Craig Leipold, sweating and jittery, couldn’t believe how calm his general manager was before the Wild dropped the puck on the 2014-15 season.
Chuck Fletcher explained to his owner that Thursday’s game against the rival Colorado Avalanche was only one of 82, that the Wild wouldn’t be panicking if it lost or printing playoff tickets if it won.
If the Wild plays all 82 like Thursday though, there’s no doubt there will be printing instead of panic.
In a stunning, one-sided clinic that offered an even greater “wow factor” than Leipold’s magnificent new scoreboard, the Wild outhustled and outclassed the Avs from start to finish of a 5-0 browbeating.
“It was fun. Those games are fun,” Zach Parise said after his one-goal, two-assist, nine-shot performance.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of stress through the course of the game because there was not a period of the game where I felt like things started to get away,” added coach Mike Yeo. “Really, really strong 60-minute effort.”
The NHL, recognizing how exhilarating last year’s Western Conference quarterfinals was, scheduled the Wild and Avs in a season-opening home-and-home, the first coming on national TV to ratchet up the intensity.
That audience had to be shocked watching the Avs being beaten to every puck by the relentless Wild. The Avs were overwhelmed by the Wild’s speed and looked like they were skating in cement during an entire evening spent in their end.
The Wild fired a franchise-record 48 shots at goalies Semyon Varlamov and Reto Berra and the Avs had no answer for the Wild’s free-wheeling top line of Parise, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville, who created the first three goals and skated circles — literally — around Colorado defenders virtually every shift.
“We didn’t compete,” Avs coach Patrick Roy said. “We didn’t engage. We avoided every battle. They were faster on every puck than we were. … I was surprised to see how easy we were, how easy it was to play against us.”
Parise, a workhorse throughout, was a career-best plus-4. So was Granlund, who had two assists. Pominville, a plus-3, scored a goal and assist.
“You had to look away every once in awhile,” Wild newcomer Ryan Carter said of the trio. “You get dizzy.”
Added Ryan Suter, who scored a goal, an assist and was plus-3: “They were moving. They were making a lot of plays. It was so fun. I mean, you could just watch them all night.”
The Wild, which scored five even-strength goals, broke out during a 21-shot second period with four goals. Jared Spurgeon and Nino Niederreiter (seven shots) also scored and Darcy Kuemper, the Wild’s $1 million No. 1 goalie at least for Game 1, made 16 saves for a simple third career shutout.
“What a game by the guys in front of me,” Kuemper said. “I didn’t have to do too much.”
The pregame festivities included the unveiling of Leipold’s scoreboard, which was perfect timing with Colorado in town. The crowd of 19,098 could get jacked by seeing Niederreiter’s Game 7 overtime winner all over again. The game ops folks shrewdly blended that moment with now-assistant coach Andrew Brunette’s 2003 Game 7 OT winner that ended Roy’s Hall of Fame goaltending career.
Both looked better in HD.
That electricity seemed to make the Wild surge. But Varlamov was so brilliant early, it looked like it would be a repeat of Game 3 last year when it took Granlund’s overtime goal to break a scoreless tie with the Wild’s 46th shot.
The Wild broke through much earlier this time, and then some. The Wild’s top line led the charge.
“We’ll just get out of the way and keep letting them do their thing,” Yeo said.
The Wild wasn’t celebrating after though. A rematch comes Saturday in Denver, and the Wild expects a much different opponent.
“We know that’s a much better team than they showed tonight,” Parise said.