DENVER – Niklas Backstrom helped the Minnesota Wild forget a disappointing loss with a dominant performance.
Backstrom had 37 saves for his third shutout of the season and 25th of his NHL career, and Greg Zanon scored in the Wild’s 1-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night.
Jean-Sebastian Giguere had 20 saves for Colorado, which has lost four straight and continued to struggle at home against Minnesota. The Wild are 10-1-2 in their last 13 visits to Denver. Backstrom is 9-1-2 in those games and 20-5-2 in his career against Colorado.
“I thought he was in control all night,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said of Backstrom. “He was controlling his rebounds, and positionally he was just in a great spot. He never looked in trouble.”
His standout performance was a much-needed remedy after the Wild’s home loss to Nashville on Tuesday. Minnesota led the Predators 4-1 with 10:38 left but lost 5-4 after giving up three goals in the final 3:21 of the third period.
“Last game was tough for us, so this game was huge for us,” Backstrom said.
Especially against a team chasing them for a playoff spot. Minnesota is eighth in the Western Conference, three points ahead of Colorado, and has played two fewer games than the Avalanche.
“It’s great for us with how close the race is,” Zanon said. “It pushes them further behind us with a couple of games in hand.”
Zanon gave the Backstrom the only goal he needed on the Wild’s first shot of the game. After an icing by Colorado, Kyle Brodziak won the faceoff to Dany Heatley, who slid the puck to Zanon. Zanon moved to the centre of the zone before sending a shot through traffic that beat Giguere with 13:56 left in the first period. It was Zanon’s second goal of the season.
“It was a shot that went through a bunch of guys, and it’s unfortunate but sometimes these things happen,” Giguere said. “It’s the story of the game.”
Backstrom made it stand up, but Colorado didn’t make it easy in the third period. The Avalanche, desperate to score the tying goal, recorded 17 shots in the final frame. Ryan Wilson hit the post with 15 minutes left when Colorado was swarming in the Minnesota end.
Giguere went to the bench for an extra skater with 1:46 left. The Avalanche got their first power play 26 seconds later, but managed only two shots.
“It was an outstanding effort, coming off last game,” Yeo said. “Emotionally, it was not easy, but to see our guys respond the way they did says a lot about our group.”
The game became physical and chippy in the second period. Colorado forward Cody McLeod fought Clayton Stoner moments after Stoner’s teammate Darroll Powe levelled David Van Der Gulik with a blindside hit. Later in the period, Avalanche forward Chuck Kobasew and Carson McMillan fought after McMillan hit Kobasew with a shot to the head.
“We’re both fighting for that playoff spot so we both don’t want to give up an inch to any team,” Colorado rookie Gabriel Landeskog said. “The physical part is just part of the game. It was just a physical, playoff kind of game out there so we’ve just got to make sure to stay on the body and keep playing like that.”
Stoner left later in the second period because of an undisclosed lower body injury and didn’t return.
The teams traded scoring chances in the second, but neither broke through. Colorado had 10 shots in the second and nearly scored on Jay McClement’s sliding chance in the final minute.
Minnesota came back, but the Wild were denied by a great save by Giguere. After making the initial stop on Brodziak, Giguere was knocked down when the Wild centre was checked into him. Cal Clutterbuck sent the rebound toward the top of the net, but Giguere got a glove on the puck at the last moment and sent it over the crossbar.
NOTES: The Wild, third in the NHL in blocked shots coming into the game, had 26 on Thursday. … Landeskog had his four-game point streak snapped. … Colorado’s Milan Hejduk has 48 points in 62 career games against Minnesota. His 12 power-play goals are the most against the Wild. … Avalanche coach Joe Sacco has been stuck on 99 career wins for four games.