|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2014||[Print without images]|
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It is for nights just like these that the Minnesota Wild dropped $98 million for 12 years of Zach Parise two summers ago.
With his team's season hanging in the balance Monday night, the star winger scored his second goal of the night with a game winner that epitomized what he's all about.
With Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson hanging all over him, Parise hung in front of the net battling, then getting his stick loose just in time to deftly tip a Mikko Koivu shot past netminder Semyon Varlamov.
The goal with 6:29 to go in the third period nearly blew the roof off Xcel Energy Center, the State of Hockey very much approving of their native son's clutch moment and clutch game as the Wild added a pair of empty-netters for a 5-2 victory, which forced a seventh and deciding game.
With two goals and two assists on the night, Parise raised his game when his team needed it most. That's what the great ones do come playoff time.
"Going into the third period of a game we needed to win, tied, there was a lot on the line for us," Parise said. "I thought, for the most part, we played a pretty solid game and dictated a lot of the play.
"It's at the point where we all have to elevate our game at this time of year. In a game where you're facing elimination, everyone needs to play well, and I think we all played a good team game."
|Zach Parise had two goals and two assists to force a decisive Game 7.|
The Wild needed every ounce from every skater on a night when the Avalanche played their best road game of the series, erasing a 2-0, first-period deficit and looking like they might have it in them to end the series in six games.
The Avs outshot the home team 14-6 in the second period and enjoyed more puck possession in one single frame than they did in both previous losses here.
"I thought they had a really good second period. They had some good zone time. We weren't as crisp as we had been, and they were able to tie it up," Parise said of the Avs. "But we had a good third, and we had a good push when we needed to."
The Wild limited the Avs to just three shots on goal in the final period and took back momentum, showing the kind of desperation they needed to save their season.
The deafening reaction from the Xcel Energy Center crowd, especially with a pair of empty-net goals that capped the evening, saluted a gutsy third period by the home team.
"If I'm saying it's not emotional, I'd be lying when you've got a building that's rocking like that," Koivu said. "That's why it's so special -- moments like that. Both teams played hard, and, obviously, [I'm] very happy that we came out on top."
The game winner was all about grit, with Parise standing his ground with Johnson for the re-direction.
"I don't know. I just tried to get in front and in good position and hope someone sends it towards the net," Parise said. "I think I had him [Johnson] on my right shoulder, and I was able to wave at it and get a piece [of the shot]."
The Wild victory overshadowed the return of star center Matt Duchene of the Avalanche, who had missed 13 games with a left knee injury.
He was eased back into play early in the game with fourth-line duty, but that quickly changed. Late in the opening period, head coach Patrick Roy already moved Duchene back up to play with Ryan O'Reilly in the pairing that played together all season. Duchene picked up an assist in 18:52 of ice time, and, despite the loss, his return had an obvious impact on the Avs. His creativity and speed were at times on display even though there might have been a little rust.
"You got to learn to trust an injury like that when you come back," Duchene said. "As the game went on, I got more confident with it. There's still a long ways to go, but next game is Game 7, and you lay it all on the line."
He still needs time before he's himself again, 100 percent.
"It went probably how I expected [it] to in terms of how I felt," Duchene said. "There's a long way to go for me, but I've got to find it quick here for Game 7."
Game 7, indeed. It's a series that deserves to go the maximum, and there is so little to choose from between these two clubs.
"It's been like that all season long when we play those guys," Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog said. "It's tight hockey. It's back and forth, and it's a grinding type of game. I'm looking forward to Game 7; I'm assuming it's going to be the same thing."
And it's in Denver, which is significant in a series in which the home team has gone 6-0.
"We fought all year to be in this position, if there was a Game 7. It's in our building in front of our fans," Roy said. "I think it's exciting. It's great for our team. It's going to be a great experience. I'm sure our players are excited about it. We're not happy to lose tonight, but both teams played well and it was a great hockey game that could have gone either way. It went their way tonight."
Why such a homer series? Is it the crowd? The last line-change advantage?
"All of the above, I think," Landeskog said. "Especially [the] last change is always big and important. You want your matchups, and, certainly, it plays a big role. Absolutely."
The way these two teams have gone back and forth in this series, you figure overtime is in order for Game 7. What better way to end a series that's provided all kinds of entertainment?