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Avalanche, Wild respect opposing goalies

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- The Minnesota Wild made a late-season run to earn the top Western Conference wild-card spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but coach Mike Yeo said his team will need to start rebuilding that momentum Thursday at Pepsi Center in the opener of their first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche (9:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, RDS, TSN, FS-N, ALT).

"I think we can take it right up until we drop the puck. It changes from there," Yeo said after the morning skate of the Wild's 6-1-1 run to close the regular season. "I think it's going to be about both teams going out and trying to build momentum from the game and trying to build momentum in the series.

"There's no question we should feel good about ourselves, and I think they feel good about themselves too. It's all about the preparation and getting ready for the grind that's going to come. It's obviously going to be a real good, intense playoff series against a real good opponent."

The Avalanche also finished strong, going 8-1-2 to claim the Central Division title while clinching their first playoff berth in four years, and each team is counting on hot goalies to advance.

Ilya Bryzgalov went 7-1-3 with the Wild following his March 4 acquisition from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. Coincidentally, Bryzgalov was a teammate of Colorado backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere with the Anaheim Ducks, whose goalie coach was current Avalanche assistant Francois Allaire.

"You always have to respect who is in net," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "Francois worked with (Bryzgalov) and we have a lot of info on him, but you never know. This is a game that sometimes you have a lot of surprises. He played really well for them down the stretch. I watched a few games, and he made some great saves and kept their team in some games. He's certainly part of the reason why at the end they had that little push to make the playoffs."

Goalie Semyon Varlamov, who credits Allaire for his successful season, won a career-high and franchise-record 41 games for Colorado and matched Roy's team record with 24 home wins.

"This is a great goalie, he's very athletic, great side to side," Yeo said. "The one thing that I believe with any great goalie is, the quicker you shoot the puck, the better off you are. He does a very good job of coming out and closing angles and making himself big in the net. We have to have a real strong focus on putting a lot of traffic in front of him and making it difficult for him to come out and be aggressive on those shots, and also making it difficult for him to see pucks and to control his rebounds. That's playoff hockey."

Goalie Darcy Kuemper has recovered from the upper-body injury that caused him to miss the Wild's final seven regular-season games, but he's only practiced a couple of times, so John Curry will dress as Bryzgalov's backup.

Here are the projected lineups:


Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle

Matt Moulson - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Matt Cooke - Kyle Brodziak - Nino Niederreiter

Cody McCormick - Erik Haula- Stephane Veilleux

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin - Marco Scandella

Nate Prosser - Clayton Stoner

Ilya Bryzgalov

John Curry

Scratched: Jonathon Blum, Dany Heatley, Darcy Kuemper

Injured: Niklas Backstrom (abdominal), Keith Ballard (groin), Josh Harding (illness), Jason Zucker (quad)

Suspended: Mike Rupp


Ryan O'Reilly - Nathan MacKinnon - PA Parenteau

Gabriel Landeskog - Paul Stastny - Jamie McGinn

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Maxime Talbot

Paul Carey - Brad Malone - Patrick Bordeleau

Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Andre Benoit - Nick Holden

Semyon Varlamov

Jean-Sebastien Giguere

Scratched: Reto Berra, Stefan Elliott, Ryan Wilson

Injured: Matt Duchene (knee), John Mitchell (concussion) Cory Sarich (back), Alex Tanguay (hip surgery)

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