Denver, CO (SportsNetwork.com) - Nino Niederreiter's second goal of the contest was the overtime and series winner, as the Minnesota Wild claimed a thrilling 5-4 victory over the Colorado Avalanche in Wednesday's Game 7 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
Dany Heatley, who picked up a score in the second period, began the play with a long lead pass from his own defensive zone up to Kyle Brodziak, who chipped over to Niederreiter for a 2-on-1 break. Niederreiter then ripped a heavy wrister home from the right wing at the 5:02 mark.
"It happened so quickly. I didn't know how to react right away," said Niederreiter, the 21-year-old Swiss native who recorded his first career playoff goals. "It sure is a big stage. And I am very lucky to have gotten this chance. We needed to play at a higher level tonight, and we did, and got rewarded."
Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon also lit the lamp for the Wild, who advanced to the second round by winning the terminal contest in this best-of-seven set after erasing four one-goal deficits. Brodziak ended up with three helpers.
Ilya Bryzgalov picked up the win after stopping the lone puck he faced through 13:15 of action. He subbed for Darcy Kuemper, who departed the game late in the third period for an undisclosed reason, having allowed four goals on 21 shots.
Minnesota has won all three Game 7s in franchise history, all on the road, and has beaten Colorado twice. The Wild ended Avs head coach Patrick Roy's playing career with a 3-2 OT decision in Denver on April 22, 2003 and managed to end the Hall of Famer's first year behind an NHL bench in similar fashion.
Their reward is a second-round date with the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks beginning Friday night.
"Every game in the series it was a different guy. It wasn't an easy thing to win a game in this series at all," Koivu stated. "Both teams played hard and they played well. We have a big challenge ahead with the Stanley Cup champs and not a lot of time to prepare."
Nick Holden, Jamie McGinn, Paul Stastny and Erik Johnson scored for the Avalanche, who suffered a painful defeat after tying a franchise- record with 52 regular-season wins along with a Central Division title.
Matt Duchene and P.A. Parenteau chipped in a pair of assists each, but Semyon Varlamov was on the hook for all five scores on 35 shots.
"It was a good season overall, but right now it's just not fun. We got the lead four times, but they showed resilience," Parenteau admitted. "I thought we played a good game. They played a tight game from their defense, especially in the neutral zone. We had to find ways to fight through it."
Niederreiter went off for hooking just 1:50 in, and Colorado picked up the game's first goal just 1:02 later as Holden backhanded a loose puck through traffic and in from the left side of the crease.
Koivu evened things on a drive from the left side at 8:04, but McGinn restored the Avs' one-goal advantage at 13:38 by redirecting a Joey Hishon pass from between the circles.
Heatley pumped one past Varlamov from the left side of the crease to forge a 2-2 deadlock at the 7:27 mark of the second period, and the game continued its back-and-forth momentum swings.
The Avalanche assumed a 3-2 advantage just prior to the three-minute mark of the third period, as Stastny moved up from his point position just below the circles to meet up with a centering feed by Parenteau and beat Kuemper with a shot through traffic.
Niederreiter atoned for his earlier mistake and tied the game with a rising wrister from the right circle at 6:33 that beat Varlamov high to the far side.
Kuemper made a slick save on Ryan O'Reilly's rush up the middle as the clock ticked down within nine minutes left in regulation, but the Wild netminder didn't have his bearings when Johnson jumped into the play and put his club up 4-3 with 8:44 to play on a low shot from distance.
Seconds later, Kuemper was lifted in favor of Bryzgalov, who hadn't appeared since Game 2. The sudden change paid off when Spurgeon allowed an Avs player to slide by him, then let fly from the right circle and Minnesota gained a 4-4 deadlock with 2:27 on the clock.
"They were a desperate team tonight, and it's hard to keep a desperate team from the net," Duchene said. "I thought we had them. This is heartbreaking. We have to learn from this. The game should not have gone into overtime."
Minnesota's Mikael Granlund had the best chance for either side early in the extra session, moving uncontested up the left wing and chipping a shot off the pad of Varlamov roughly 2 1/2 minutes in.
Minnesota forward Zach Parise saw his six-game point streak (3G, 7A) come to an end in the victory ... Colorado rookie forward Nathan MacKinnon finished the series with 10 points (2G, 8A) in three Avalanche wins, but zero in their four losses. The favorite to win the Calder Trophy finished with a game-worst minus-3 despite four shots on goal ... The Wild improved to 9-5 all-time in playoff elimination games, and upped their mark to 5-1 against the Avalanche in such contests ... The Avalanche/Nordiques fell to 6-7 all-time in Game 7, including 4-6 since moving to Denver ... Minnesota dropped a five-game, first- round series to Chicago last season.