DENVER – For two periods Thursday night, Wild fans back home in the Twin Cities had to be disgusted that they waited five months for their favorite team’s opening-night display.
From goalie Devan Dubnyk on out, the Wild looked rotten against the Colorado Avalanche. The team that was so good defensively last season was leaky on the penalty kill, soft in its own zone and physically manhandled.
But hockey is a 60-minute game, and in an even more shocking display than its poor first 40, the Wild rallied from a three-goal deficit with the fastest four goals the team has ever scored — a span of 5 minutes, 7 seconds in the third period — to stun the Avalanche with a 5-4 victory at Pepsi Center.
“That was nuts,” said defenseman Ryan Suter, who assisted on Zach Parise’s winning goal on a power play with 9 minutes, 46 seconds left.
That goal completed the hat trick for Parise, the third of his career, first with the Wild and 19th all-time by a Wild player. It was his second goal of the period, and Parise reacted with an exuberant drop to his knee, then a fly-by of the bench. Thomas Vanek had tied the score less than a minute before that, and a little more than two minutes after Nino Niederreiter made it 4-3.
“Zach had an unbelievable night and led the way for us,” Vanek said.
Parise called it “fun, entertaining and rewarding” that the Wild players put a bad two periods behind them and saw their hard work pay off.
“You never expect to go in on the road and put in four in the third and get away with a win,” said Parise, the 11th Wild player to ever record a hat trick and second in an opener, joining Marc Chouinard in 2005.
“The message was, ‘Let’s start playing how we’re capable, and whether we come out of this win or not, let’s play a good period here and at least feel good about heading into our home opener.’ ”
Wild coach Mike Yeo is 4-0-1 in season openers, the Wild won for the first time in five all-time openers on the road and improved to a league-best 9-4-2 in season openers.
It was the first time the Wild rallied from three goals down to win on the road since March 5, 2009, at San Jose (down 3-0 in the second, won 4-3 in overtime).
“I could say I’m surprised by the third period, but that’s what I’ve come to expect from this group,” Dubnyk said. “It was unreal to watch.”
The comeback, the Wild’s 16th victory in Denver in the past 22 visits (16-3-3), spoiled the party for Avalanche fans who filled the arena looking to see the Wild and Avs rekindle their bitter rivalry.
Avalanche fans haven’t been fond of the Wild since Niederreiter’s seeing-eye series-clincher two years ago. During warmups Thursday night, one fan sign plastered against the glass read “The only good thing to come out of Minnesota is Erik Johnson.”
But with the Wild trailing 4-1, Parise cut the deficit to 4-2 when, not long after he was crushed by Gabriel Landeskog, a Matt Dumba shot got hung up in Nathan MacKinnon’s gear. Jason Pominville found the puck, pushed it to Parise and he roofed the goal.
“That’s what you come to expect [from Parise],” Yeo said.
Less than two minutes later, after Johnson missed a puck at the red line that caused a linesman to wave off an icing, a Jason Zucker-Niederreiter forecheck led to Niederreiter’s goal from the slot. However, Niederreiter later left the game because of an injury after missing on a check.
Soon after Niederreiter’s goal, Charlie Coyle made a great play to spring Mikael Granlund into the zone. Grandlund found the trailer, Vanek, and the longtime goal scorer clanked a shot off the post and in for the tying goal.
“With Granny, 99 percent of the time it’s a pass, so this time around I wasn’t going to give it back,” Vanek said, laughing.
Finally, after Landeskog took his second penalty of the game, Parise buried Suter’s pass from the right circle for the winner. A large Wild contingent of fans screamed and threw hats on the ice.
“They’re always cool to get. They don’t happen often,” Parise said of hat tricks.
“More importantly, it happens when you’re in a good comeback like that.”