DENVER – Here's a prediction to take to the bank: Game 4 of Tuesday night's Wild-Avalanche playoff series will be won 3-2 in overtime. Guaranteed.
Why should we expect anything different from these nearly identical Northwest Division rivals?
On Monday night it was Minnesota's turn to suddenly end the skating for the evening. Pierre-Marc Bouchard's snap shot from the slot off a Brian Rolston feed at 11:58 – the time on the scoreboard if not almost the real time – sent the Wild gleefully into the night with a 2-1 series lead.
Of course, a big assist goes to Colorado defenseman Jeff Finger, who veered left when a puck that would have meant icing had he touched it first went right and took a bad bounce off the boards and net. Rolston took the right path, in more ways than one.
But to simply finger, um, Finger is taking a snapshot of an overtime period that was just waiting for Minnesota to score. Just how odd is a series that has featured three straight 3-2 finals in overtime? Not nearly as odd as the fact the Wild lead this thing despite allowing the first goal in every game, and failing to score one themselves in the first two periods of any contest.
"It's just the way it goes," Wild center Mikko Koivu said. "We're getting chances and I'm sure they'll start going in."
Koivu was a major reason why the Wild won this game. He, along with linemates Marian Gaborik and Todd Fedoruk, were buzzing around Colorado's net their last three or four shifts. They weren't on the ice for the winner, but the momentum they created with their pressure, their tight cycling near and in front of goalie Jose Theodore, put the hosts on their heels.
The end was coming, that was obvious.
"I think we have to be better defensively," said Avalanche forward Joe Sakic, who was guilty of allowing Minnesota's second goal, but redeemed himself by tying it late in regulation. "It was another tight game, and that's what we expected from here on out."
Despite getting outshot 46-39, the Wild had the better of Monday's game. With Gaborik playing well for the first time in the series, that set the tone and seemed to filter through the lines.
As usual, the Wild were solid on special teams – a trademark of any team coached by Jacques Lemaire. Minnesota snuffed out all six Colorado power plays, and scored a go-ahead goal midway through the third period short-handed.
Sakic made a poor decision to pinch at the right point, and away went the Wild 2-on-1. Pavol Demitra led the rush, had an easy path to pass the puck to Rolston, who had time to secure it on his stick, take a peek and fire his first goal of the series and sixth career shortie.
The Avs' Theodore was the best player in this game. Time after time he made huge saves, especially late. He had no chance on any of Minnesota's three goals.
"I don't think we played our best game," Colorado forward Peter Forsberg understated. "I have to be a little better. Tonight could have gone either way, too, but I think we have to play a little better if we are going to win (Tuesday)."
Colorado couldn't build on a 1-0 lead it earned during even strength at 15:19 of the first period on Andrew Brunette's first goal of the series. The Avalanche put 17 shots on goal in the second period, but Niklas Backstrom stopped them all.
"I can't think too much if we're scoring or not," Backstrom said. "I try to stop the puck and make it difficult for the other team to score. I just tried to focus on that, focus on my thing and hope we get a scoring chance and the guys score a goal."
That's exactly what happened as Koivu collected his third goal of the series at 7:13 of the third period.
"It's not like we not trying to protect a lead," Brunette said. "They've got some good bounces."
The good bounces figure to be the difference in this series since the teams are so close. And that will continue during Tuesday's 3-2 final.