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Fernandez stops 43 shots as Wild advance

4/26/2003

DENVER (AP) -- No one gave the Minnesota Wild much of a chance
against the Colorado Avalanche, not even their coach.

The Wild proved everyone wrong.

Andrew Brunette scored 3:25 into overtime and Manny Fernandez
stopped 43 shots as the Wild won their first playoff series with a
3-2 victory over Colorado on Tuesday night.

"Every player put heart and soul into it," said Marian
Gaborik, who scored Minnesota's second goal. "The feeling is
something that I don't have words for right now. I don't know. It's
just unbelievable."

Several Wild players said before the series that they would be
happy with just one victory against the two-time Stanley Cup
champions. Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire even said after Game 4
that his team had no shot at winning the series.

Yeah, right.

The Wild won three straight games -- the last two in overtime --
to become just the eighth team in league history to come back from
a 3-1 deficit with two victories on the road.

The Wild will face Vancouver in the next Western Conference
series. The Canucks beat St. Louis 4-1 Tuesday night.

"We knew we weren't going to give an inch. No way, not
anywhere," said Sergei Zholtok, who had two assists. "We have
been battling and there were a lot of times we were on the line,
but we found a way."

The Avalanche wound up getting knocked out in the first round
for the first time in five years because they let another opponent
hang around.

Four times in the last five years, Colorado had to play a Game 7
after blowing a 3-1 lead. The Avalanche won three of those series,
with the only other loss coming against Edmonton in 1998 -- the last
time Colorado didn't make it past the first round.

"We didn't put them away in Game 5 and this is what happens,"
Colorado's Joe Sakic said.

The odds weren't on Minnesota's side. Of the 193 previous teams
that trailed a series 3-1, only 16 came back to win. Just seven did
it with two road wins.

It didn't matter to the Wild.

They stuck to their defensive style and rode Fernandez's hot
glove to win three games in Denver after going 0-6-2 here in three
years.

"We had a chance to put a team away and we weren't able to do
it," Avalanche coach Tony Granato said. "When you give an
opportunity and then you play a seventh game, anything can happen.
And it proved tonight."

Brunette scored the winner after Zholtok lost the puck between
two defenders just inside Colorado's blue line. Brunette skated in
on the left side, held the puck, then switched to his backhand
before flipping a shot over Patrick Roy.

"I was going to shoot from out, but I didn't think I would have
a great shot," said Brunette, who also had two assists. "I didn't
think I could beat him, so I tried to go to old faithful."

The Avalanche had plenty of scoring chances, but they couldn't
get past Fernandez and the Wild kept counter punching.

Sakic put Colorado up 2-1 with 6:45 left in regulation,
one-timing a pass from Alex Tanguay on a power play for his sixth
goal of the series.

The crowd was still cheering strongly when Gaborik tied it on a
power play with 4:28 left. Gaborik knocked in a rebound after Roy
stopped Brunette from the right circle.

Colorado's Peter Forsberg opened the scoring 6:16 into the
second period, knocking in a rebound after Fernandez stopped
Sakic's wrister.

The crowd roared, but again the fans didn't get to cheer long.
Pascal Dupuis tied it just 1:22 later on a power play, circling
around the net to slip a backhander past Roy on a rebound. Roy
stopped Zholtok on the first shot, but couldn't cover it.

"We are a resilient group," Brunette said.

But they wouldn't have gotten anywhere without Fernandez.

Fernandez had played just 19 career minutes in the playoffs
before the series, while Roy had played 240 playoff games _ 13 more
than the Wild had combined -- and had won four Stanley Cup titles.

Fernandez wasn't intimidated.

He stopped 108 of the 114 shots he faced after replacing Dwayne
Roloson in the first period of Game 4 and made several spectacular
saves in Game 7. He stopped 16 shots in the second period and six
more in overtime.

"He was unbelievable," Brunette said. "Our goaltending is the
reason we are here."

Not that the Avalanche didn't have chances.

Rob Blake caught Fernandez going the wrong way on a shot from
beyond the blue line late in the period, but it hit the left post.
Forsberg hit the right post early in the third period on a shot
that caromed off Minnesota's Willie Mitchell.

"This will last a long time. It doesn't feel that good right
now," Granato said. "But you look back at it in a few days we
will probably be a little excited about what we were able to
accomplish."

Game notes
Colorado D Adam Foote returned after missing Game 6 with a
sore foot. Avs LW Eric Messier returned after missing two games
with the flu. ... Eight of Minnesota's 16 goals in the series were
on special teams. ... Minnesota was 7-for-29 on the power play in
the series, including 2-for-4 in Game 7. ... Colorado D Martin
Skoula lost his stick midway through the third period after it got
stuck in a door at the corner of the ice. ... Roy is 12-5 since
2001 in games after a playoff loss, but lost his last two.

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