DENVER – Semyon Varlamov gave the Colorado Avalanche an early lift until the offence could pick up steam.
And once they found that rhythm, the Avalanche rolled to one of their most lopsided wins of the season.
Jamie McGinn scored the first of a four-goal flurry in the second period and Varlamov stopped 21 shots as the Avalanche routed the struggling Minnesota Wild 7-1 on Tuesday night.
Jay McClement, Jan Hejda, Mark Olver, Ryan O’Reilly, David Jones and Cody McLeod also got into the scoring act as well for the Avalanche, who have won six of eight to climb back into the playoff picture.
Behind a sizzling goaltender, too.
Varlamov is 5-1-0 in his last six contests with a 0.83 goals-against average. The young Russian is in the midst of one of his finest seasons in the league. He’s already set career-bests in wins (20), games (41) and shutouts (4).
Varlamov has been particularly tough on the Wild in recent days, stopping 30 shots in a 2-0 win over the Wild on Sunday. He then picked right back up where he left off.
He nearly had another shutout, only to have Devin Setoguchi spoil it with a penalty shot early in the third.
“That’s my job to stop the puck, and sometimes make the huge saves,” Varlamov nonchalantly said. “I’m just trying to help the guys win.”
Colorado scored three times in a span of 1:56 midway through the second period. After Olver’s goal made it 4-0, the Wild pulled Matt Hackett and summoned in Josh Harding, who proceeded to be beaten by O’Reilly.
Steve Downie had a career-high three assists, while Gabriel Landeskog added two for the Avalanche.
Downie made his return to the ice after sitting out a game with a shoulder ailment. He has been an offensive spark plug since coming over in a deal with Tampa Bay, compiling 10 points in seven games.
McGinn has been just as impressive since his arrival. The gritty forward was brought in from San Jose at the trade deadline and has instantly fit into the Avalanche’s fast-paced style of play.
He had both goals in the win over Minnesota on Sunday and added another as he redirected a shot past Hackett on a power play, part of his Gordie Howe hat trick. He also added an assist and was involved in a fight.
“I’m getting more comfortable out there and I’m starting to enjoy being in the locker room,” McGinn said. “They are awesome in here.”
Avalanche coach Joe Sacco couldn’t be more thrilled with the additions of Downie and McGinn.
“Those two guys have made a good impact on our hockey team so far,” said Sacco, whose team tied a season high with their seven-goal outburst. “It can get a little infectious. It can rub off on other guys.”
The Avalanche received a scare midway through the last period when Matt Duchene crumbled to the ice after being tripped by Nick Palmieri’s stick. Duchene, who just recently returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for 20 games, had to be helped off the ice by a trainer and Peter Mueller.
After the game, Sacco said Duchene hurt his ankle and the team will know more Wednesday.
“We hope he will be OK,” Landeskog said.
The depleted Wild were without forward Cal Clutterbuck (sickness) and defenceman Justin Falk (lower body). The team already was missing captain Mikko Koivu (shoulder), wings Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion) and Guillaume Latendresse (concussion) and goalie Niklas Backstrom (strained groin).
The Wild have now been outscored 15-1 in their last three games and tumbled even farther out of the playoff chase.
“I can assure you that these guys care,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “These guys are hurting right now. It’s real hard for guys emotionally to come to the rink and get your mind straight with what we’re going through right now. If you want to get excited about something, I can guarantee this is a group that will keep on fighting.”
Hackett agreed with the assessment.
“We are going to improve off of this,” Hackett said.
Colorado took the early lead when a rebound off the pads of Hackett bounced right to a hard-charging McClement. He buried it past a sliding Hackett for his 10th goal of the season.
After that, the game quickly turned chippy. There were more twice as many penalty minutes (40) in the opening period than shots on goal (21). Kyle Brodziak drew a 10-minute misconduct after he shoved McGinn.
Even the usually mild-mannered Landeskog got into the middle of things. Riled up over being tripped, Landeskog dropped the gloves and attempted to take on Jed Ortmeyer, but the fight was hastily halted and both were sent to the box for roughing.
This has been a solid season for Landeskog, who’s making a strong case for rookie of the year as he leads all first-year players in shots and is tied with New Jersey’s Adam Henrique for the scoring lead with 43 points.
NOTES: Avs D Ryan O’Byrne missed his seventh game with a knee injury. The team is hopeful he might be available Thursday in Nashville. … Varlamov played in his 100th career game. … The Wild are 0-4-1 in their last five games.