DENVER – It didn't take long for the Minnesota Wild to turn the page on a discouraging third-period meltdown that could have resulted in some serious consequences for the stretch drive.
Two days after turning a 4-1 lead against Nashville into a stunning 5-4 defeat, the Wild on Thursday night rebounded with a 1-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center.
The win was the third in four meetings with the Avalanche this season and solidified the Wild's hold on eighth place in the Western Conference. Minnesota has 57 points in 51 games, while the Avalanche remained stuck with 54 points in 53 games.
"Obviously it's great for us with how close the race is," said Wild defenseman Greg Zanon, whose second goal of the season came at 6:04 of the first period. "It keeps us in the playoffs and pushes them a little further behind with a couple games in hand. It's great to see the team come together like we did after a tough loss the other night.
"Right now, the way the hunt is, it's playoffs right now for us. If we want to be in the playoffs, we're going to have to play like it's do-or-die every night. (Tuesday) was one of those days that (hurts), but we put it behind us and came with a good attitude. We came out and worked and wanted the two points and got them."
The Avalanche, which has scored a total of six goals during a four-game losing streak, went on a six-on-four power play with 1:20 remaining but only managed two shots on goal.
"It's frustrating in a way because I feel like we haven't had a bad game," said Avalanche goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who had 20 saves. "I thought we played a pretty good defensive game. We had some scoring chances. Playoff hockey … games until the end of the season are going to be 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 games. We just have to find a way to play the same way defensively and eventually things are going to go in for us."
Zanon's goal came on the Wild's first shot of the game.
Kyle Brodziak won a draw from David Van Der Gulik in the right faceoff circle after the Avalanche iced the puck. Brodziak slid the puck back to Dany Heatley, and he passed to Zanon, who skated to his left above the circles and fired a screen shot past Giguere.
"It was a matter of just getting pucks to the net," Zanon said. "Brodzie did a great job winning the faceoff and we had guys at the net. It was nothing spectacular, just a matter of getting the puck there."
Said Giguere: "It was a shot that went through a bunch of guys. It's unfortunate, but sometimes these things happen. More often than not our ‘D' will block that shot and that would be the end of it. That was the story of the game and that is the way it is."
The Avalanche might have known that one goal would be plenty for Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, who finished with 37 saves and watched his teammates block 26 shots.
Backstrom owns a 20-5-2 career record against Colorado with four shutouts. That includes a 9-2-1 mark with three shutouts in Denver. He's 6-1-1 in the past eight games and has permitted one goal or fewer in six of them.
"Every time we play here, it's a one-goal game and a battle," Backstrom said after pocketing his 25th career NHL shutout. "It's a tough team to play against, a skilled team, and it's always a big challenge for us. It's a great building to play in. But when you come in here you feel (bad) because of the altitude.
"The guys did a really good job in front of me with a real solid defensive game, especially in the second half. The ‘D' did a great job and the forwards helped them a lot. That was the key tonight."
Avalanche center Ryan O'Reilly was so upset with the loss that he remained seated at his locker in full uniform with his head bowed after most teammates had left the room.
"I let down my teammates," said O'Reilly, who leads the team in scoring with 14 goals and 37 points, and has four goals and four assists in the past nine games. "I had some chances and missed the net and I had two big draws and I lost those. It's not like we didn't have chances, me especially; I had a bunch of chances. I have to go back to basics now because this isn't working."
O'Reilly shrugged when reminded that the Avalanche in general isn't causing much grief for opposing goalies.
"Part of that is my responsibility," he said. "I'm supposed to step up in that area and be a leader that way. I'm not doing it."
The game was chippy at times, though each team only had one power play. The teams combined for 43 hits – 23 for the Avalanche and 20 for the Wild. They also combined for 10 penalties totaling 32 minutes, with eight infractions for 28 minutes coming in the second period.
Giguere had to make a big save on Cal Clutterbuck just before the buzzer sounded to end the second period. Brodziak got loose for a shot that was deflected into the slot and Clutterbuck was alone to blast a shot headed for the top corner of the net, but Giguere speared with his glove.
"He played a phenomenal game," O'Reilly said. "He made the save of the year and kept us in the game. Without him the game would have been a lot worse."