Wild claw back to bury Avalanche in Game 7

Minnesota Wild players celebrate their victory against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 of their...

Minnesota Wild players celebrate their victory against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series at the Pepsi Center in Denver, April 30, 2014. (RON CHENOY/USA Today)

Robert Tychkowski, Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:12 PM ET

DENVER - Apparently a one-game showdown for their playoff lives wasn't quite cut-throat and dramatic enough for the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild.

So it all came down to one period.

Then 10 minutes.

Then one shot.

And when the puck went in, it was like every last bit of fizz had been shaken out of the Pepsi Center.

The Avs were done.

Minnesota's Nino Niederreiter scored 5:02 into overtime in Game 7 to put the devastated Avalanche away once and for all with a 5-4 victory.

This was a classic Game 7 slugfest as the Wild and Avalanche took their furious series right down to the wire, going to overtime for the fourth time.

The Avs led 1-0 in the first period, Minnesota tied it up. The Avs led 2-1 in the second period, Minnesota tied it up. The Avs led 3-2 in the third period, Minnesota tied it up.

And when Erik Johnson made it 4-3, and Colorado was just 2:27 away from victory, yup, Jared Spurgeon tied it up.

Minnesota's first lead of the game came in overtime, where there is no coming back.

Colorado rode waves of adrenaline and crowd noise but Minnesota refused to let the Avs and their faithful push them out of the fight.

If there was ever a series that deserved a Game 8, this was it.

With the building still buzzed by the intros and the anthem, Colorado went right to work, making it 1-0 on a somewhat controversial power play goal at 2:52. Nick Holden put one into the gaping net during a goalmouth scramble that had Jamie McGinn pretty much laying on top of goalie Darcy Kuemper.

It counted, though, and the place went crazy. With teams that score first having won the last 17 Games 7s, it seemed like a pretty important turn of events.

Colorado continued with the early pressure, and probably could have chipped in a couple more were it not for some clutch saves from Kuemper.

Then Minnesota settled in and started to push back. They tied it at 8:04 on a quick release from Mikko Koivu at 8:04 and by the midway mark of the first period had turned an 8-2 shot deficit into 8-8.

They were in charge from then on, but fell behind 2-1 when Kuemper let in a soft one from McGinn at 13:38. It wasn't much, just a simple re-direction from about 25 feet out, but it found the 5-hole and Colorado led 2-1 after 20 minutes.

Despite what the scoreboard read, Minnesota was in full control. They held the Avs to one shot through a 22-minute span (from the seven minute mark of the first period to the nine minute mark of the second) and tied it on Dany Heatley's rebound from the doorstep at 7:27 of the second.

The shots were 20-14 Minnesota after two periods (18-6 since the seven minute mark of the first).

And suddenly one game for all the marbles became one period for all the marbles.

Paul Stastny made it 3-2 when put one in the top corner 2:55 into the third period, but the WId, tied it up for the third time when Nino Niederreiter put a bullet over Semyon Varlamov's shoulder at 6:33.

Johnson thought he might have won it when he made it 4-3 at 11:16, but Spurgeon saved the day for Minnesota at 17:33.

And suddenly one period for all the marbles came down to one shot.

Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper added to the drama late when he had to leave the game with an injury 12 minutes into the third period, with the Wild trailing 4-3. In came Ilya Bryagalov, who'd been very ordinary in losing Games 1 and 2, to close out the game.

It was a heck of a battle, with a razor-thin margin of victory every night. The Wild couldn't help but tip their helmets to an opponent that pushed them to the brink more than once.

“It’s two teams that are definitely going in the right direction with a lot of really good young players," said Wild forward Zach Parise. "There’s going to be a lot of good games between these two teams in the next little while.”


ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@Sunmedia.ca

TWITTER.com/SUN_TYCHKOWSKI


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