In order to acquire Nino Niederreiter at the 2013 draft, the Minnesota Wild traded fan favotite Cal Clutterbuck. How, many wondered, could Niederreiter ever replace Clutterbuck in the hearts of Minnesota fans?
Easy. Score the Game 7 overtime goal to propel the Wild past the Colorado Avalanche and into the second round of the NHL playoffs. (Well, that's not actually all that easy. But it's what Niederreiter did.)
It was Niederreiter's second goal in a game that was as packed with drama as the six games leading up to it.
All series long, the Wild and the Avalanche traded goals, leads, momentum, confidence, and Game 7 was no different. Heck, it was less a game than a microcosm of this series.
The Avalanche opened the scoring, and the floodgates, at 2:52 of the first period on a powerplay marker from Josh Holden.
Not long after that, Mikko Koivu, who dominated the Avalanche in terms of possession all series but just wasn't getting the bounces and had yet to get a goal, finally did exactly that, beating Varlamov with a snapshot on a feed from Charlie Coyle.
The Avalanche jumped out ahead again just five minutes later on a goal from Jamie McGinn.
But early in the second, the ghost of Dany Heatley made a showing, scoring his first goal of the series to knot it up.
Then, in the third, Paul Stastny gave the Avalanche another lead, beating Darcy Kuemper with a shot after a feed from P.A. Parenteau that, if intentional, was the pass of the postseason. Parenteau got the puck around Ryan Suter by banking it off the side of the goal like he was playing skee-ball.
Would that put the Wild away? Hardly. Niederreiter tied it up just four minutes later with his first ever playoff goal on a beautiful wrist shot.
The Avalanche tried again. Erik Johnson made it 4-3 on another feed from Parenteau, who recovered the puck after being stoned by Kuemper on a breakaway attempt.
But the Wild refused to go away. After failing to hold their one-goal lead in Games 1 and 5, they got a little revenge in Game 7, with Jared Spurgeon scoring inside the final three minutes to send the game into overtime. The team had erased four Colorado leads. Now they just needed to take one.
Fortunately, Niederreiter had developed a proclivity for playoff goal-scoring, and he went back for another hit, taking a feed from Kyle Brodziak after Dany Heatley sprung the pair two-on-one. He put the Colorado Avalanche away.
The Wild deserved this. They outplayed Colorado all series long, outside of Game 2. They outshot the Avs on a regular basis. They were in position to win 6 of these 7 games. But what they've lacked since the postseason began was the ability to deliver the knockout blow.
In their absolute last chance, Niederreiter figured out how. And now the Wild advance to round 2 for just the second time in their history, meeting the Chicago Blackhawks for the second time in the last two years.