DENVER – Spot the Minnesota Wild a lead after two periods, and it’s game over, thanks for playing.
So far, at least, that’s proven to be the case. Minnesota improved to 20-0-0 this season when taking a lead into final period, beating the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on Thursday night. Pavol Demitra’s 10th goal of the season gave the Wild the lead heading into the third period and they made it stand up – as usual.
“We should try to do that more often,” said Niklas Backstrom, whose team took over the lead in the Northwest Division heading into the all-star break. “We play with confidence when we’re up.”
No one more than Backstrom, who improved to 25-0 in his career with his team up after two periods.
“You want to finish,” said Backstrom, who finished with 28 saves. “You can see the end and you want to fight. You’re more sharper and ready.”
With a lead in hand in the third period, the Wild simply bear down on defence and clog up the middle, making it difficult for an opponent to get a good scoring chance.
“They are a well-coached team and stick to their system very well,” John-Michael Liles said. “That neutral zone is always tough to get through.”
The Avalanche thought they tied the game midway through the third, but officials waved off Milan Hejduk’s apparent goal because it was played off a high stick.
“Tough call,” Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said.
Todd Fedoruk and Brian Rolston also scored for the Wild as the team won in a building that hasn’t been friendly to them. Minnesota is 5-15-0 with two ties in 22 games at the Pepsi Center.
Then again, the Avalanche are playing without Joe Sakic (sports hernia), Ryan Smyth (fractured right ankle) and Paul Stastny (appendectomy).
“That’s a lot of big guys out of their lineup,” said Demitra, who also had an assist. “But they’ve played good games.”
Andrew Brunette and Wojtek Wolski scored for Colorado.
Jose Theodore made his 10th straight start, stopping 34 shots. Yet he’d like to have a do-over on Demitra’s goal.
Demitra gave Minnesota the lead for good on a nifty play midway through the second period. After Kurtis Foster’s shot from the blue line bounced out of Theodore’s glove, Demitra kicked the puck to himself on the other side of Theodore and knocked it into a vacant net.
“It was a bad rebound on my part,” Theodore said. “I’m really frustrated about that.”
Backstrom knows the feeling. The Avalanche caught a break with 28 seconds remaining in the first period when Backstrom tried to corral a shot that had slipped behind him with his stick and bumped the puck into the net.
The goal was credited to Brunette, his 10th of the season.
“It’s good that it didn’t decide the game,” Backstrom said. “Mistakes happen, but you have to be ready for the next shot.”
Rolston went nine games without a goal, but has rediscovered his touch. He’s scored in three straight games, including a power-play goal in the first period against Colorado, his 17th this season.
“I knew I had to step up my game,” Rolston said. “You can’t go that many games without producing. It’s a difficult thing scoring goals in this league. But it’s nice to get back on track. I certainly want to continue that.”
Notes: Colorado’s T.J. Hensick was recently named to the American Hockey League All-Star Classic on Monday in Binghamton, N.Y. The forward was recalled by the Avalanche on Jan. 17. He was sent back down after the game after playing 14:11 and taking two shots on goal. … Wild RW Mark Parrish (bruised foot) and LW Derek Boogaard (back) both missed a second straight game. … Gaborik now has 27 assists this season. … The Wild improved to 14-7 in one-goal games. … Colorado is 7-3 at home against divisional opponents.