DENVER – The Minnesota Wild found the Mile High City to be the remedy for their road woes.
That’s hardly a surprise since Pepsi Center has traditionally been sort of a home away from home for Minnesota.
Carson McMillan broke a tie midway through the third period after stealing the puck at centre ice, helping the Wild break out of their road funk with a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.
Justin Falk scored his first NHL goal and Dany Heatley added another for the Wild, who halted an 11-game winless streak away from home.
Despite being starved for a road win, goaltender Niklas Backstrom insisted his team wasn’t paying much attention to the dubious streak. That, Backstrom said, is a recipe for disaster.
“When you start to think too much it creeps into your head instead of just playing hockey,” said Backstrom, who finished with 24 saves, more than half of which were in the final period. “We went out there to just try and play our game and do the right things and see what happens. We did a lot of good stuff out there and it worked for us.”
With that, the Wild avoided tying the franchise record of 12 straight road losses, which was set during the 2003-04 season.
Then again, it should come as no surprise the streak ended in Denver, since the team is 9-1-2 in its last 12 games at Pepsi Center.
On the winning goal, McMillan stripped defenceman Shane O’Brien of the puck and skated in alone on Jean-Sebastien Giguere, faking left before sending the puck through the goalie’s legs.
A nifty move for a player just recalled from Houston of the American Hockey League last week.
“I was shocked,” said McMillan, who scored his second career goal. “I didn’t know what I was doing until I was at the hash-marks, even to the crease. Just tried to open his legs up and sneak it through.”
The Wild moved into the eighth and final playoff spot in their final game before the all-star break, leaping over Colorado.
“We got outplayed tonight, outworked,” Giguere said. “It’s disappointing because it was the biggest game of this year. We just didn’t bother giving it our best effort. It’s just unacceptable.”
The Avalanche pulled Giguere with 56 seconds remaining, but couldn’t get anything past Backstrom.
“It feels good to be back where we should be,” Backstrom said.
Colorado had the lone goal in the second period as Chuck Kobasew tapped in a puck that had rolled through the pads of Backstrom to tie the game at 2-2. It was Kobasew’s first goal against the Wild, a team he skated with for two seasons.
From there, things got a little chippy. Upset over a hit along the boards, Daniel Winnik approached Falk near the Wild goal. They both threw their gloves down and, as the theme from “Rocky” blared over the loud speakers, went at it, landing several punches. Both were sent to the penalty box for fighting.
Colorado scored early in the first period when T.J. Galiardi backhanded a shot over the glove of Backstrom.
The lead didn’t last long as the Wild came back with a fury, charged up by Devin Setoguchi, who was so irate over an interference call that he clomped into the box and slammed the door with authority. The echo reverberated around the arena.
Soon after, Falk tied the game on the power play when his shot from the top of the blue line beat a screened Giguere. It was Falk’s first NHL goal and came in the 54th game of his career.
“I was just trying to keep it simple and get some shots through,” Falk explained. “Fortunately, I was able to pick a corner and it worked.”
With just under five minutes left in the first period, Kyle Brodziak was stonewalled by Giguere on a breakaway, only to chase the puck into the corner and feed it to a charging Heatley, who blasted it in for his 15th goal of the season.
Heatley beat a hot goaltender as Giguere has been splendid of late.
So much for the notion the 34-year-old has lost a step or two.
Giguere never envisioned seeing this much ice time when he signed with Colorado in the off-season. He was brought in to be a backup along with mentoring young netminder Semyon Varlamov. But Giguere has played so well recently that the goal has been his.
This was his fourth straight start.
Giguere already has more wins (12) than he had all last season with Toronto. He’s also among the league leaders in goals-against average and save percentage.
NOTES: Avs D Ryan Wilson returned to the ice after missing the last two games with a groin injury. … Avs F Ryan O’Reilly missed the game with an illness. … Wild D Marek Zidlicky didn’t dress for a second straight game. … The Wild won on the road for the first time since Dec. 10 in Phoenix. … Brodziak had two assists.