The Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild put forth a spectacular show tonight. In a game that featured big controversies, shows of perseverance, major injuries, and stunning clutch goals, the Wild managed to eliminate the Avalanche with a 5-4 victory in overtime.
There were so many players worthy of mention in this game, but there’s no question that 21-year-old Wild forward Nino Niederreiter was the hero tonight. He had two goals and an assist, including the game-winning goal in overtime. That’s quite an accomplishment for a player that wasn’t able to establish himself with the team that originally drafted him, the New York Islanders, and was given a chance at a fresh start this season with Minnesota.
Speaking of redemption, 33-year-old forward Dany Heatley has seen his production steeply decline in recent years, to the point where he started this series in the press box. He came up big tonight with a goal and two assists.
Mikko Koivu also found the back of the net for the first time in this series while Charlie Coyle inspired the Wild by returning to the game after being struck in the face by the puck.
The news wasn’t all good for Minnesota though. Goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who has previously dealt with concussion problems, was hit in the head midway through the third period and left the contest. Ilya Bryzgalov replaced him and, after losing the first two games of this series, was credited as the Game 7 winner.
This has to be a bittersweet end for the Avalanche. There’s no question that they wanted to do better, especially after coming so close to winning the series, but they also exceeded most people’s preseason expectations for them. Rookie Nathan MacKinnon stepped up in the playoffs to get Avalanche fans excited about their future, even if he finished Game 7 with no points and a minus-three rating.
For the Wild, it will only get harder from here as their next opponent is the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Last night in Los Angeles, Kings forward Milan Lucic received a match penalty after skating the entire width of the ice to give San Jose’s Logan Couture a two-hand shove to the face.
Lucic didn’t hurt Couture, who had caught Lucic with an open-ice hit that Lucic didn’t like. Couture’s smiling, mocking face was good evidence that the Sharks’ forward was going to be OK.
This morning, Lucic was still in disbelief that he was penalized so harshly.
“I didn’t cross any line,” Lucic said, per Rich Hammond of the O.C. Register. “Believe me, if my intentions were to hurt him, I would have hurt him.”
While Lucic knew he deserved a penalty, he said after the game that he didn’t “know why it was called a match penalty.” His coach, Darryl Sutter, agreed, calling it “a borderline even roughing penalty.”
And though former NHL referee Kerry Fraser believes a match penalty was indeed warranted, Lucic said this morning that he hasn’t heard from the NHL about any possible supplemental discipline.
Nor for that matter has Dustin Brown, after his high hit on Couture in the first period.
In conclusion, it’s good to have hockey back.
Related: Sutter says Kings weren’t ‘interested’ in checking the Sharks
A statement from Raffi Torres:
“I accept the 41-game suspension handed down to me by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. I worked extremely hard over the last two years following reconstructive knee surgery to resume my NHL career, and this is the last thing I wanted to happen. I am disappointed I have put myself in a position to be suspended again. I sincerely apologize to Jakob for the hit that led to this suspension, and I’m extremely thankful that he wasn’t seriously injured as a result of the play. I also want to apologize to my Sharks teammates and the organization.”
A statement from San Jose GM Doug Wilson:
“The Sharks organization fully supports the NHL’s supplementary discipline decision regarding Raffi. While we do not believe there was any malicious intent, this type of hit is unacceptable and has no place in our game. There is a difference between playing hard and crossing the line and there is no doubt, in this instance, Raffi crossed that line. We’re very thankful that Jakob was not seriously injured as a result of this play.”
Silfverberg says he expects to play Saturday when the Ducks open their regular season Saturday in San Jose.