ST. PAUL, Minn. – The series is even, with Colorado and Minnesota each owning two victories, though the statistics suggest otherwise.
The Wild have held a lead for a mere 4 1/2 minutes of cumulative time, and the Avalanche have outscored them 9-0 in the first and second periods of the first four games. After three straight overtime decisions, the Avs broke out with a 5-1 win on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, however, there was a decidedly don’t-worry theme coming from the Minnesota dressing room following a late-afternoon practice.
“We don’t feel good about losing 5-1. But demoralizing? It’s 2-2,” left wing Brian Rolston said. He added: “We’re prepared for a long battle, and that’s what we’re going to have.”
The concern for the Wild in a seven-game series – and beyond – is their depth on defence, where the absence of Nick Schultz while he recovers from an appendectomy has been as costly as expected. The blue-liners forced into extended playing time performed impressively over the first few games, but they seemed to lose their energy and focus in Game 4.
Coach Jacques Lemaire called some of them out, namely Martin Skoula, for their shoddy play. He was asked on Wednesday if he anticipated a bounce-back performance in Thursday’s Game 5 in Minnesota.
“They better be,” Lemaire said.
The Wild lost their cool and were called in Tuesday’s game for 111 penalty minutes. Colorado’s agitators Ian Laperriere and Cody McLeod were involved in plenty of scrums, but they and the rest of their teammates avoided the march to the box that befell Minnesota. The Avalanche had 13 power plays and scored on two of them.
But a clear consensus came from both sides on this: The normally disciplined Wild won’t let that happen to them again.
“We know them too well over the last few years,” said Colorado left wing Andrew Brunette, who beat the Avs in the first round of the playoffs with a Game 7 goal when he was with Minnesota in 2003. “They play extremely well at home, and they’ll come out and play more disciplined. We have to be sharper.”
The Avs even downplayed the carry-over effect of all the rough stuff that turned the third period of Tuesday’s blowout into one big mess. They realized the Wild were blowing off some steam and trying to build some momentum for Game 5.
“It’s always like that,” Laperriere said. “If you’re on the other side you’ll do it. We’ve been there before. They tried to get the next game ready to go, and I totally respect that.”
After stopping 44 of 46 shots in Minnesota’s Game 3 win, Niklas Backstrom gave up five goals in Game 4 and was pulled after two periods. Again, the no-worries theme resounded from the Wild, who argued that sloppy defence in front of him was at fault and not Backstrom.
“He’s been our rock in this series, and we will obviously continue to lean on him,” defenceman Sean Hill said. “He’s the reason we win games.”
Marian Gaborik is often another reason why Minnesota wins. Fortunately for the Wild, they’ve picked up two victories without a single point from their star right wing.
“It’s tough. Room is scarce. I have to play through it. I can only work hard and make other contributions when the goals aren’t coming,” Gaborik said. “I have to work harder to get some chances and create openings – and shoot when I get them.”
Lemaire agreed, expressing confidence that Gaborik will eventually come through – but urging him to fight through the frustration to find those additional scoring chances.
“It’s a tight game. We mentioned that all along. Playoffs, it’s different. Guys, they check harder. They pay more attention to the top players,” Lemaire said.
Paul Stastny is having the same problem for Colorado. The leading scorer during the regular season doesn’t have a point yet, either.
That didn’t matter in Game 4, because the Avs got plenty of production up and down their lines.
“I think it’s a great sign. Some guys got an opportunity to put some pucks in the net and get some points, and that will help with confidence, not only individually but as a team,” left wing Wojtek Wolski said. “Winning by that kind of margin is going to help us.”
The Wild spun it the other way, of course.
“It comes down to who’s going to be playing better tomorrow and who’s going to want to win the game,” Colorado captain Joe Sakic said. “Everything that’s happened already has been forgotten. You look to tomorrow.”
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.