For three periods, Mikael Granlund and the Minnesota Wild were flinging puck after puck at Semyon Varlamov, who was busy playing the part of impenetrable force.
Finally, in overtime, such persistence produced a reward.
Granlund's diving goal 5:08 into overtime gave the Wild a 1-0 win over Varlamov and the Colorado Avalanche in Game 3 on Monday night to pull within 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Semyon Varlamov stopped 45 of 46 shots, a franchise playoff record for shots on goal by the Wild.
"It felt like we were taking it to 'em pretty good, so to not get frustrated at that point, not start to drift and get away from our game, that's what good teams do," a proud Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
Granlund, who had a career-high seven shots on goal, sliced toward the crease and moved parallel to the net with some slick stick work. Avalanche defenceman Erik Johnson, who saved Game 1 by racing to swat away a shot on an empty net, lost his balance and tried unsuccessfully to dive at Granlund, who then began to fall forward. Granlund extended his stick to knock the puck in, and the celebration ensued.
"We were playing really good. We were creating chances. We got rewarded. We need to just keep playing like that," Granlund said
Barrie to miss at least 4 weeks
Game 4 is at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday, when the Avalanche will be without defenceman Tyson Barrie. He took a knee-to-knee hit in the second period that yielded a penalty for Matt Cooke and a medial collateral ligament injury for Barrie. Coach Patrick Roy said he'll be need four to six weeks to recover.
"Knee on Tyson Barrie is without a doubt the play of the game. We lost our best offensive defenceman," Roy said, expressing confidence the NHL will suspend Cooke.
Darcy Kuemper made 22 saves, and the Wild goalie in his first career playoff start was just as good as Varlamov. He said he had a feeling this would be another one-goal game.
"I just tried to stick with it and make the saves I had to," Kuemper said. "My teammates were obviously playing unbelievable and making it easy on me. I was just trying to do my job and stay sharp."
After the Avalanche line of Nathan MacKinnon, Paul Stastny and Gabe Landeskog combined for 17 points and seven goals over the first two games, the Wild kept them from doing any damage. The Wild shuffled their lines, with veteran Dany Heatley's move off the scratch list the most notable change, and played their style. They didn't get enough guys to the net for long rebounds Varlamov has a tendency to produce, but they completely controlled the flow, even if there wasn't much to show for it.
"We were a little on our heels. We could've been a little bit better, played a little more simple," MacKinnon said.
After wasting a 4-2 lead in Game 1, giving up the tying goal with 13 seconds left to Stastny, as well as the overtime winner, the Wild badly needed to recapture some energy. They did from the opening faceoff, firing up a crowd that's been waiting 11 years for a playoff series victory.
The Wild finally figured out how to contain the super-fast MacKinnon, forcing the 18-year-old wonder to have to stay in his own zone. They had the Avalanche on their heels for the majority of regulation. Cooke was all over the ice in his 100th career playoff game, colliding with just about every white Colorado jersey.
"We didn't play up to what we're capable of, there's no doubt. But I'd rather give them credit. They played well. They were sharp. They were the better team on the ice," Roy said, adding yet more praise for Varlamov.
Thanks to Granlund, the Wild avoided the huge hole.
"Let's not kid ourselves. This is a huge win for us, not only to get the win but the way that we played the game, the way that we played our game," Yeo said. "We know that next game is going to be even bigger and a tougher test, and we're going to have to be real good. But there's no question that we needed this one."