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Niklas Backstrom makes 35 saves, Wild beats Avalanche 3-1

DENVER - When Colorado finally started to come alive after an awful start, Niklas Backstrom made sure Minnesota held off the Avalanche.

Backstrom made 35 saves and Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Benoit Pouliot scored goals in the first 7:44 to help the Wild beat the Avalanche 3-1 on Thursday night.

Andrew Brunette scored his fifth goal and Marek Zidlicky had two assists for Minnesota. The Wild have won two of their last three games.

"A better start to the hockey game would give us the opportunity to maybe only to be down a goal," said Darcy Tucker, who scored for Colorado. "Then when we do start playing the way we did in the second and third periods we would be right there."

The Wild jumped on the struggling Avalanche, who have lost five straight. Bouchard knocked in his own rebound just 3:35 into the game. Four minutes later, Pouliot scored off Zidlicky's rebound on a power play to make it 2-0.

"This is a team that's looking to get back on track," Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. "When you don't win enough games you get fragile, and we took advantage of it right at the start. They came back hard in the second and third and our goaltender was super."

Backstrom came up with a few key saves, but none bigger than the one on Ben Guite as Colorado was killing off a penalty late in the second period. The Avalanche had an odd-man rush, and Ryan Smyth sent a cross-ice pass to Guite, who was streaking down the left side. Backstrom slid over and made the save on Guite's wrister.

"I saw him coming and I was pretty sure Smyth was going to pass, so I cheated and got lucky," Backstrom said. "Sometimes you need luck, and we got it today."

The struggling Avalanche had to play without captain Joe Sakic. He was scratched from the lineup because of a lower back injury.

Even without Sakic, the Avalanche outshot the Wild 36-20, including a 14-4 advantage in the third period.

"We outshot them 35-12 the last 50 minutes of the game," Colorado coach Tony Granato said. "But if you're not ready for the first 10 and they're able to jump on you, everybody knows what kind of team that is when they have the lead."

The Wild made it 3-0 when Brunette, playing his first game against his former team, one-timed a pass from Antii Miettinen from behind the net midway through the second period.

"Mitts made a real nice little pass and it went in," Brunette said. "He made a real clever play."

Brunette acknowledged it was tough battling Colorado, where he played the previous three seasons.

"It's not something I was looking forward to and it's something I'm glad it's over," he said. "It's awkward. It's not fun."

Tucker gave the Avalanche some life when he knocked in a rebound of T.J. Hensick's shot with 7:42 left in the second period.

Backstrom didn't let Colorado get any closer.

"You look at him and at times you have so much confidence you don't think they'll score against him," Lemaire said. "It's a great feeling to see your goaltender like that."

Avalanche goalie Peter Budaj, who had 17 saves, lost his fourth straight, but the Avalanche weren't blaming him for the loss.

"You can't spot a team a lead like that and expect to come back," Paul Stastny said. "We have to start better."

Notes: Colorado recalled Hensick and D Kyle Cumiskey from Lake Erie of the AHL. Forward David Jones was sent to Lake Erie to make room on the roster. ... Avalanche D Scott Hannan (flu-like symptoms) and Daniel Tjarnqvist (foot) were scratched. ... Brunette played in his 800th game and 465th straight, the longest active streak in the NHL. ... Colorado was 0-for-6 on the power play.


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