ST. PAUL, Minn. – Missing two of their top six scorers, the Minnesota Wild need to bring more grit to their game than usual.
Just what’s at the top of the job descriptions for Andrew Brunette and John Madden.
Brunette’s power-play goal late in a sluggish second period forged a tie that Madden broke by scoring with 9:05 left, lifting the Wild to a must-have 5-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.
“You need those guys on the team. They bring a lot of confidence in the room,” goalie Niklas Backstrom said. “They’ve been in this situation a lot of times in past years, so they’re really key guys for us. The bigger the game, the bigger the situation, they’re usually stepping up.”
Kevin Porter and Paul Stastny had goals for the turnover-plagued Avalanche, who again hit their ceiling: They’re averaging less than two scores during this terrible 20-game stretch with a record of 2-16-2 since Jan. 18.
“We still have a lot of time here and a lot of hockey remaining to be played,” coach Joe Sacco said. “We want to stay positive and keep playing hard and making sure guys continue to play the right way.”
The Avalanche are still winless this season—0-27-4—when getting only two or fewer goals.
“Very, very frustrating,” said defenceman Ryan O’Byrne, who returned from a facial injury that kept him out four games. “We’re so close. We’re just about there. It’s been a rough stretch. We just need to go over that one more hill and hopefully get on a roll here.”
Martin Havlat, Jared Spurgeon and Kyle Brodziak each had a goal and an assist for the Wild (35-25-7), who welcomed Guillaume Latendresse back from a 58-game absence after injuries to his midsection. He skated on the fourth line in a limited role, but he still made an impact.
Latendresse was muscling for position in the crease on Spurgeon’s goal, tacked on less than three minutes after Madden knocked in a feed from Matt Cullen after Chuck Kobasew’s forecheck on the end boards pried the puck loose.
“It’s nice having that big body back out in front of the net,” Minnesota coach Todd Richards said.
The Wild are trying to string together their lines without captain Mikko Koivu and relentless Cal Clutterbuck. Koivu is just starting to skate again after breaking his finger nine games ago and Clutterbuck missed his second straight game with what the Wild have vaguely been calling an upper-body injury.
“Other teams are struggling with it, so we’re not crying over here, but injuries are huge this time of year especially when you lose a guy like Koivu or Clutterbuck,” Madden said. “It’s nice to see Gui back in.”
The Wild played a slow second period, and Stastny made them pay for it by backhanding in a rebound of Milan Hejduk’s shot that glanced off Backstrom’s glove for a 2-1 lead for the Avalanche (26-32-8). But Brunette gave them the spark they badly needed, punching in a rebound of Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s slap shot that fluttered around Budaj’s shoulder before the goalie was able to control it.
With a critical road trip approaching—starting later this week, they travel to face four straight Western Conference playoff contenders including NHL-leading Vancouver—the Wild sure needed to pick up two points from this game against the backsliding Avs.
They began the day in a three-way tie for ninth place, two points behind Los Angeles.
“We knew we’ve got to win. Everybody else is winning,” Havlat said.
The Avalanche lost defenceman John-Michael Liles to a leg injury in the first period, negating the return of O’Byrne, who was back for the first time since his face got cut by a skate blade against Edmonton on Feb. 23. O’Byrne, who wore a special caged helmet for extra protection, needed 100 stitches to close the wound.
“Going down to five Ds is never easy, especially losing a guy like John-Michael,” O’Byrne said. “I haven’t played in a couple weeks too, so you just have to manage yourself properly and be smart. I thought we did that for the most part.”
Notes: Brodziak has 33 points, already surpassing the career high he established last season. … Brunette’s eight power-play goals, half ofhis season total, lead the Wild. … Stastny’s goal broke a home streak for the Wild of 19 straight penalties killed, spanning six games. … Wild D Marek Zidlicky left in the second period after blocking a shot with his right hand, but he returned in the final frame. … The Wild won four of their six games against the Avalanche this season.