The Minnesota Wild could not have started the season stronger.
This game was so good they found themselves acknowledging afterward they probably won’t be able to repeat it.
Zach Parise scored one of the Wild’s four goals in the second period and assisted on two others, helping them overwhelm Semyon Varlamov and the Colorado Avalanche 5-0 on Thursday night.
“We caught Colorado on an off night. Let’s be honest: They’re a much better team than that,” Parise said.
The franchise-record 48 shots on goal and the fourth career shutout for goalie Darcy Kuemper were nice, sure, but the Wild were already sounding a little anxious about having to face the Avalanche again two days later in Denver.
“To sit here and expect us to go and play 82 games like that, it’s not going to happen. And I can tell you, to play two games like that, it’s not going to happen,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “We’re going to have to be ready for a different game. That’s still a very good hockey team. That’s still a team that won the division over there.”
For the Avalanche, coming off a franchise-record 52 wins, this was a stunningly flat start. They had four power plays and didn’t put a single shot on net, finishing with just 16 for the game.
“Competing was the word that was missing in our game. We didn’t engage. We avoided every battle. They were faster on every puck than we were,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said.
Jason Pominville scored in the first period on one of Mikael Granlund’s two assists and helped set up a goal by Jared Spurgeon in the second. Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Suter scored, too, prompting chants of “Sieve! Sieve! Sieve!” from the fired-up overflow crowd.
Varlamov, who gave up five goals on 38 shots, was replaced by Reto Berra for the third period.
“Varly played great. There were a lot of point-blank chances that we know we can’t give up,” said right wing Jarome Iginla, the all-time leading scorer against the Wild who didn’t attempt a shot.
The Avalanche will surely be ready to redeem themselves in the rematch.
“That’s a tough game, but it’s nice that we don’t have to wait too long. We get a chance to be a lot better than we were tonight,” Iginla said.
The end-to-end dominance by the Wild was reminiscent of Games 3 and 4 of their Western Conference quarterfinal in April, when they outshot the Avalanche 78-34 to even the best-of-seven matchup they went on to win in overtime at Colorado in the decisive game.
Except this time, the Wild turned those scoring chances into flashing red lights behind the net.
Suter set up the first goal with a long lead pass that bounced beautifully off the boards to Granlund, whose shot off the rush was denied by Varlamov but became a rebound for Pominville to poke in.
Then the Wild really poured it on after the first intermission. Parise was all over the ice as usual, jockeying with Jan Hejda for position to knock in the rebound of his own shot to put the Wild up 3-0 during a 4-on-4.
Ryan Carter and Erik Johnson were given simultaneous roughing penalties for a scuffle around the Wild net that left Carter, who just signed with his home-state team this week, with a bloodied forehead and nose.
But that was about all the fight the Avalanche showed on this night.
The Wild improved to 12-0-2 in home openers. They had a tie in 2000, their inaugural game at Xcel Energy Center, and lost in a shootout last year.
With 11 players in their 20-man lineup age 24 or younger, there’s plenty left to prove, but with the poise and polish of leaders like Parise, Suter and Pominville, there are building blocks in place for a legitimate contender in a competitive conference.
Granlund is centering the Parise-Pominville line, and they were cycling around the offensive zone so fast that Carter joked he was dizzy watching from the bench.
“They’ve got some of the faster guys in the league on their team, but it seemed like we were in their face through the neutral zone,” Parise said. “That’s five guys playing together. It’s a good sign.”
Yeo has never been afraid to shuffle his lines, but that might be hard to do with this group.
“That’s a very confident group. They’ve got a lot of chemistry together and they read off each other very well — in all aspects of the game, too,” Yeo said.
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