ST. PAUL, Minn. — Zach Parise scored early and late on tipped shots, and the Minnesota Wild tacked on two empty-net goals for a 5-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night that sent the first-round playoff series to a decisive Game 7.
Parise and Mikko Koivu each had two assists. The teams will meet again in Denver on Wednesday night, with the winner taking on the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference semifinals.
Parise scored just 49 seconds into the game and Mikael Granlund made it 2-0 later in the first period, but a costly turnover by Ryan Suter at the end of a failed 5-on-3 situation led to a short-handed goal for the Avalanche when Paul Stastny scored for the fourth time in the series.
Nick Holden got the tying goal in the second period to stop the power-play skid for the Avalanche, who had been denied by a resurgent Wild penalty-kill unit in 19 of 20 prior opportunities in the series.
Matt Duchene returned to the Avalanche lineup and notched an assist, but Parise stole the show for the home team. Parked in the crease with the season on the line, he took a shove in the back from goalie Semyon Varlamov and then outmuscled defenceman Erik Johnson for position on Koivu’s shot from behind the circle with 6:29 left in the game.
Avalanche coach Patrick Roy pulled Varlamov with 2:44 remaining, and this time the daring move backfired after it led to tying goals in Games 1 and 5. Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella found the back of the net for the Wild, who got 21 saves from Darcy Kuemper.
Nathan MacKinnon’s league-leading 10 points, accumulated over all three Avalanche home games, have been one of the biggest stories of the NHL playoffs so far. The 18-year-old whiz hasn’t played as well on the road in this series, though, and with a mere 26 seconds elapsed he was sent to the penalty box for holding.
Just 23 seconds after that, the Wild were in front. Suter, who was originally credited with the goal, fired a shot that Parise tipped in. The arena erupted.
This was the quick start the Wild needed, after squandering another late lead at Colorado, and they had a 2-0 cushion midway through the first when Pominville set up Granlund for his slap shot that skidded between Varlamov’s pads.
The tenor of a game that could’ve become a blowout then took a sharp turn.
The Wild had a 5-on-3 power play for 67 seconds after consecutive penalties on Stastny for slashing and Andre Benoit for flipping the puck over the glass.
They played it patiently, getting two shots on goal, but Suter’s last attempt of the two-man advantage didn’t connect cleanly with the puck. Ryan O’Reilly jumped on it and, in the timing to beat all timing, found Stastny all alone on his surge from the box.
Stastny went low with his wrist and sneaked his shot past Kuemper’s stick to put the Avalanche on the board. That was their second short-handed score of the series, double their power-play goal total until Matt Moulson was penalized for slashing early in the second period.
Similar to their own-end struggles when the Avalanche skated with an empty net earlier in the series, the Wild had trouble clearing the puck on that power play. They paid for it when Holden zipped toward the net and knocked in the back-door pass from O’Reilly.
Duchene had the second assist, the first real sign of his return from the left knee injury that kept him out for the past month. The Avalanche leader with 70 points during the regular season, Duchene wasn’t cleared for action until minutes before faceoff and started on the fourth line with Brad Malone and Maxime Talbot, but he was given plenty of power-play time and didn’t appear to play with any rust.
The Wild stumbled through to the second intermission, lacking the edge they had here throughout Games 3 and 4 and in the first period of this Game 6, and the atmosphere in the building became anxious, with one more goal by the Avalanche holding the power to end the home team’s season.