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Avalanche prove to be the faster, deadlier team in Wild season opener

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Avalanche use speed as their weapon. To combat that, Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau chose to dress Matt Hendricks with Eric Fehr and Marcus Foligno. Why? Because the Wild have been pushed around by the Avs in the past and Boudreau wouldn’t have any of it in Game 1 as he looked for his team to set the tone. Problem is, the Wild had issues getting to the offensive zone until third period desperation time and it cost them. Minnesota dropped game one by getting out-shot 40-21 and a score of 4-1.

The first period started competitively. Shots were quickly in favor of the Avalanche at 5-2, but on the Wild’s third shot on goal, Zach Parise roofed a centering feed from Mikko Koivu over Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov for an early 1-0 lead. Nino Niederreiter got the second assist and that line was off to a good start.

The teams went back and forth as the Avs poured on the shots, and the Wild tried to muster some semblance of zone time. Minnesota was clearly having difficulty dealing with the Colorado speed. It was on full display when Carl Soderberg used speed on a line rush to force Nick Seeler into a bad gap. He then shot through Seeler’s legs and over the glove of Devan Dubnyk to knot the game at one goal apiece. Matt Nieto had the lone assist on Soderberg’s game-tying goal.

The Wild got the game’s first power play chance and almost took advantage. Parise tipped a puck out of mid-air that rang the post. With Varlamov scrambling to find the puck, and the yawning net staring him in face, Matt Dumba corralled the puck and fired....right back into Varlamov, missing the open net. Perhaps Dumba was trying to avoid the defenseman from blocking the shot, or perhaps he just chopped it wide. Nevertheless, it was a glorious opportunity missed.

Shots were 14-5 after one period of play. Some thought the Avalanche might exhibit frustration after not cashing in more often with their chances. Dubnyk was really, really good throughout the game, and the shot that came through Seeler’s legs just didn’t allow for Dubnyk to pick up the puck quick enough to get a glove on the hard wrister. However, the Avs looked like they realized that they were the faster team and the Wild had no answer.

They proved it in the second period when Colorado put an 18 shot barrage on Dubnyk and the Wild cage. When the fourth line of Hendricks-Fehr-Foligno was on the ice, Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar did his best to get his top line out. When he did get that opportunity, the Wild spent too much time running around their own zone, and had issues breaking out of the defensive zone.

On one such breakout, Ian Cole stepped into the lane of Eric Staal. Staal then tried to sell it by wrapping his free arm around Cole and dragged him down. Both went off for co-incidental minors; Cole for interference, and Staal for holding. On the ensuing 4-on-4 play, Ryan Suter was forced to slash Matt Calvert when Calvert attempted to split the defense. In a weird 4-on-3 power play for the Avalanche, Dubnyk and the Wild penalty kill held strong, keeping the 1-1 tie intact.

After Suter returned to the ice, he got stuck on the ice for too long. His defensive partner Matt Dumba got off for his shift change, but Suter got caught chasing the puck as it came into the Wild end. Jonas Brodin and Suter got crossed up covering the same guy in Mikko Rantanen, while Koivu didn’t see Nathan MacKinnon slip behind him alone. Rantanen made a pass across the crease to the unguarded Hart Trophy runner-up for an easy tap-in. MacKinnon added an assist later in the game and finished with 8 shots on goal; leading all skaters in the game. Get this, MacKinnon finished with more than half of the shots the entire Wild team had through 40 minutes of play as the Avs led 32-13 in shots.

For the third period Minnesota needed to catch a break. They did. A fluky bounce high into the air got bat out of the air and into the net behind Dubnyk for what looked like an early, and insurmountable 3-1 lead for the Avs. Toronto had a second look at the play and discounted the goal because on replay, it looked like Colin Wilson hit the puck with his glove, negating the tally. The left gloved-hand of Wilson was still clutching the shaft of his stick when he swung away at the puck, but the rules, while ridiculously stupid, are the rules. Minnesota did indeed catch a break.

And they responded by not surrendering a shot to the Avalanche until midway through the period. Instead, the Wild tried to pour on some pressure themselves. They indiscriminately shot the puck towards the net and placed the puck into the middle of the ice. As the physicality of Colorado ramped up, Varlamov was force to make some big saves. Charlie Coyle drew a penalty early in the period to aid the comeback effort, but the power play, which looked good earlier in the game by moving the puck with speed and purpose and creating shots, this time looked hapless, slow and deliberate. The power play wasn’t helping them, and the Wild ended 0-for-3 with the man-advantage.

With just under two minutes remaining, Matt Dumba’s shot as Dubnyk headed for the bench was blocked allowing for an easy clear by the Avs. Jordan Greenway, who was the extra attacker, was late getting on the ice, and it caused some confusion for the Wild as the play developed slowly for Colorado. The pass went to Rantanen near the Wild bench and into the back of the empty net. Minnesota challenged the play for offside, but would fail. Rantanen dragged the left toe of his skate across the blue line as the puck entered the Wild zone.

Minnesota, now short-handed, and down by two, pulled Dubnyk again. J.T. Compher got the puck and scored again in the empty net; a power play goal even though it was five skaters aside. The Wild now head home after falling by a score of 4-1 against a division rival to take on the hockey darling Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas was throttled at home by the Flyers 5-2 Thursday night as well, so on Saturday someone’s 0 has to go.