DENVER (AP)—Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire didn’t think his team had much of a shot against the Colorado Avalanche.
His players proved him wrong.
“I always thought that our guys would battle to the end,” Lemaire said. “I had some doubts last night and today before the game. They showed me that I was wrong to doubt.”
Colorado had a chance to close out the series after winning three straight games, but struggled in yet another Game 5 at home.
The Avalanche came out flat and were sloppy with the puck through the first two periods to lose a potential series-clinching fifth game at home for the fourth time in five years. Colorado won two of the previous series in seven games and lost to Edmonton in seven games in 1998.
The Avalanche lead the best-of-seven series 3-2, but will have to win Monday in Minnesota to avoid a Game 7 Tuesday in Denver.
“I thought we were ready, but obviously we came out flat,” Avalanche coach Tony Granato said. “They were able to take advantage of it and played a solid game. By the time we got going, it was too late.”
Minnesota played its defensive scheme to near perfection, limiting Colorado’s scoring chances and frustrating the Avalanche with physical play.
The Wild are still in it, but their chances to advance aren’t great. Of the 193 teams in NHL history that have trailed a series 3-1, only seven have come back to win two games on the road.
“Nobody predicted us to be in the playoffs in the first place,” Minnesota’s Darby Hendrickson said. “We have been resilient, we haven’t given up. We’re going home and we’re excited about that. Anything can happen.”
But the win didn’t come without some anxious moments.
The Wild led 3-0 after two periods, but Steven Reinprecht scored just 2:01 into the third after spinning around off a rebound to beat Fernandez with a wrist shot from the right circle.
“We played well in the third,” Morris said. “We did a good job of getting pucks deep, created a lot of opportunities. We didn’t score any pretty goals, but that’s what you have to do. Hopefully, it will carry over.”
Fernandez didn’t get tested much early, but he was there when the Wild needed him.
He stopped Bates Battaglia from close range during a power play in the first period and knocked away another shot without his stick a few seconds later.
In the third period, he stopped Colorado on three power plays and turned away 13 shots—the same number he faced in the first two periods combined.
Fernandez battled injuries and split time in goal during the regular season with Dwayne Roloson, but didn’t get his chance in this series until Roloson was pulled in Game 4 after allowing two goals on four shots.
“It’s been a tough year for me,” Fernandez said. “I fought through it and I battled through it. I know that there is some goals tonight that I could have stopped, but getting the win was the most important thing.”
The Wild figured their only chance was to get off to a fast start.
They got it just 3:41 in, when Mitchell beat Roy from just inside the blue line with both teams down a man.
Roy initially blocked Mitchell’s hard slap shot, but the puck rode up his right leg and bounced in off his stick.
That silenced the crowd and gave Minnesota confidence against Roy, who frustrated the Wild by stopping 66 of 69 shots the previous three games.
“The first goal means a lot,” Minnesota’s Wes Walz said. “It would excite any team when you’re playing on the road and have your backs against the wall. Obviously, it’s a huge goal.”
Roy couldn’t get back in time after getting caught up near the left post, and he lay face down on top of his stick for several seconds after the goal.
A short chorus of boos from the crowd followed the Avalanche off the ice after the period.
“There’s no explanations. We were just flat all game and if you get down on them 3-0, it’s tough to come back,” Sakic said. “It was just one of thosedays where we were flat and just never got going.”
The goals by Dupuis and Mitchell were the first of their careers in the playoffs. Kuba’s scored his first in Game 1 against Colorado. … Fernandez had 19 minutes of playoff experience before replacing Roloson in Game 4. … Colorado LW Eric Messier was a healthy scratch after missing Game 4 with the flu. … The team that has scored first has won every game in the series. …Reinprecht’s goal was his first of the playoffs.