ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Having lost three games in a row and badly needing a win, the Colorado Avalanche leaned on their veterans Thursday night.
Milan Hejduk and Jean-Sebastien Giguere played starring roles for the Avalanche when they defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-3 in a shootout at Xcel Energy Center.
Hejduk, celebrating his 37th birthday, scored once in regulation and was credited with the winner in the shootout. A notorious Wild killer through the years, Hejduk's regulation goal was his 22nd against Minnesota, the second-most allowed to a player by the franchise (Calgary Flames' Jarome Iginla, 35).
"There was a couple of guys who asked me this morning what I wanted for my birthday. I said, 'I'd like to have a win and put a smile on everyone's face in the locker room,'" Hejduk said. "That happened, so it's cool. It will definitely be a more pleasant flight to Edmonton."
Colorado had scored four goals during its three-game skid; Minnesota had one goal in six straight games.
Heading into the third period Thursday, Colorado led 2-1 and it looked like both teams were tapped out.
But an offensive explosion in the third turned a rather dull game into an exciting one, including a critical one-minute stretch late in the period.
With the game tied 2-2, Wild wing Dany Heatley zoomed into the Avalanche zone and split a pair of defenders before the puck was knocked off his stick. Mikko Koivu, following his teammate, swooped on the loose puck and flipped a backhander off Giguere's glove, then the crossbar, and in at 11:56, giving the Wild its first lead.
But it was short-lived.
Minnesota dumped the puck into Colorado's zone on the faceoff and the Avalanche rushed up ice 2-on-2. Colorado failed on that scoring chance, but used the momentum to gain zone time. For nearly 30 seconds, the Avalanche pummeled the Wild, creating several quality chances before finally tying the game on a wraparound goal by Matt Duchene that he banked in off Jared Spurgeon's sprawled body at the right post.
"Very disappointing, but indicative of how we were playing," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "Giving up a rush like that, so easily, losing battles 1-on-1, soft coverage …"
"Great shift," Giguere said. "That's character right there. That's the way we have to play, if something bad happens, you have to move ahead and look forward. That's what we did.
"That was a huge goal and it changed the momentum of the game."
The response was big for the Avalanche, who led much of the second period after goals by Aaron Palushaj and Hejduk sandwiched a Wild score by Zach Parise.
Minnesota tied the game 2-2 on a dirty goal by Mike Rupp 2:30 into the third. The fourth-liner, playing with the Wild's second group, dug out a puck behind the net and went to the right post, hammering away at the puck until it slipped through Giguere.
Rupp's first of the season gave the Wild its first sustained momentum of the night, leading to its quick lead 10 minutes later.
Giguere wasn't flashy in net but made big stops when he had to, including two against Parise and Koivu in the shootout to capture his second victory of the season.
"He gives us a real good chance every time," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "A lot of good things in our game tonight, but the most important thing was the two points."
Giguere said, "It was a character win for us. We can't afford losing streaks, so we have to find ways to win. We faced some adversity tonight, them coming back in the third and taking the lead. But I thought we did a great job staying focused."
Duchene also scored in the shootout for Colorado, which improved to 5-6-1; with 11 points, the Avalanche are two behind the second-place Wild, who have played one more game.
The Avalanche continue Northwest Division play at the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night. Minnesota (6-7-1) has two days off before facing the Detroit Red Wings at home Sunday afternoon.