St. Paul, Minn. — When the Stanley Cup playoffs last visited Minnesota, the North Stars skated in front of 13,000 fans and nearly half as many empty seats at Met Center in Bloomington. But when the Minnesota Wild took the ice for their first home playoff game, there was not an empty seat within shouting distance of St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center.
The 19,354 fans in attendance set a new record for the biggest crowd to see a hockey game in Minnesota. Just three and a half minutes into the game the full-throated crowd watched as Minnesota goaltender Dwayne Roloson skated behind his net to clear the puck. By the time Roloson got back in the crease, the puck was coming off the stick of Colorado's Alex Tanguay and disappearing into the net for the game's first goal. The team that scores first has won each of the three games in this playoff series. Avalanche Coach Tony Granato says the early score plus the goaltending of Patrick Roy made the difference for Colorado in game three.
"We used the energy and the enthusiasm in the building the right way. And I thought the start was a very good one for us. And obviously Patrick was Patrick. He had to make a lot of big saves. When we needed them, he made them," Granato said.
Minnesota's leading scorer, 21-year-old Marian Gaborik of Slovakia, agreed that the first goal was important.
"When you score the first goal, you jump on the horse right away and you have some confidence. And they scored the first goal but we didn't let up," Gaborik said.
Wild forward Richard Park says Colorado's initial score came so early in the game that Minnesota's spirit was still strong.
"We knew from that point on it'd be a long game. I mean, obviously there was a lot of hockey left. We did our best to try and rebound but it just didn't work for us tonight," said Park.
The Avalanche scored again in the second period and again in the third. Meanwhile, Minnesota never did solve Patrick Roy, who earned his 150th playoff victory. That's more than any other goalie in National Hockey League history.
With the win, Colorado takes a two games to one lead in the best-of-seven series.
Wild defenseman Jason Marshall says the team will try to stay the course when it takes the ice for game four Wednesday.
"I just think we've got to just stay with the same game plan. The guys are working hard. The effort's there. Eventually we'll hopefully make our own bounces," Marshall said.
Coach Jacques Lemaire says there is one thing he'd like to see his team do differently. "Maybe get a goal," he suggested.
Minnesota plays a low-scoring brand of hockey, specializing in defending a lead once they do score. Lemaire is convinced the Wild play better after they get on the scoreboard.
"We get a goal, there's some energy that we get from that goal and then we start to play better. We did that all year. Maybe getting the first goal, it's the energy again that keeps us going," he said.
Even though it now trails in the series, Lemaire's team is not likely to feel much pressure. The Wild surprised the hockey world by making the playoffs in only their third year of existence. They renewed that surprise by upsetting the Avalanche in Denver in the series opener.
Center Cliff Ronning, the only member of the Wild with substantial playoff experience, says the team won't worry too much about the loss on home ice. "We just have to be ready for the next game. We can't worry about what's happened. When we first came in the series, people said we couldn't put one goal in the net; then (that we) couldn't get a win. So, we need to try to get that second win. That's our goal now. We've got one win, we've got to go for that second."
Wednesday's game four is also in St. Paul. The series then returns to Denver for game five on Saturday.