Wild vs. Avalanche Game 7: Preview and Prediction for NHL Playoff Series Finale

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2014

Wild vs. Avalanche Game 7: Preview and Prediction for NHL Playoff Series Finale

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    Chris Schneider

    Home ice has been everything in the first-round series between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche.

    The Wild are going to do everything they can to reverse that trend, while the Avalanche want to do everything they can to keep it going.

    After losing Game 5 in heartbreaking fashion, the Wild put their signatures on Game 6 when Zach Parise deflected Mikko Koivu's shot past Semyon Varlamov for the game-winning goal late in the third period. The Wild would add two empty-net goals and come away with the 5-2 triumph.

    But once the puck drops Wednesday night in Denver, that momentum will matter very little. The Wild have been able to earn third-period leads in two of the games played on the Avs' home ice, but Paul Stastny and rookie Nathan MacKinnon have not allowed the Wild to sustain those advantages.

    It's win-or-go-home time in this series. The winner gets the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. The loser plays golf.

Series Summary and Viewing Information

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    Ann Heisenfelt

    This series got off to a shocking start as Minnesota took a two-goal lead into the third period of Game 1, and it appeared the Wild would steal home-ice advantage.

    However, the Avs rallied with two goals in the third, including Paul Stastny's tying goal with 12 seconds remaining. Stastny beat goalie Ilya Bryzgalov with the winner 7:27 into overtime.

    The Avs had a more conventional 4-2 victory in Game 2 and appeared to be in good shape as the series shifted to Minnesota for Game 3. The Wild dominated that game, outshooting the Avs 46-22, but they did not put the game away until Mikael Granlund scored the only goal 5:08 into overtime.

    The Wild squared the series with a 2-1 victory in Game 4 and seemed to have a good shot at breaking the home-ice stranglehold when they took a 3-2 lead 6:25 into the third period on Kyle Brodziak's goal. That advantage held up until Patrick Roy pulled goalie Semyon Varlamov and P.A. Parenteau tied the game with 1:35 remaining. Nathan MacKinnon won the game for Colorado early in the overtime session.

    The Wild managed to remain alive with a 5-2 victory in Game 6 at the Xcel Energy Center as Zach Parise scored two goals, including the winner on an artful deflection in the third period.

    The Avs will host Game 7, which can be seen nationally at 9:30 p.m. ET on CNBC. The game can also be seen on Fox Sports North in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and Altitude in and around Denver.


Biggest Storylines

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    USA TODAY Sports

    A superstar emerges 

    The Colorado Avalanche fell in love with Nathan MacKinnon before last year's draft and surprised the hockey world when they made him the No. 1 selection. While most thought the defensively needy Avs would pick Seth Jones, MacKinnon has been explosive throughout his rookie season.

    The 18-year-old scored 24 goals and 63 points in the regular season, but those numbers pale in comparison to the 10 postseason points (two goals and eight assists) he has scored against Minnesota. 


    Parise provides leadership

    The Wild signed Zach Parise to a 13-year, $98-million contract prior to the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season because they wanted a leader who could take over in big moments. Parise has done just that in this series, as he has tied MacKinnon for the NHL postseason scoring lead with three goals and seven assists. The Wild are expecting to see more of Parise's leadership in Game 7.


    Roy does it his way

    Patrick Roy has had a remarkable season as the rookie head coach of the Avalanche. This team was clueless a year ago, finishing with a 16-25-7 record that placed them dead last in the Western Conference. This year, the Avs won their division with 112 points, as Roy has pushed and inspired his team to a consistent performance.

    One of his signature moves is pulling his goalie much earlier in the game than his peers have ever done. It has worked out repeatedly, and Roy deserves credit for changing the mindset of NHL coaches.

Key Matchup

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    Wild defenseman Ryan Suter
    Wild defenseman Ryan SuterUSA TODAY Sports

    Ryan Suter is the Minnesota Wild's iron-man defender. He is averaging 29:52 of ice time per game in the postseason. He appears to be on the ice in nearly all clutch situations, and his mission is to shut down the speedy Colorado Avalanche.

