- Associated Press - Friday, April 18, 2014

DENVER (AP) - Erik Johnson saved the night for Colorado with his quick feet and thinking.

The Avalanche defenseman raced from the blue line to the goal line and swatted away a puck just three inches shy of sliding in for a game-sealing, empty-net goal by Minnesota late in regulation.

His stop during a 5-4 overtime win may have been overshadowed by Paul Stastny, who tied the game with 13.4 seconds left and then scored the OT winner.

But Johnson’s play certainly wasn’t lost on the Avalanche as they take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series into Game 2 on Saturday.

“If that doesn’t happen, that hustle out of E.J., we’re not here in this moment,” Stastny said.

Almost fitting that Johnson would turn in such a big play against Minnesota.

After all, he was born in Bloomington - a suburb of the Twin Cities - and played college hockey at the University of Minnesota.

That shot he stopped on the doorstep of the goal? It was taken by fellow Gopher Erik Haula.

Trailing 4-3 with 1:32 left and goaltender Semyon Varlamov on the bench for an extra skater, Haula sent a wrist shot into the air and skidding down the ice.

“I watched the replay and the puck slowed down,” Haula said.

Just enough for Johnson, racing at full speed, to reach out at the last instant and bat it away with his stick, before crashing into the net and bumping it off the pegs.

“I didn’t think I could get it, then I turned on the afterburners and it slowed down and turned on its edge and I was able to make a last-ditch, desperation effort,” said Johnson, whose team took it easy Friday rather than go through a taxing workout. “That’s just one of the plays in the game that was fun to make and help the team win.”

With apologies to Varlamov and Ilya Bryzgalov, it was by far the biggest save of the game - the kind of play that lifts one team and demoralizes the other.

“Certainly gives us momentum, no doubt about it,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. “That has to hurt (Minnesota) a bit. But I’m sure they’re going to do a really good job to have their team ready.”

The late collapse is already forgotten - as much as it can be anyway. The Wild were a relaxed group in an hour-long practice at Pepsi Center on Friday. Forward Matt Cooke helped Pittsburgh win a Stanley Cup title in 2009 and knows these kinds of twists are going to happen in a series.

Story Continues →