ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - David Aebischer is becoming more consistent, and Colorado is climbing in the Western Conference standings.
That's certainly not a coincidence.
Joe Sakic's goal with 5:44 remaining lifted the Avalanche to a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, but Aebischer's 33 saves were the biggest reason for the win.
"I have more confidence and more fun playing the game right now than I had before the season," Aebischer said. "I don't know why that is, but I'm just pleased the way it's going."
After Todd White tied the score earlier in the third period, the Wild put pressure on Aebischer and had several prime chances - as they did early in the game - to take the lead.
But Aebischer, who has an 11-3-2 record since the new year began and an 8-2 career mark against Minnesota, didn't budge - helping Colorado improve to 12-3-3 in its last 18 games.
"He makes the save and they find a way to get the goal," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "That's what they're doing. They have experienced players, too. Let's not forget that."
Brad Richardson also scored for the Avalanche, who stiff-armed Minnesota's attempt to move closer in the playoff race. Colorado moved ahead of idle Edmonton into sixth place with 68 points. The Wild, with 60 points, remained stuck in 10th - five points behind Los Angeles for the final spot.
"Those points were huge for both teams, probably even more for them than for us," Aebischer said. "It was a great win for us to get closer to the teams above us and try to leave the teams behind us in the dust."
A tripping penalty on Rob Blake with 1:19 left gave Minnesota a late power play. Goalie Manny Fernandez was pulled a few seconds later, producing a 6-on-4 advantage. But in a fitting way to wrap up the evening's offensive failures, the Wild were off target with several passes and never had any great looks among their five shots on net during the final flurry.
Defenseman Kurtis Foster had the best chance. His powerful slap shot was deflected, though, and it sailed above the net.
"You couldn't draw it up any better," Foster said, lamenting Minnesota's missed opportunity. "We've got to beat a team like Colorado. They're fighting for a playoff spot, and we can't just sit on that."
Aebischer was peppered early. He allowed a long rebound off a shot from the Wild blue line midway through the opening frame, and Alexandre Daigle was in a perfect place to punch it in. He lost control of the puck while switching from backhand to forehand, though, and managed a weak shot.
Minnesota had three power-play chances in the first period, too, coming up empty on all of them.
"They find a way," Lemaire said, "and it starts with the goalie."
It was clearly Aebischer's night. At the end of the second, Derek Boogaard left the penalty box and found himself racing unchecked for the puck with Aebischer frantically moving out to block it. The 6-foot-7, 250-pound Boogaard was too late, and he skated into the goalie - drawing a double roughing penalty and four more minutes in the box. The crowd booed loudly in response to the call.
Even White's goal was a mild fluke. Nick Schultz broke his stick on a shot from the blue line, and the puck veered right and glanced off former Wild wing Andrew Brunette. It went right to White, who slammed it in with 9:57 to go.
But later, Marian Gaborik lost the puck to Brett Clark - who poked it ahead to a streaking Sakic up the left side. He scored his 21st goal, sending a shot high past Fernandez's glove.
Colorado has been up and down much of the season, even losing six of eight - three of them in overtime, before beating Edmonton on Tuesday. The Avalanche, though, have created some momentum as they head toward the Olympic break.
"You've just got to try and get the points you can early," Sakic said, "and hopefully at the end you're just fighting for positioning."
If Aebischer keeps this up, they probably will be.
Notes: Wild left wing Pascal Dupuis was scratched. His wife gave birth to a son, Kody, about two hours before the game. ... The Avalanche are 23-1-1 when leading after two periods. ... White has 18 goals this season, 11 in the third period.