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Avalanche welcome in Wild for Northwest battle

by Matthew Mankiewich
WILD (11-8-2) at AVALANCHE (12-9-1)

TV -- FS-N (HD), ALT (HD)

Last 10 --
Minnesota 6-4-0; Colorado 6-4-0

Season series -- First meeting of six for a pair of teams running right on top of each other in the Northwest Division. The Wild have taken five of six in each of the last two seasons, going 13-2-2 in the last 17 overall meetings. They also have a three-game winning streak at the Pepsi Center, the last two of those by 1-0 scores. The Wild have three shutouts over a 5-0-1 stretch in Denver.

Big story --
After winning four in a row, the Avs have dropped a pair of games and now have to stave off a bigger slide with one of the hottest road teams in the NHL coming to town. Minnesota has won six of seven away from Xcel Energy Center and managed to stop a two-game slump of its own with a win over Nashville on Friday. The teams form two-thirds of a three-team struggle atop the Northwest Division along with the Canucks.

Team scope:

Wild -- Friday's matinee with the Predators was a bit out of character for the Wild in some ways, less so in others. They had built a reputation for relying on the fourth-best power play in the NHL a little too much, but not against the Predators. They scored five 5-on-5 goals in their 5-2 win, thanks to a big boost from Martin Havlat, who scored a pair and picked up an assist. It was the first time the Wild scored five even-strength goals in a game since they did it to the Maple Leafs on January 7, 2009, a 6-1 win.

"Everybody played well tonight," said Havlat, who was a plus-3 along with Marek Zidlicky and linemates Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cullen.

What might not have been so odd was this outburst coming in a game versus the Preds, against whom the Wild hold a 5-2-0 record in their last seven games at home and Havlat has 34 points in 34 career games.

Avalanche -- The Avalanche played the only NHL game on American Thanksgiving up in Edmonton and turned in a turkey, going down 2-0 in the first four minutes, then pulling even again only to have the game taken away when Taylor Hall scored with 29 seconds left in regulation to pull out a 3-2 win for the Oilers.

"We didn't have a good start to the game," coach Joe Sacco said. "We had a few guys that weren't ready when the puck dropped and that cost us a couple of goals. You certainly don't want to give up a goal in the last minute of the game."

Who's hot --
Before they hit the two-game bump, the Avs had scored 19 goals in four straight wins. Matt Duchene has three goals in his last four games. … Havlat has 11 points in his last seven games for the Wild.

Injury report --
Avs goalie Craig Anderson got a game in off his knee injury, then proceeded to get a groin injury his second game back. Jason Bacashihua was called in to back up Peter Budaj. Defenseman Adam Foote injured his foot Wednesday against Vancouver and is out indefinitely.

Minnesota winger Guillaume Latendresse underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a torn labrum and bilateral sports hernia. A late-season return would be seen as a bonus. Forward Chuck Kobasew (groin) has been out nine games but returned to practice Tuesday. Zidlicky missed Wednesday's game with a leg injury but bounced back nicely on Friday with a goal and two assists.

Stat pack -- Before Friday's flurry, the Wild had scored only 13 goals in their last eight home games, and hadn't scored five since Oct. 19, a 6-2 home win over the Canucks. … In eight of the Avs' nine regulation losses, they've scored two goals or fewer. … Budaj, handling most of the goaltending duties with Anderson out, has allowed three goals in each of his last six appearances, and is 3-3-0 in that stretch. Budaj is 1-2-1 in his last four starts against the Wild, but has a 1.44 goals-against average. … On the other hand, Minnesota's expected Saturday starter, Niklas Backstrom, is 14-3-2 with a 2.10 GAA and two shutouts against the Avs.

Puck drop -- "That's the Marty of old with speed like that and coming down making plays. He makes a move and gets it to the net. … He's been playing well the last while. We can be a really good team when we get him going." -- Wild defenseman Nick Schultz on Havlat's eye-opening performance Friday

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