Souhan: Granlund goes airborne to get one past Varlamov

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 22, 2014 - 11:50 AM

If, next week, the Colorado Avalanche has advanced to the second round of the playoffs, the Wild will be sitting home, watching on TV, taking pride in a wardrobe change.

Semyon Varlamov would be wearing a new chest protector. The old one, by now, must look like the shirt worn by Sonny Corleone during the tollbooth scene in “The Godfather.”

The Wild peppered and tenderized Varlamov on Monday night at the X. The Wild did not score until, with 14 minutes, 52 seconds remaining in the first overtime period, Mikael Granlund decided to test a theory that air would provide less resistance than padding.

The Wild’s first 45 official shots on goal had bounced off Varlamov’s chest, banked off his blocker or shin pads, or landed in his glove. Now, early in an overtime that threatened to deepen the Minnesota frustration, Granlund was fighting for the puck in the corner, winning it from a much larger man, Jan Hejda, and speedskating it toward the net.

Hejda tried to lift his stick. Erik Johnson pushed another Wild player away and dived, trying to deflect the puck with his glove. Marc-Andre Cliché tried to steal the puck more conventionally. And Varlamov himself chugged out of the crease, hoping to cut off Granlund’s angle.

So Granlund deked, dodged and dived. Wild fans first learned of him as a Finnish player who would score lacrosse-style goals in international competition, picking up the puck with his blade and stuffing it into the net from behind the goal. Now he was diving, flying parallel to the ice, with the puck still stuck to his stick, until he was past Varlamov, and the open net beckoned.

“He was all over the puck all night,’’ said teammate Zach Parise. “It was awesome to see him score that way.’’

Any way would have worked, after all that time. The Wild’s first 45 shots of the game hardly challenged Varlamov. The 46th left him with no chance.

“I just tried to cut to the middle, and get to the other side of the net,’’ Granlund said.

Parise offered more insight. He said that Colorado typically plays a strict man-to-man defense. “So if you beat your man, you know you’re going to have some room to go to the net,’’ he said.

Granlund has scored 10 goals in 90 career NHL regular-season games. He is minus-7 in those games. He is smallish, and when he tried to play a physical style this season, he wound up with a concussion that threatened his availability for the playoffs.

But his hands? His hands he could lease to surgeons. He became an effective playmaker this season, and while his physical play cost him ice time this season, it led to the winning goal on Monday.

“He took it to a new level tonight,’’ Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “The goal he scored was an amazing play, but his all-around game was very much the way he’s played for us all year. He had a couple of other plays earlier in the game, where he was able to beat a guy down low and he was very aggressive to the net, and eventually he got rewarded.

“This is not a timid guy. From what I’ve seen, generally when teams try to get physical with him he elevates his game. This is a guy that’s used to being a target, to being the center of attention since he was a young kid. Guys like that quite often find times in big moments to make big plays.’’

That’s a working theory for the moment, at least.

In Game 1, the Wild choked away a chance to win with weak defensive plays.

In Game 2, they allowed Nathan MacKinnon to execute double salchows and lutzes unimpeded in open ice.

In Game 3, the Wild took the play to the Avalanche, somehow looking dominant and desperate at once, until Granlund deked, dodged and dived, the puck stuck to his blade until his pursuers were sprawled behind him, and the net was finally vacant.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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