Now that the 22-year-old has finally found a permanent home on the blue line for the Minnesota Wild, he is finally starting to play like it.
Burns scored off a rebound 4:41 into overtime lifted the Wild to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday.
“He’s taken his game to another level,” coach Jacques Lemaire said of Burns. “He’s just playing great.”
The game seemed destined for a shootout when Wild star Marian Gaborik took the puck right in front of the net and fired a shot that Colorado goalie Peter Budaj turned away. But the puck trickled out near the left circle and Burns was there to slam home the winner.
“It was an accident,” Lemaire joked. “The net above the glass, that’s the one he usually hits.”
Three of Burns’ four goals this season have come since Feb. 8, and he also played impressive defence on Sunday against Colorado’s potent offence, even drilling all-star Joe Sakic in the third period.
Burns bounced around from defence to forward and back again in his first two seasons with the Wild, but he said a growing chemistry with blue-line mate Keith Carney has made all the difference.
“If I mess up, Carney’s making a good play to cover me up,” Burns said. “He’s been such a good part of my game getting better.”
Mikko Koivu scored two goals and Niklas Backstrom made 21 saves for the Wild, who dealt their Northwest Division rivals a serious setback in their pursuit of the playoffs.
Avalanche rookie Paul Stastny assisted on a first-period goal, giving him a point in his 18th consecutive game and setting the NHL record for the longest point streak by a rookie.
But the Avalanche lost for the first time in six games and now face an uphill climb to get into the playoffs. They trail Calgary by eight points for the eighth and final playoff spot with only 13 games to play.
“I think we have to win almost every game,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Certainly we’d like to beat the Minnesotas and Calgarys going forward because they are the closest ones to us, but that’s what it’s like.”
If Colorado can’t catch the Flames and squeak into the post-season, it will be the first time Sakic and Co. go home early since 1993-94.
Milan Hejduk and Ian Laperriere scored for the Avalanche, who were dominated in puck possession for most of the game.
Minnesota has all but sewn up a playoff spot, leading the ninth-place Avs by 11 points.
Colorado took a 2-1 lead midway through an exciting third period when Laperriere took a centring pass from Ben Guite and beat Backstrom on the stick side.
The Wild needed just 22 seconds to respond. Pavol Demitra grabbed a loose puck behind the Colorado net and found Koivu to the left of Budaj. Koivu slipped the puck in on the short side, tying the game with just under 10 minutes to play.
Koivu’s only other two-goal game this season came at Colorado on Feb. 1, and he has scored seven of his 16 goals this year against the Avalanche.
“We got at least a point, fortunately,” Budaj said. “It’s pretty disappointing because we need two. But it’s not the end of the world.”
Hejduk’s power-play goal in the first period tied the game 1-1 and got Stastny into the record books.
Stastny got the second assist on that goal, breaking the NHL rookie record set by Teemu Selanne in 1993.
Rookie point streaks seem to run in the Stastny family.
Paul’s father, Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, had a point in 16 straight games as a rookie with Quebec in 1980-81. Paul also set a record for getting a point in his 14th straight road game, surpassing his uncle Marian Stastny’s 13 straight road games as a rookie with the Nordiques in 1981-82.
“It’s something special that I’ll look back on probably in the summertime,” Stastny said. “But right now it’s tough to take after losing 3-2 in a big game for us in overtime.”
Notes: Colorado RW Marek Svatos (groin) was listed as day-to-day but did not dress. … Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard (back) did not play. … Carney had three penalties in the game, which led to two Avalanche goals. … Hejduk has scored a goal in four straight games.