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Peter Budaj gets 10th win in March in leading Avalanche over Wild 2-1

Colorado kept its thin playoff hopes alive Saturday, beating the Minnesota Wild 2-1 behind Peter Budaj's record-tying 10th win in March.

The Avalanche also tied a team mark with 11 wins in a month, first accomplished in January 2004.

"These are desperation times," said rookie Paul Stastny, whose power-play goal in the second period capped Colorado's comeback. "It has loosened us up. We sure aren't nervous. We get down a goal and feel like we can come back, and have."

Colorado is five points behind Calgary for the last Western Conference playoff spot with four games remaining. The Flames were to play at Vancouver on Saturday night and host Colorado on Tuesday.

"We were hoping that it (would have) some meaning and it was going to be an important game and it is," Avs coach Joel Quenneville said.

Budaj went 10-0-2 in March, tying the franchise record for wins in any month set by Daniel Bouchard with the Quebec Nordiques in February 1981. He broke the March mark of nine set by Jocelyn Thibault in 1995 and tied by Patrick Roy in 2000 and '03.

Minnesota, in a close race with Vancouver for the Northwest Division title, lost its third straight following a franchise-record, nine-game winning streak, lending credence to coach Jacques Lemaire's declaration last week that he wished the playoffs started right away and not on April 11.

The Avs quickly found themselves in a hole when Marian Gaborik's wrist shot from the left circle on the power play gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead just 81 seconds into the game.

Two power-play goals in the second period sapped Minnesota's momentum.

John-Michael Liles tapped the puck past John Harding, then Stastny put the Avs ahead when he flipped a rebound into the net for his 26th goal after Milan Hejduk's shot hit the crossbar.

"Hejduk hit the crossbar, the puck hit Keith Carney in the shoulder and there was the puck right below me," Stastny said. "The goalie couldn't find it, and I put it in."

The Avs weathered a 40-second 5-on-3 disadvantage in the third period after Kurt Sauer went to the penalty box for holding while Tyler Arnason was out for hooking. Brett Clark threw his body in front of a shot and limped off the ice. The Wild had only two shots on goal during the entire power play.

This is exactly the kind of hockey the Avs have been playing for a month after all seemed lost at the trade deadline.

"We have to play desperate," Liles said. "We have ourselves to blame because we put ourselves in this position and put ourselves behind the eight-ball. We played a good game and then a bad one, but never putting together two good ones. We finally put together a heck of a run."

Lemaire was at a loss to explain his team's lack of focus and continued failure on the power play.

"Our defencemen turn the puck over more than ever. I know they're not ready to play," he said. "The mind is not there (for) some of them."

The Avalanche have made the playoffs every year since 1994, two years before the franchise moved from Quebec. The only player left from that team is captain Joe Sakic.

Once the franchise relocated in Denver, the Avalanche enjoyed a decade of dominance before the NHL landscape changed 18 months ago, forcing Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote and Paul Kariya out of town. The exodus of veterans continued last summer with the departures of Rob Blake, Dan Hinote and Alex Tanguay, more victims of the salary cap designed to resuscitate the league.

Unable to just outspend other teams and assemble an abundance of all-star talent as it did in winning the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001, the Avalanche turned to a youth movement. After some growing pains, the Avs rebounded behind Stastny, who set a rookie record by scoring in 20 straight games from Feb. 3-March 17, and Budaj, who has helped Colorado go 12-1-2 in its last 15 games.

"We've come together as a team playing desperation hockey," Liles said. "You only hope it's not too late."

Notes: Minnesota had earned a point in nine straight road games, going 7-0-2. ... Colorado was 3-1 at home in March and 8-0-2 on the road, collecting 24 of a possible 28 points.


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