DENVER – There are pivotal junctures in the growth of every team, and Wednesday night will be a significant one for the Wild.
One year after dipping its toe into its first postseason in five years, the Wild will have a chance to take part in a Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche for the chance to play in the conference semifinals for the first time in 11 years.
Not a lot of Wild players have played in a Game 7, let alone gotten past the first round. Of the players expected to play Wednesday, Zach Parise has played in two Game 7s and Dany Heatley, Jason Pominville and Cody McCormick one each. Only Parise, Heatley, Pominville and Ryan Suter have passed the first round.
“We’ve got a lot of young players, we’ve got a lot of guys who we’re trying to develop and grow,” said coach Mike Yeo, who was 2-0 in American Hockey League Game 7s as Houston’s coach and 2-1 as a Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach in Game 7s. “We want to have years of success, not a year of success. So get that experience, to go through these things is an important time for our organization.
“We faced a Game 7 last game, too. That’s one thing for our players to draw upon.”
Rookie goalie Darcy Kuemper couldn’t agree more with his coach. He says he won’t be overwhelmed by Wednesday’s stage.
“It was the same sort of mentality [in Monday’s Game 6 win],” Kuemper said. “If you lose, you’re done. That’s Game 7 in a nutshell. We’ve been through it before. We should be pretty calm and confident with it.”
Parise is 1-1 in Game 7s. In the 2012 first round when he played for New Jersey, the Devils trailed 3-2 in the series before beating the Florida Panthers in Games 6 and 7. The Game 7 double-overtime victory came on the road.
“I really think those couple wins that we strung together really propelled us in the second round and sent us in with a lot of confidence [against Philadelphia],” Parise said. “Hopefully we’ll get something similar here.”
The Avs are 4-5 in Games 7s; the Wild is 2-0. Only two Colorado players have played in Game 7. Max Talbot has played in four and Semyon Varlamov three.
In fact, of Yeo’s two Game 7 NHL victories as a Penguins assistant coach, Talbot scored both goals in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final to help Pittsburgh beat Detroit and in the 2009 second round, the Penguins beat Varlamov and the Washington Capitals.
“It’s the best. And it’s also the worst,” Yeo said, laughing. “And I say that only kidding. Every moment is so meaningful in the game. And I really do mean it’s the best is because you’ve got so much on the line, you’ve got the players laying it all out there, you’ve got the passion and energy of the building and the fans and there’s just so much at stake.”
Memories of 2003
The Avalanche hasn’t played a Game 7 since the Wild stunned goalie Patrick Roy and the Avs by rallying from a 3-1 first-round deficit in 2003. Andrew Brunette scored the overtime winner.
“What I remember about that game is we played against a team that just competed,” said Roy, now Colorado’s coach. “They were well-coached by Jacques Lemaire. They beat us in Game 5 here, they beat us in Game 6 in overtime and they beat us in Game 7 [in overtime].
“I just saw a group that was resilient on the other side all year. This is how they made the playoffs.”
Roy said, kiddingly, “It should not have a big effect on our team because there are not that many players that are still with us.”
As a player, Roy played in 13 Game 7s, tied with Scott Stevens for the most in NHL history.