    The Avs' most dangerous player is Nathan MacKinnon, the quicksilver rookie who has already scored 10 points in the first six games of his playoff career. One of Suter's most important jobs in Game 7 will be to contain MacKinnon as much as possible.

    Since the Wild will be on the road, it will be difficult for head coach Mike Yeo to get his preferred matchups. However, Yeo will tap Suter on the shoulder any time he thinks his team is in a vulnerable defensive position. 

    If MacKinnon can skate with freedom, the matchup should work out well for Colorado. However, if Suter can pound MacKinnon and keep him from dominating in the offensive zone, the advantage could swing to the Wild.

    Give the veteran Suter the slight edge in this matchup.

Goaltending Breakdown

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Semyon Varlamov has been the backbone of the Avs' defense throughout this season. He led the league with 41 regular-season wins and posted a 2.41 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.

    He has continued to perform well in the postseason, recording a 2.45 GAA and a .923 save percentage. He has not been impenetrable in the playoffs, but he has been solid.

    Minnesota's Mike Yeo started the playoff with Ilya Bryzgalov in goal but pulled him midway through the second game and replaced him with Darcy Kuemper. That move has worked out brilliantly, as Kuemper has a 1.53 GAA and has a save percentage of .934.

    Still, this is Game 7, and Kuemper must prove he can make the key saves at the crucial moments of this game and handle the pressure.

    Give a slight edge to Varlamov based on his consistency and dependability throughout the year.

Projected Lineups

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    Ann Heisenfelt

    Minnesota Wild Lineup

    Forward lines

    Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Matt Moulson
    Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville
    Justin Fontaine, Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter
    Kyle Brodziak, Dany Heatley, Cody McCormick

    Defense pairings

    Jonas Brodin, Ryan Suter
    Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon
    Nate Prosser, Clayton Stoner


    Darcy Kuemper, Ilya Bryzgalov


    Colorado Avalanche Lineup

    Forward lines

    Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Paul Stastny
    Jamie McGinn, Ryan O'Reilly, P.A. Parenteau
    Marc-Andre Cliche,Dody McLeod, Maxime Talbot
    Matt Duchene, O'Reilly*, Parenteau*

    Defense pairings

    Jan Hejda, Erik Johnson
    Andre Benoit, Nick Holden
    Nate Guenin, Ryan Wilson


    Semyon Varlamov, Jean-Sebastien Giguere


    *O'Reilly and Parenteau were double-shifted in Game 6, according to DobberHockey.com.

The Wild Will Win If ...

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    Chris Schneider

    Minnesota was the better team in the three games it played on its home ice, and the Wild also played well enough to win in Games 1 and 5 in Colorado.

    That should give the Wild plenty of confidence. They had the capability of winning five of the six games played in the series. If they take that belief into the Pepsi Center with them, they should have an excellent chance to break the series trend and win on the road.

    However, the Wild have had a difficult time protecting late leads in the third period. If thoughts of past failures linger, that could prove fatal in this game.

    The other factor is Darcy Kuemper. While his numbers have been brilliant, he gave up a late tying goal in Game 5, and the prospect of protecting the net in Game 7 could prove to be overwhelming. If he can stand up to the pressure, the Wild should be in good shape.

The Avalanche Will Win If ...

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images

    The Avalanche are loaded with speed and talent. In addition to the explosiveness of MacKinnon, players like Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly, Paul Stastny and P.A. Parenteau can all be difference-makers.

    Additionally, Matt Duchene (knee injury) returned to the lineup in Game 6 and appeared to get stronger as the game went along. He has a chance to become an impact player once again in Game 7 and could prove to be an X-factor in the decisive game.

    Head coach Patrick Roy has brought out the best in his players all season long. There's no reason to think he won't do the same for Game 7. 


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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Wild were clearly the dominant team on games played on their home ice and gave a very good account of themselves in two of the three games played in Colorado. They easily could have won Games 1 and 5 in Denver, so the Wild should have confidence when the puck is dropped.

    The Avalanche may have a speedy and talented team, but the Wild appear to be a bit more solid on the defensive side thanks to the shutdown combination of defensemen Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin.

    Minnesota will find a way to overcome their late-third-period difficulties and come away with the victory.

    Final score: Minnesota 5, Colorado 3