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Avalanche-Wild Preview @NHL

Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote and Joe Sakic have won two Stanley Cup titles with Colorado. The Avalanche are hoping the trio can lead them to another one this season.

The Avalanche make their return to the playoffs Wednesday after a one-year hiatus when they visit the Northwest Division champion Minnesota Wild.

Forsberg, Foote and Sakic helped guide the Avalanche (44-31-7) to Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001. Forsberg and Foote left the team following the 2004-05 lockout, but have returned after Colorado missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years last season.

Foote was acquired in a Feb. 26 trade with Columbus, while Forsberg signed with the Avalanche on Feb. 25 and made his season debut March 4 - the first night the three played together since May 4, 2004.

"You need experience and you can only get experience by playing," Sakic said. "Both those guys are going to help out. At the deadline we got Ruslan (Salei), and he played in the (Stanley Cup) finals, as well. We have a lot of experience in here and everyone needs to pick it up."

The Avalanche couldn't ask for more experience than they get with Sakic and Forsberg. Sakic ranks first among active players with 82 playoff goals and 178 points (eighth and 11th all-time, respectively), while Forsberg is third among active players with 63 postseason goals and second with 172 points (23rd and 15th all-time).

"I think he upgrades our overall skill level, helps our power play, direct plays, patience with the puck, relieving pressure as good as anyone in the game," coach Joel Quenneville said of Forsberg. "The improvement in overall skill and our team ability to score is enhanced. He's one of those players that can really influence the outcome of games. We've noticed that when he's been in."

Sakic, who missed 38 games following hernia surgery, finished this season with 13 goals and 27 assists. Foote had a goal and 15 assists in 2007-08 - though he picked up just one assist in 12 games with Colorado - while Forsberg, who's been bothered by balky legs and a strained groin, had a goal and 13 assists in nine games.

The Avalanche went 5-0-1 in their final six games, including a 4-3 shootout win over Minnesota (44-28-10) on Sunday. Forsberg had three assists in that contest as Colorado improved to 3-4-1 against the Wild this season and clinched the No. 6 spot in the playoffs.

Sakic scored his 205th career power-play goal, passing Wayne Gretzky for 12th on the all-time list.

"It's good to know we can beat those guys," Colorado's Ian Laperriere said. "You don't know what can happen at the end. It's better to be sixth instead of seventh."

The Avalanche, however, were 0-3-1 in Minnesota this season, extending their losing streak there to five games.

The Wild are in the playoffs for the second straight season. After losing in the first round last year to a more physical Anaheim club that went on to win the Stanley Cup, Minnesota has added rugged forwards Todd Fedoruk and Chris Simon.

"You've got to be ready for seven games in every round, so the more you hit, the more you finish checks, the more that adds up," said Simon, who has been suspended eight times in 15 years and missed a total of 55 games over the last two seasons for separate incidents. "It's like putting money in the bank. It pays off in the end, wearing guys down."

Laperriere and Marian Gaborik, who set team records with 42 goals and 83 points this season, exchanged punches and drew five-minute fighting majors in overtime Sunday. Gaborik had never been in an NHL fight before.

"The playoff will be a notch higher," Laperriere said. "Teams and players that haven't been physical all season will be physical. They will bring their physical play in the playoffs, because if they want to win that's the way they need to play. Our guys will be physical, and that the way playoffs are."

Minnesota, which went 4-0-1 in its last five games, will be hoping for a big series from Niklas Backstrom, who won a franchise-record 33 games this season. Backstrom was 1-4-0 with a 2.22 goals-against average in last year's playoffs, but is 18-2-6 with a 1.60 GAA in 28 career regular-season games in March and April.

The Wild and Avalanche are meeting for the second time in the playoffs. Minnesota rallied from a 3-1 deficit in 2003 to beat Colorado in seven games in a first-round series.

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