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Updated: March 14th, 2013 11:35pm
Myers: New additions complete one of prettiest goals in Wild history

Myers: New additions complete one of prettiest goals in Wild history

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by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- What happened on a chilly Thursday in March is exactly what Minnesota Wild fans had dreamed about way back on July 4, when the mercury topped 100 and the expectations of local hockey fans were running even hotter.

They'd known Mikko Koivu for years, and knew all about his skills and never-ending work ethic. It was the two new guys now playing with Koivu, and completing one of the prettiest 3-on-2 rushes in the history of this franchise, that had folks dreaming all those months ago.

Koivu scored an empty-net goal in the final minute on Thursday to cap the Wild's 5-3 win over a downtrodden but pesky Colorado team. But it was the other goal he scored, into a de facto empty net late in the second period, which will have folks buzzing for some time.

In terms of dollars and cents it was a $200 million goal, as defenseman Ryan Suter got the puck alongside Koivu and Zach Parise, with a pair of Avalanche defenders trying, and failing, to break up the play. Suter passed to Parise, who naturally draws a crowd with his skill and his propensity for shooting the puck. The defense, and Avs goalie Seymon Varlamov, made a dash toward Parise, sure the shot was coming any second as he sailed deeper and deeper into the offensive zone with the puck.

"I knew Ryan was going to give it back to me, and I had my mind made to try and get it across to Mikko," Parise said, joking that goalies know his tendencies. "I think (Varlamov) knows I like to shoot."

So at the last second, Parise dropped to a knee and zipped a pass across the ice to Koivu, who was streaking toward the crease, unobstructed. By the time the puck got to the Wild captain, Varlamov had slid so far out of position that not a piece of his padding was touching the blue paint, leaving Koivu a completely empty net. The Finnish star snapped a wrist shot into the upper corner, as the crowd of nearly 19,000 went bonkers.

Typical of his soft-spoken Scandinavian nature, Koivu is known for a dead-serious, humorless approach to the game, even after a big win. But on this night, he cracked a joke when asked if that was the kind of play he'd envisioned all those months ago, when general manager Chuck Fletcher had acquired Suter and Parise.

"I didn't expect they'd even pass it to me," Koivu said, to roars of laughter. "But they did tonight."

It was just one goal, and on the scoreboard looked identical to the fluttering fluke that Colorado forward P.A. Parenteau scored in the first period, tying the game 1-1 for a time. But by the time it was over, the Wild had gotten 40 shots on goal and another vital two points in the Northwest Division race, which is quickly becoming a two-horse affair between the Wild and Canucks, as teams like Colorado, Calgary and Edmonton drop further and further back.

For a time, it was shaping up to be a do-over of the frustrating loss to Anaheim a few nights earlier, when the Wild dominated everywhere but the scoreboard, and found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Despite 13 shots in the first period, and an early Torrey Mitchell goal, they emerged tied. They had 19 more shots in the second, and took a 3-1 lead on goals by Devin Setoguchi and the first NHL goal by rookie defenseman Jonas Brodin, only to have Colorado need just 23 seconds to answer.

But the Suter-Parise-Koivu goal changed everything, not just on the scoreboard. Colorado would get another Parenteau goal in the third, and make a game of it. But what the Wild have lacked in puck luck as of late, they're suddenly making up for in sheer work and skill, bringing a level of talent to the game that hasn't been seen on a rink in Minnesota in a long time.

And their coach admitted that plays like that one are making a lot of hockey fan dreams forged on July 4 come true.

"I'm sure a lot of people envisioned that," Mike Yeo said. "That was a very entertaining play to watch by three extremely skilled players. That was a big-time goal."

That it was the key play in a big-time win was just a bonus, and it provided hope for many Wild fans that dreams they first had last July could come true 11 months later, then the Stanley Cup playoffs end in late June.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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