DENVER – They were castoffs, of different sorts, traded because they held little value for their previous teams.
Nino Niederreiter, 21, was a bust with the New York Islanders, given a second chance by the Wild, which saw size and a slapshot.
Ilya Bryzgalov, 33, had played for four other teams, becoming part laughingstock and part irritant in Philadelphia, but the Wild needed a goalie at the trading deadline, and the goofy goalie was very available.
Wednesday night in Denver, the bust and the journeyman combined to make the winning plays as the Wild beat the Avalanche 5-4 in overtime of Game 7 of a series almost as confounding as it was thrilling.
Nothing that happened over the past two weeks could have been expected, and the Wild’s 5-4 victory on Wednesday night at Pepsi Center confounded even more than everything else that happened in this seven-game, four-overtime series.
What seems like months ago, the series began in Colorado with Bryzgalov in goal.
Deep into Game 7, five games after he had been benched, the series ended in Colorado with the prodigal goaltender back between the pipes.
Was Bryzgalov’s forced return the most unpredictable aspect of this series? Or was it Dany Heatley, Niederreiter and Jared Spurgeon scoring tying goals as a dramatic Game 7 became a dramatic Game 7-plus? None of the three had scored before Game 7.
Game 7 reprised the tumultuous series, with the Wild being victimized by a bad call that cost it a goal, and with the Wild repeatedly staving off elimination.
For most of the series, the Wild dominated the puck and appeared to be the superior team, and that would have been cold comfort had it lost.
Instead, four times it came back to tie the score, with Spurgeon’s goal late in the third period sending it to overtime, and when, for the second time, Niederreiter ripped a shot past Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, you could hear only the sounds of silence in Pepsi Center.
“Nino’s got himself in some trouble now,” Yeo said. “He’s raised the bar. We’re going to expect that now.”
The Wild had not won a playoff series in 11 years.
Think about what we’ve been missing.
There are purer sports, and certainly there are more popular sports, but there might not be another sport that makes you believe, from the moment the game begins, that the next play could decide the game, or series.
Niederreiter should not have been the star Wednesday night, not in a series in which Zach Parise asserted himself, and Nathan MacKinnon starred, and so many veteran Wild players stepped forward. But he was the star, unleashing a wicked shot that it appears only his coaches and teammates knew about.
“This is something we can build off of,” Yeo said. “But we know we have more work to do. We’ve got a busy night ahead of us tonight. We have to get re-set and refocused for that next task.”
Bryzgalov should not have been the star Wednesday night. He had started Game 1, and helped the Wild blow a two-goal lead and lose in overtime, and he had been benched in Game 2, giving way to a young goalie who had faltered late in the season and been waylaid by a concussion.
“If only we had some experience dealing with this,” Yeo said, with a smile.
Friday night, Bryzgalov likely will face the defending champs in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
What the Wild proved in seven games was that it can play playoff-style hockey; that Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are ideal leaders for a developing young team; that Yeo can put a team in position to defeat a statistically superior opponent; and that young players such as Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle can elevate their games in the playoff crucible.
More important Wednesday, Bryzgalov was ready to play, and Niederreiter was ready to rip.
Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is
|Baltimore - W. Chen||6:05 PM|
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