Who thought the game would have played out like that?
Maybe you thought one of tonight's hero would have been Zach Parise. You'd be justified in thinking that. He finished Round 1 of the playoffs tied for the lead in points with 10, and was the 98 million dollar man two offseasons ago. You would also be forgiven if you thought Jason Pominville, MInnesota's regular-season leader in scoring would be the one to step up tonight. Or youngsters Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund, who have stepped up their game considerably in the playoffs, combining for 5 goals and 5 assists in this series.
No. It turned out, you may not have suspected who tonight's heroes were. Maybe you don't like them. Maybe you cringe when they take the ice. Maybe you want them benched, traded, or bought out.
A lot of those players stepped up tonight.
No high-profile Wild player gets the flak that Mikko Koivu gets. He is the captain on a team that includes former captains Zach Parise and Jason Pominville, as well as Ryan Suter, who could probably have been captain in Nashville were it not for Shea Weber. He gets paid like a number one center, and while possession statistics would back that up, many see his lack of goals and call him overpaid for it. He was torched for his lack of production in the post-season last year, and even garnered a slight call-out two days ago. He has had his attitude and demeanor questioned by fans and by media, both from people we respect, and people we don't.
But when the Wild were down 1-0 on a goal most of the hockey world thought very little of, Mikko Koivu was the one to tie up the game. Koivu dominated in possession, as well, forcing 21 shot attempts to the Avs' 10 when he was on the ice.
In 194 games in a Wild uniform, Dany Heatley has scored a grand total of 47 goals and 102 points. This season he managed only 28 points in 76 games- only 7 points more than the previous season, where he played only 36 games. He has been (rightfully) called out for his lack of speed and diminished scoring touch, and one of last offseason's biggest disappointments was the Wild being unable to buy him out. His play has prompted clamoring by fans for his benching, as well as one clever fan writing a limerick suggesting that he performs fellatio on certain... members... of the Wild brass to have stayed out of the press box as long as he had. I was terribly disappointed when he returned to the lineup.
That 7.5 million dollar cap hit payed off when it was needed most, though, as Heatley scored the goal to tie it up 2-2, and then went on to assist on the third and fifth (Game-Winning) goals. The only thing he blew in this series was the minds of the fans.
As much hate as Heatley gets from fans, Kyle Brodziak may be able to match it. The defensive forward was signed after a campaign that saw him score 22 goals. Unfortunately, those were the expectations people had for him, and that production was a result of the role he was forced to play, rather than his true talent level. Brodziak has struggled this season, particularly offensively, and the tough minutes he plays magnifies the mistakes he makes defensively. He was rumored to be on the trading block at the deadline and still may be this offseason. He made a high-profile turnover in Game 1 that arguably was the reason the Wild lost that game, and he was benched for Game 2.
Brodziak may or may not have tipped in the third Wild goal of the game (Nino Niederreiter received credit for it, but I'm not entirely convinced Brodziak didn't get a piece of it). He then assisted on goals 4 and 5.
Some people do look deeper and love Jared Spurgeon. Others look at his size (specifically, lack of), and assume he's too small and soft to be an effective defenseman. Though there's a compelling statistical argument that Spurgeon, not Ryan Suter, has been the Wild's most effective defenseman this season, it can be difficult to convert fans to this line of thinking. Every time Spurgeon gets out-muscled by a bigger player, it's mentioned on Twitter. When Spurgeon makes tough mistakes (such as failing to clear in Game 1), you hear about it.
But when the chips were down, and the Wild needed a goal, it was Jared Spurgeon making an absolutely perfect top-shelf shot that beat Varlamov with 2:27 remaining in the game.
Nino Niederreiter has been mentioned time and again by the coaching staff and media as someone who needed to get his production up to the levels displayed earlier in the season. And it's true that he only had 1 point in the series, and just 4 points in his last twenty games. But his minutes must be considered as a factor in that. Partially a victim of his own grit, Niederreiter has been pigeon-holed for good parts of the season to be a third, and sometimes fourth-liner. He played 16 minutes tonight, only the second time in his last 21 games he has matched or exceeded that time on ice.
But Nino shone brightest last night, scoring two goals and adding an assist, including that overtime winner. Beautiful.
This doesn't change everything. Dany Heatley is still going to leave, Kyle Brodziak may follow, Koivu may never get the respect his play merits, and there will be people who never look past Spurgeon's physical limitations. But man, aren't we lucky that for one night, all of these guys proved their doubters wrong?