DENVER, Colo. -- You didn’t need the plus-minus stat or the "Three Stars" awards to tell which guy in the visiting locker room felt the best after the Minnesota Wild beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-4 in overtime in a back-and-forth, back-and-forth Game 7 at the Pepsi Center.
Nino Niederreiter, who scored twice Wednesday, was almost as stunned as the Mile High crowd when he scored the game-winning goal 5:02 into overtime on a 2-on-1 chance. But it wasn’t him, either, on this night.
The biggest smile in room belonged to goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. His stat line on Wednesday: one save on one attempt.
After the 33-year-old was benched during Game 2 after inconsistent play, Bryzgalov returned to the ice midway through the third period in relief of injured starter Darcy Kuemper and helped the Wild grab their first playoff series win since 2003.
In 13 minutes, 15 seconds in net, Bryzgalov faced just one chance from the Avalanche, who struggled to create shots all series -- but to their credit, it was a good one. The much-beleaguered goalie, however, made a sliding save, stopping the shot with his left shoulder in the opening minutes of overtime to extend the game.
Bryzgalov became the only goalie to record one save and earn a Game 7 victory.
“It doesn’t sound like much but that [save] was huge for us,” said Niederreiter, who finished off the game minutes later with a patient shot that beat Varlamov. “That was our season there.”
Bryzgalov has had a rough going the past couple of seasons. Following playoff success with the Anaheim Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes in the first decade of his career, the netminder’s reputation went downhill fast after he didn’t live up to his bloated contract with the Philadelphia Flyers from 2011-2013.
He was bought out during the 2013 offseason, but returned to the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers this season, before the Wild took a chance on him at the trade deadline.
Wednesday, for 13-some-odd minutes, Bryzgalov was perfect.
“[Tonight] felt good,” Bryzgalov said, “just wanted to help the team.”
After the game, Wild coach Mike Yeo showed confidence in Bryzgalov for the first time this series -- perhaps knowing he has no choice as the severity of Kuemper’s injury is still unknown -- saying the Wild would be in good shape with whoever started in goal in the second round.
“If only we had any experience dealing with this," Yeo said with a smirk. "We're fortunate we have good depth at that position."
The Wild face the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in the second round, a rematch of a first-round series that the Blackhawks won in five games last season.
Game 1 is Friday in Chicago.