DENVER – The Wild had this one within its grasp. So agonizingly close to a Game 1 playoff victory — 14 ticks of the clock to be exact.
And then this happened: A furious scramble, a shot through traffic, a rebound and finally, a goal.
Paul Stastny delivered a walloping gut-punch by banging in a rebound past Ilya Bryzgalov to give the Colorado Avalanche new hope and new life with a score-tying goal with 13.4 seconds left Thursday night at Pepsi Center.
And then came Stastny’s second chance to shine.
The alternate captain chipped in the game-winner with 12 minutes, 33 seconds left in overtime to give the Avs a 5-4 victory in a doozy of a series opener.
If Game 1 was any indication, this series promises to be physical and testy and hard-nosed and, well, pick any adjective that describes two teams mauling each other for 60-plus minutes. This one could produce some genuine bad blood before it’s over.
In a game stuffed full of tense sequences, the most important came when the Wild’s Erik Haula flipped a puck down the ice toward Colorado’s vacant net late in regulation. Defenseman Erik Johnson skated as fast as possible to flick the puck out of harm’s way at the last possible second before it crossed the goal line.
That hustle play saved the game and set up Stastny’s heroics.
For two periods, the game’s primary story line focused on the Wild’s ability to generate offense. The Wild scored three times in the second period — by three different players — to build a 4-2 lead.
Believe it or not, this was the same Wild team that scored only 207 goals this season, second-fewest among the 16 playoff teams. Only Los Angeles generated fewer with 206.
The Wild made it look textbook, though, especially with that second-period flurry. Ryan Suter scored from the point on the power play. On the second one, Erik Haula turned on his jets to beat a defender and create enough separation to get off his shot.
Even long-suffering Kyle Brodziak got into the action, truly a telltale sign that the offense was rolling. Brodziak buried a perfect pass from Matt Cooke from behind the goal.
“You want to bury your chances as much as you can, but as long as we’re playing our game and throwing pucks at the net, it’s going to come,” said Charlie Coyle, who scored a first-period goal to tie the score at 1-1.
Playoff hockey is a rough-and-tumble product, which makes scoring goals even more difficult. But the Wild is better equipped now to avoid offensive droughts. This lineup has more capable scorers, guys who bring more firepower than what the Wild trotted out in a playoff series against Chicago last year.
Jason Pominville is healthy and coming off a 30-goal season. Mikael Granlund brings some playmaking ability. Trade deadline pickup Matt Moulson is a proven scorer. Nino Niederreiter is an upgrade.
As Game 1 revealed, the Wild has more than only one line, more than only one or two scorers.
The Wild still can’t afford to get into a run-and-gun shootout with Colorado. The Avalanche has too much speed and skill for that. The Avs forwards are something special at top speed. They are relentless.
Ultimately, the Wild failed to contain them until the end. The visitors needed 14 more seconds and the mood inside their dressing room would have felt markedly different.