Zulgad: Granlund's overtime goal saves day, and maybe season, for Wild
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ST. PAUL -- Mikael Granlund's goal Monday night at Xcel Energy Center won't be featured on a stamp, but that didn't make it any less important for the center or his Wild teammates.
Trailing Colorado 2-0 in their first-round playoff series, and having dominated the Avalanche for most of three periods, the Wild entered the scoreless overtime holding a 44-20 advantage in shots on goal and nothing to show for it.
That is until the 22-year-old Granlund worked his latest bit of Kent Nilsson-like magic with the puck to send the announced crowd of 19,221 home happy. Game 4 will be Thursday night at the X and instead of facing elimination, the Wild will be looking to even the series.
"I am excited," Granlund said, putting up a mild protest, when it was mentioned he seemed to be taking the biggest goal of his NHL career in stride.
Granlund can be forgiven.
This is a guy who three years ago scored a lacrosse-style goal for Finland in the semifinals of the world championships against Russia. Granlund's country went on to win the goal medal and an image of his memorable goal was placed on a first-class Finish stamp.
Granlund's goal Monday might not have been as pretty, but it wasn't lacking for style points.
On what would become his seventh shot of the night, Granlund took a feed from Jason Pominville and cut toward the side boards. He bounced off those boards, as if he was using them on purpose, and made a nice move to rid himself of defenseman Jan Hejda.
Granlund cut toward the front of the net with Hejda in pursuit.
He then maneuvered around fallen Avs defenseman Erik Johnson and, as Granlund began falling, he swiped the puck past goalie Semyon Varlamov, who was helpless on the ice. The goal came at 5 minutes, 8 seconds of overtime and capped a game that the Wild completely dominated for large stages.
The Wild, who had to wonder if they were going to be able to put any pucks past the spectacular Varlamov (45 saves), had a victory in a game they had to win.
"I was able to get to the net and just found a hole there and tried to get there and then it was pretty much an empty net," Granlund said, selling himself way short. "It was a good team effort the whole game, and I think we played a really good game."
Wild coach Mike Yeo had a far more in-depth analysis of Granlund's game-winner.
"I look at that play and first off you've got a player who is very skilled but it's a strength play," Yeo said. "It's winning a battle. It's an ability to get separation. This is where we've talked about his improvement as a player, looking at last year, getting used to the smaller ice surface (in the NHL).
"In a lot of ways it can be more of an advantage than the bigger ice surface. ... When you have that kind of quickness coming out of the corner, you get half a step on a guy and it can turn into a great scoring chance. I think he showed that tonight."
Zach Parise, who played left wing on Granlund's line, noticed the center was on his game early.
"He was all over the puck," Parise said. "In the first period he was walking out of the corner and had a lot of stuff plays (at the net). That's the way he ended up scoring the goal. It was awesome seeing him score that way. It was great."
Granlund's skill level is such that his goal shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone. The key was for him to get back into the flow of things after he suffered at least his second concussion of the season in late March.
Granlund did not play in the final six games of the regular season. He returned for the Wild's first two playoff games in Colorado but had no points.
A year ago that would have been a concern. Granlund bounced between the Wild and Houston of the American Hockey League, finishing with only two goals and six assists in 27 games in Minnesota. That was far from what was expected for the ninth-overall pick in the 2010 draft.
Was Granlund a potential bust? Turns out that wasn't close to being the case.
He looked like a far different player when healthy this season. Granlund was far more aggressive and, even though he's only 5-foot-10 and 186 pounds, the physical stuff doesn't bother him this time around. In fact, the Wild has become concerned that at times Granlund initiates too much contact.
Granlund finished with eight goals and 33 assists in 63 games this season and also helped Finland win a Bronze medal at the Winter Olympics. He ranked tied for third in scoring at the Games with seven points, including three goals, and was named to the all-tournament team.
"Granny coming back off the injury, you know it's going to take a couple of games for him to get going, at least, and he showed tonight that it was only going to be a couple," Yeo said. "He took it to a new level tonight. The goal he scored was just an amazing play.
"But his all-around game was very much the way he's played for us all year. He had a few similar plays early in the game where he was able to beat a guy down low and he was very aggressive in that and eventually he got rewarded."