From 29th in the league to second in the Western Conference, it was a dream season for the Colorado Avalanche. For first year head coach Patrick Roy and his club, the way it ended was more of a nightmare.
The Avalanche took the lead four different times during Wednesday night’s pivotal game seven of their opening round playoff series against the Minnesota Wild. All four times, they failed to hold on to said lead. Now the Avalanche’s season has come to a disappointing close.
The tragic end to Roy’s first season as head coach is strikingly similar to how his playing career concluded in 2003. A game seven ended up in overtime at the Pepsi Center; where an underdog Minnesota Wild team would emerge victorious.
“I have mixed feelings. There’s a side of me that’s very disappointed because we could have won that game,” said Roy. “But there’s a side of me that’s extremely proud of those players. I don’t have enough words to say how proud I am of them.”
The Avalanche got the scoring started early in the first period, when defenseman Nick Holden took his usual spot near the far post and put the puck in backdoor on a rebound for the powerplay tally. The goal was originally waved off, but the call was quickly changed. With the goal, Holden had lit the lamp in three consecutive games.
Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu would answer five minutes later, beating the normally sound Semyon Varlamov from a bad angle. The Wild used their cycle effectively to set up the play, however it was still a goal Varlamov would assuredly like to have back.
Five minutes later the Avalanche would strike again, with Jamie McGinn tipping a beautiful pass from rookie Joey Hishon past goaltender Darcy Kuemper. The assist was Hishon’s first NHL point. He now has three games under his belt, all coming in this series.
Dany Heatley would tie the game with the lone tally in the second, putting home a rebound. Then in the third, it would be absolute bedlam.
Each team would score twice in the final frame, alternating tallies. For the Avalanche it was Paul Stastny (who took the lead in playoff goal scoring with his fifth) and Erik Johnson (scoring his first).
30 seconds after Johnson had scored against him, Kuemper would leave the game with an injury. Replaced by Ilya Bryzgalov (the shaky starter of games one and two), Kuemper would not return to the contest. It would not matter, as the Avalanche would only must one shot on goal during Bryzgalov’s 13-minute tenure.
For the Wild, it was Nino Niederreiter putting home his first of the series to make it 3-3. Then it was the dagger in the heart, when Jared Spurgeon tied the game with less than three minutes remaining.
A noticeably deflated Avs team failed to muster much of anything in overtime. When they finally did get their lone shot on net during the extra frame, it was quickly turned the other way for an odd-man rush, with Niederreiter sniping the puck past Varlamov to end the series.
"It's heartbreaking, but I guess you have to take a learning experience out of it,” said Matt Duchene, who had three points in two games after returning from injury. “It should never have gone into overtime. I think we all feel that way. It's a terrible feeling right now."
With the win, the Wild will move on to their second round series against the Chicago Blackhawks. With the loss, the Avs’ season is over and the wounds still far too fresh to truly appreciate the remarkable turnaround they experienced during the 2013-2014 campaign.