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Avs bury Wild in 7-4 win

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- Greg Mauldin hardly looked like a career journeyman Saturday night at the Pepsi Center.

Mauldin, a 28-year-old forward who has bounced around the minors and Europe since turning pro in 2004, scored twice and set up two goals as the Colorado Avalanche cruised to a 7-4 win over the Minnesota Wild.

"It really is a dream," said Mauldin, a seventh-round pick by Columbus in 2002 who considered quitting hockey a few years ago out of frustration. "This is something you dream about when you're playing youth hockey with your buddies. Having this happen in front of the home crowd is unbelievable."

The Avalanche's big win before a sellout crowd of 18,007 was tempered by the loss of power forward Chris Stewart, who suffered a broken left hand in a fight with Kyle Brodziak at 17:06 of the second period. Stewart leads the Avalanche with 11 goals and is the team's second-leading scorer with 25 points in 23 games.

"He'll be re-evaluated (Sunday) morning and we'll know more," coach Joe Sacco said. "Hockey's a game of emotions, and things happen during the course of a game. You wish, obviously, that (an injury) wouldn't happen, but that's the way the game goes. It's a physical game out there.

"You never want to lose any player, and Chris is a big part of our team. He's been playing very well for us. But like we've done in the past and we've dealt with this year, we'll deal with injuries as they come. Change brings opportunity and somebody else will have to step up in his place. We've been very resilient when we've had injuries and this organization has a lot of depth."

The Avalanche also lost forward David Winnik to what Sacco said is a deep bone contusion above his right knee. Winnik crawled across the ice to the bench at 4:30 of the first period after taking a shot from teammate John-Michael Liles.

"We've been very resilient when we've had injuries and this organization has a lot of depth," Sacco said. "That certainly helps in situations like this."

Mauldin, who had 5 shots and was plus-3 while logging 16:41 in ice time, has made the most of his chance. He has 3 goals and 4 assists in nine games with the Avalanche since his Nov. 11 recall from Lake Erie in the American Hockey League. Before that, he was scoreless in seven games with the Blue Jackets and New York Islanders.

"I was given an opportunity tonight when a couple guys went down," Mauldin said. "I was able to fill in there and I was happy to do it. I just want to keep on going from here."

Signed as a minor-league free agent in July, Mauldin began the season with Lake Erie following an impressive training camp and was summoned after the Avalanche suffered a rash of injuries.

"He played great tonight," Sacco said. "He had lots of energy and was skating hard. It's good to see a guy like him get rewarded for his hard work. He's a guy who's persevered through his career. He's taken advantage of the situation here, of an opportunity, so good for him."

Mauldin scored twice in the second period when the Avalanche netted four goals in a 6:44 span to take a 5-2 lead. Milan Hejduk and rookie defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk scored the other goals.

Mauldin added two assists in the third period, setting up goals by David Jones at 5:03 and Matt Duchene at 6:49. When Duchene put in the rebound of Mauldin's shot to give the Avalanche a 7-3 lead, Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom was replaced in favor of Jose Theodore.

Backstrom, who faced 38 shots, has allowed 18 goals in his past three games.

"He wasn't sharp, but the players in front didn't help him," Wild coach Todd Richards said. "We gave up 20 shots in the second period, and that's way too many shots and way too many opportunities. We have to find a way to corral it and get back on track. You can't continue to make mistake after mistake."

Down 2-1 after the first period, the Avalanche seized control in the second.

Mauldin tied the game at 2:45 when he skated to the net, took a pass from Paul Stastny and shot the puck between Backstrom's pads.

Hejduk scored a power-play goal at 7:18 from point-blank range off a feed from Stewart, and Mauldin scored again at 7:50 by flipping the puck over Backstrom from the right side of the net.

Shattenkirk took a puck off the right-wing boards and beat Backstrom to the short side at 9:29. He added a pair of assists and has 4 goals and 5 assists during a six-game point-scoring streak.

"A game like this is a lot of fun," said Shattenkirk, the Avalanche's first-round pick (No. 14) in the 2007 Entry Draft. "We were getting goals in bunches and everyone was contributing."

The Wild scored two goals 5:20 apart late in the first period to take a 2-1 lead after Stastny opened the scoring for the Avalanche 61 seconds into the game.

Antti Miettinen tied the game at 14:19 and Matt Cullen scored a power-play goal with 20.3 seconds remaining in the period.

"I really liked our first period," Richards said. "We played in their zone and limited their chances. Then the game got away from us and we made a couple bad decisions with the puck."

The Avalanche's seven goals were a season high and the most they have ever scored against the Wild.

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