The Minnesota Wild's frenetic overtime victory was, in some ways, the antithesis of what's supposed to make a Game 7 so remarkable. You think of a Game 7 and you think of the tension. The buttclenching fear that one turnover, one save, one play is going to decide the series. And that suffocating pressure generally plays out best on a backdrop of a static scoreboard; missed chances, great saves, coulda-shoulda-been goals piling up when just one would change everything, even as the clock runs down unnaturally slowly or quickly (depending on whether your team has the lead or is trailing.)
In a platonic Game 7, the horrible anticipation provides the excitement. From the third period on in last night's 5-4 Wild win over the Avalanche, which saw Colorado take and squander four leads, there simply wasn't time for that tension to peak. It was a fireworks show, one that provided every bit as much excitement as a 1-0 nailbiter, and it was the most memorable and well-deserved win in Wild history.
These are the goals from the slugfest third period, and I'm more interested in the crowd reactions than the plays themselves. The game was in Denver, so each new Avs lead earns an instinctual roar from fans who have every reason to believe they just saw the series winner. Each Wild answer earns a groan of disbelief—here we go again.
2:55 in: Paul Stastny gives Colorado the lead.
3:38 later: Nino Niederreiter gets it back.
4:43 after that: Erik Johnson wrests the lead right back.
6:17 later: Jared Spurgeon locks it up again.
That's a roller-coaster, for the folks in the arena and the fans of both teams watching at home. No time to celebrate, or be deflated, or optimistic, or to start preparing yourself for the worst. (To say nothing of the players. "Whew," Mikko Koivu said. "It was tense playing in it, too.")
To overtime it went, the smallest of sample sizes, but this time, probabilities paid off. The Wild were by far the better team on this night and in six of the series' seven games, outshooting and outpossessing a feisty but defensively suspect Avalanche team (which lost Tyson Barrie in Game 3).
The probabilities probably didn't see Nino Niederreiter coming, though. Already an Islanders castoff at age 21, Minnesota traded away folk hero Cal Clutterbuck for him last summer. He scored his first career playoff goal in the third, assisted on Spurgeon's tally, and scored his second 5:02 into overtime:
It clipped crossbar, hit the back support, and popped back out, and for a split second, Niederreiter wasn't sure he had done it. Kyle Brodziak had a better view—in the video, you can see him raise his arms and hear him yell before anyone else in the arena reacts. But, yes, Niederreiter, the Swiss national, had just put himself into Wild lore.
"Nino's got himself in some trouble now," Wild coach Mike Yeo joked. "He's raised the bar. We're going to expect that now."
The Wild move on to face Chicago, and it'll be tough. But this is the franchise's first postseason win in 11 years. That's victory enough.
It's a disappointing out for Colorado after winning the Central, even if their #fancystats said this wasn't as much of an upset as the standings would have you believe. They're one of the more fun teams to watch that we've seen in a while, with exciting young talents like Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan O'Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, and Tyson Barrie, all under fiery and innovative new coach Patrick Roy. But don't shed tears for their exit; it's because of those same names that they'll be back in the postseason for many years to come.