ST. PAUL, Minn. – After securing a playoff spot, the Minnesota Wild have their sights set on the Northwest Division title.
Marian Gaborik scored two goals, including the winner in overtime, and the Wild defeated the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on Sunday night. Detroit beat Nashville minutes before Minnesota took the ice Sunday, sending the Wild to their second straight playoff berth.
“I don’t think there was any doubt in any of our minds that we’d make the playoffs,” Wild forward Brian Rolston said. “We’re trying to stay on top of our division right now, that’s our main focus.”
Pavol Demitra set up Gaborik on a two-on-one breakaway three minutes into overtime. The winner was Gaborik’s career-high 40th goal and his franchise-record 80th point.
“The puck kind of bounced on Demitra’s feet there and was rolling,” Gaborik said. “I just tried to stop in front and he handled the puck great and fed in front where I had an open net.”
Jeff Finger and Ruslan Salei scored for Colorado, which rebounded from a slow start to earn a point.
The Avalanche, playing without Peter Forsberg who was scratched with a groin injury, had their three-game winning streak snapped.
“It was big to get the one point. Tough way to lose the other point, but what are you going to do?” Finger said. “You go from there. We came back from two goals down and were able to salvage one.”
Minnesota came out strong, taking a 2-0 lead on goals by Brian Rolston and Gaborik before the game was 10 minutes old.
Rolston put back a rebound off Kim Johnsson’s slapshot 4:56 in, giving him 30 goals for the third straight season. Gaborik’s first goal came on the power play from the top of the slot at 8:19.
Colorado also remains in the thick of the playoff chase and responded by dominating the second period. Finger scored 1:21 into the period, and Salei tied it with 8:01 left as the Avalanche held Minnesota to just three shots in the period.
“We’re in a position where we can control our fate and I think that is where we wanted to be and we still have to play our best before the playoffs start,” Salei said.
Minnesota missed a few chances to regain the lead. Mikko Koivu saw his wrist shot trickle through the crease late in the second, and Rolston and Nick Schultz also beat Jose Theodore, only to see their slapshots hit the posts.
“I like very much what we did in the third because when a team comes back from a two-goal deficit, they’re on the run, they feel good and they feel that they’ll win the game,” Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. “You have to respond, and we did.”
Minnesota has won three straight and is 6-2-1 in its past nine games. The Wild are peaking at the right time as it tries to secure the third seed in the playoffs by winning the Northwest Division.
Both teams have two games remaining, including a season-ending matchup next Sunday in Colorado. Calgary also remains in the mix and travels to Minnesota on Thursday.
“I feel good with the way we’re playing. I like the way we’re playing,” Lemaire said. “I like the way the guys are playing for the team. I like that. You saw Gaborik in the first period. He backchecked. That’s that I want to see.”
Another thing in the Wild’s favour is the recent play of goalie Niklas Backstrom, who’s 9-1-4 since taking over the starting job full time on Feb. 27. He seems to play his best when the weather warms, posting a 17-2-6 career mark after March 1.
The Avalanche travel to Vancouver on Tuesday to face another division foe fighting for a playoff spot.
“We played well against them the last few games,” Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. “We know it’s going to be a very important game regardless of the outcome tonight. We have to play the same way we did tonight.”
Notes: Quenneville hopes Forsberg is able to practice tomorrow. … Finger added an assist on Salei’s goal, his first multi-point game this season. … Minnesota Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer and backup catcher Mike Redmond were at the game. … Colorado’s Paul Stastny had his eight-game point streak snapped. … The Wild have earned at least one point in nine straight home games against Colorado.