After a road trip in which they played five games in just seven days, Minnesota welcomed Colorado to the Xcel Energy Center Thursday night with heavy eyelids and heavier legs.
But the weary Wild found a way to win, beating the Avalanche 1-0 with a late, controversial goal from Devin Setoguchi, 27 saves from Niklas Backstrom and plenty of hard-nosed, scrappy defense. The win, which puts Minnesota five points clear in the Northwest, was the Wild's third straight and eighth in their last 10 outings.
"I think we knew coming in that it was not going to be a perfect … game on our part," said Wild coach Mike Yeo, whose team was playing its fourth game in six nights in four cities. "We haven't had quality practice time, the amount of travel time we've had, that first game home is always difficult. You could see, execution-wise, that we were having trouble out there. But as I said yesterday, we have a team full of fighters."
The shutout was Backstrom's second of the season and 24th of his career -- and his first at home since Feb. 1, 2011. He credited the defense, saying a shutout meant little more to him than two points in the standings.
"The way we play defense right now is good, for sure we want to be better but the guys are really bearing down and helping each other out there," Backstrom said. "That's a big part of our game."
Jean-Sebastien Giguere stopped 17 shots for the Avs, who have lost three in a row and four of five.
The Wild got the game's only goal with 2:31 left in regulation. Dany Heatley took advantage of a slow line change by Colorado and found space at the top of the left circle. His slap shot caromed off defender Erik Johnson directly into the path of Setoguchi, who was rushing to the far post for the rebound. Setoguchi calmly fired the puck low to Giguere's left side for his second goal in as many games.
"I don't think I even had a shot on net until that point," Setoguchi said. "It was a play where [Heatley] just shot the puck, it landed on your stick and sometimes that's all it takes."
Colorado protested that Cal Clutterbuck, who broke Jan Hejda's stick on a massive hit earlier in the game, should have been guilty of high-sticking Jay McClement near the Wild bench as the play unfolded.
"I got a good one there," McClement said. "There were a lot of bodies around there. I don't know if it's tough to see, or the time of the game or what have you. It's unfortunate we had a tough bounce. I think we had our chances to win earlier in the game."
Colorado's best chance came earlier in the period, when the Avs earned a power play at 10:33 after Justin Falk's roughing minor. Milan Hejduk beat Backstrom but hit the post.
"Our power play has to deliver in the third period," coach Joe Sacco said. "It wasn't good enough at that point. We have to step up. We have good players out there and we didn't get it done."
The Minnesota defense has been one of the surprises of the season, especially considering the injuries that have depleted it in recent weeks. The defense has grown so thin, Yeo called up Kris Fredheim from the AHL Houston Aeros earlier this week. Naturally, Fredheim was solid in the first 10:18 of ice time in his NHL career. Defenseman Nick Schultz, by far the elder statesman of the group playing in his 700th game, praised his youthful defensive teammates.
"A lot of these guys have played for Mike before and had success down in the minors," Schultz said. "They've kind of bought into the system and had success. I think that's why they've fit in so well."
Yeo said teams that win find a way to overcome adversity.
"That's what winners do. You take what's given to us," said Yeo, whose team tied a franchise record with 25 points through 19 games. "We had to defend very well, with a bunch of young defensemen. … Defending when we're not playing perfect and just finding a way to win."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report