and the guys did a great job.”

Colorado C Paul Stastny

On The Highs And Lows Going Into Overtime: “When you get excited about goals, I don’t think it is really over. They ended up scoring a couple of goals elbow in, post in. They were just unbelievable shots. You’ve got to tip your hats off to them. The goalie had no chance. I think we kept battling back, and then they would battle back throughout all seven games. I think going into overtime was a coin toss. They capitalized on their chance.”

Colorado C Matt Duchene

On If Minnesota Had More Jump: “No, not at all. It was a back and forth game and very evenly played. I thought we came out really well in the third period. I think we are going to have to learn here and see what we can take away from this. At the end of the game like that when we need to clamp it down, we’ve got to execute even better with the puck and without it, we have to be sharp. You don’t let your heart race too much and you have to stay in control and get it done. It’s too bad we couldn’t get it done, but we were right there. We got the lead, I think, pretty much all game. Their only lead was the one that wins the game. It’s disappointing.”

On The Organization Taking Huge Steps: “Absolutely. We should be very proud of ourselves. That’s a good hockey team over there. They are going to play every team tough, no matter who they are playing against. I know Chicago (Blackhawks) are going to have their hands full with them. They have some veteran guys and won some big games. We are young. It’s tough to win with the little experience we have. It was a great one to help us go forward.”

MINNESOTA PLAYERS

Minnesota RW Nino Niederreiter

On Getting The Winning Goal: “I mean, obviously it feels great. It still feels kind of unreal but at the end of the day, we got the win, we got the result we wanted.”

On Building On His Confidence From Game 6: “I felt great. I mean, obviously I had a chance to play some minutes that night. There was not many penalties going on so it kind of helped my game and I just had to refocus and I knew there was going to be another big one tonight.”

Minnesota D Ryan Suter

On The Team’s Resiliency Tonight: “The guys did great. You know, we stuck with it. It would have been easy to cash it in, throw in the towel, but this group did something special tonight. Whenever our backs are against the wall, we’ve come out swinging and that’s a good character to have.”

On Moving On To The Next Round: “Yeah head to Chicago and refocus. I mean, we haven’t done anything. We’ve won the series, which was a battle. You know, they’re a very good team, Colorado was. They got a lot of power, a lot of firepower, great coach, great goaltender so it was a big challenge and it took seven games and overtime and we stuck with it and it says a lot about our group.”

Minnesota LW Matt Moulson

On The Team’s Performance Tonight: “We had to battle for every inch and obviously, they’re a great team and they kept coming. Sometimes you get a bounce here or there and you know, Nino had a great shot, wasn’t sure if it was in, but it was a heck of a shot.”

On The Team’s Resiliency: “I think we’ve showed that down the stretch. You know, getting into the playoffs we had some big games down a goal going into the third and we knew we had to win and I think our game plan was to stick to our game no matter what happens and try to stay even-keeled mentally and I think this whole team did a great job of that tonight.”

AVALANCHE HEAD COACH PATRICK ROY

On What He Said To The Team After The Game: “I haven’t talked to them yet, but—I don’t go in dressing rooms after games, but I guess I have mixed feelings.  There is a side of me that is very disappointed because I thought that we could have won that game.  But, there is a side of me that is very proud of our players.  I love the way we were all year.  We compete, and tonight was another good example of how our guys have been playing. I don’t have enough words to say how proud I am of our players.”

On If There Is A Silver Lining To Losing Game 7: “Yeah, but it’s a process and it’s a learning process.  At the end, unfortunately injuries were a factor—losing a guy like (Colorado D Tyson) Barrie and a guy like (Colorado C John) Mitchell would have probably made the difference for us and (Colorado C Matt Duchene) Dutchy coming late, but these are not the excuses we want to use.  A team is a team and we played like this all year.  We always found a way to go through adversity in a great way, and we got beat by a team that played really well, a team that was well coached and a team that probably deserved to win as much as we did.”

On The Players Saying They Weren’t Happy With A Moral Victory To The Season: “Absolutely (that’s what you want to hear from your players)—all year we were never satisfied, and certainly we are not going to start tonight.  It was a great experience this year.  It was fun for me to be part of it, and one thing we are all proud of is to see the Avs back on top.  I think that should motivate us to have another good year next year and prepare ourselves really well over the summer.  Seeing our fans be excited about the team makes me so happy, and to see our fans coming back to the building—it was electric out there.  It was fun to be part of it, and I didn’t want to see it ending—that’s how fun it was.  I had goose bumps when I see them at the start of the game, at the start of overtime, start of the third period.  I just want to say thanks to them, thanks for making it fun—they’re a big part of it, and so are the players.  Like I said, the players gave everything they have, and it’s a great season for us.  It’s hard to talk like this right now because everyone knows how much I love to win, but at the same time we have to admit that was a heck of a year.”

On If It Says More About Minnesota Or Colorado That Minnesota Tied It After Colorado Scored First On The First Four Goals: “It was a mix of both.  When you learn how to win—when you have more experience in the playoffs, then you start to know how to win those big games and on those two goals our neutral zone forecheck had been good all night long, and then we started making some mistakes here and there and they took advantage of it.  This is a team that went through that last year with Chicago—they got beat four straight by Chicago or five, I can’t remember.  It’s a learning process and I think next year in the playoffs our guys might be a little more calm in those situations and react differently.”

Also from Elias: Niederreiter is the third player in NHL history whose first two postseason goals came in the seventh game of one playoff series. The other players to do that were the Penguins' Jiri Hrdina in 1991 against New Jersey and the Devils' Adam Henrique in 2012 versus Florida. Hrdina and Henrique, like Niederreiter, also scored the winning goal in that Game 7, with Henrique doing so in double-overtime.

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