The Colorado Avalanche exorcised their Game 6 demons Saturday.
Ben Guite scored his first-ever playoff goal and Jose Theodore made 35 saves to guide the hometown Avalanche to a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild and clinch their Western Conference quarter-final in six games.
The victory was sweet revenge for Colorado. In the 2003 playoffs, the Avalanche enjoyed a 3-1 first-round series lead over the Wild before Minnesota stormed back with three consecutive wins — the last two in overtime — to bounce Colorado from the post-season.
Three other times in its 13-year history, Colorado has blown a 3-2 lead to lose a series — to Detroit (in 2002), Dallas (1999), and Edmonton (1998).
Avalanche forward Ryan Smyth, who scored his fourth career playoff-winning goal Saturday, was cognizant of Colorado's sketchy past and said the team didn't want to have to return to Minnesota to play Game 7.
"The Wild know what it takes to win over there. They play a tight-checking game," Smyth told Hockey Night in Canada.
He also had plenty of praise for Theodore.
"He's been tremendous throughout the whole series. I've been fortunate over the years to play with some great goaltenders, but there's no question Jose won the series for us," Smyth admitted.
Theodore stopped 72 of the 75 shots he faced in the last two games against the Wild and even though he was kept busy, the Avalanche netminder didn't mind the extra work.
"As a goalie you have to be ready because in some games you might not get many shots. I felt great throughout the series, we played solid hockey. I was able to see the puck and all the credit goes to my teammates," Theodore said.
Colorado notched the opening goal for the sixth time in the series with Guite scoring a short-handed goal at 8:02 of the first period. The Wild turned over the puck at the Avalanche blue-line and Joe Sakic scooped it up before sliding a perfect pass to Guite who beat Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom on a breakaway.
Sakic earned an assist on the play, his 184th career playoff point to tie Bryan Trottier for ninth place on the NHL's all-time list.
The Wild came out strong at the start of the second period and only needed 36 seconds to level the score. Minnesota had a five-on-three rush and Aaron Voros finished off a pretty passing play by collecting a cross-ice feed from Marian Gaborik and ripping it over the glove of Theodore.
Smyth restored Colorado's advantage with eight minutes left in the period on a heads-up play. The Avalanche forward made a neat spin move along the boards to keep the puck inside the Minnesota zone, and then shook off a Wild defenceman and scored on a one-timer off a pass from behind the net.
The Wild furiously pressed for the tying goal in the third period, but solid play by defenceman Adam Foote and veteran forwards Sakic and Peter Forsberg, who chipped in defensively.
"That was awesome to see. He's a guy that's still got it," Smyth said of Forsberg.
Theodore concurred with Smyth's assessment.
"Forsberg made some great plays. Foote was back there and never panicked with the puck, and Joe won a big faceoff at the end. Those are the kinds of situations where you can't buy experience, and we have that with this group," said the Avs goalie.
Theodore made a great glove save off Kim Johnsson's shot with 21 seconds left to preserve the win for Colorado.
Minnesota defenceman Nick Schultz returned to the lineup for Game 6 at Colorado, less than two weeks after undergoing an emergency appendectomy.
Schultz, who played 81 games during the regular season, had surgery on April 7 — just two days before the playoffs began.