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Avs get another crack at beating division foe

by Rick Sadowski /
DENVER -- If the Colorado Avalanche miss the playoffs for the second year in a row, coaches and players will have to look no further than at an abysmal record against Northwest Division opponents.

The Avalanche have lost 11 of 13 games against teams in the division this season, including two of three meetings with the Minnesota Wild, tonight's opponent at the Pepsi Center.

"It would be nice to know where we'd be if we had a better record in our division," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said this morning.

The Pepsi Center has been a friendly place for the Wild, who broke an 11-game winless streak here with a 3-2 victory on Jan. 24 and have posted a 9-1-2 record in their past dozen visits.

"We have to prepare ourselves better," said Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who will start in goal for the Avalanche. "I think most of those losses that we had, we didn't play for 60 minutes. We didn't have a good start and we shot ourselves in the foot. The last game against Minnesota is a prime example. They outworked us for most of the game and you're not going to win any games in this League if you don't work hard. We should be ready and excited about these games."

The Avalanche have lost three games in a row (all by 3-2 scores) to fall into 10th place in the Western Conference, one point behind an eighth-place Wild team that has played two fewer games. Colorado and ninth-place Dallas each have 54 points, but the Stars have played three fewer games.

"We have to start winning some games," Giguere said. "We can't just keep losing and think there are 28 or 27 more games. We have to put some points in the bank, because those games that you are losing now are going to end up hurting you in the end."

After playing nine of 12 games on the road in January, the Avalanche will split 12 games in February between home and the road. Tonight's game is the first of a four-game homestand.

"We have to try and capture some of the momentum that we've lost over the last couple of games," said Sacco, who needs one win for 100 in his NHL coaching career, all with Colorado. "I like the fact that we have a four-game homestand. It's been a long time since we've had any sort of homestand. You have to take care of business at home, and that's what we'll be looking to do."

The Wild, meantime, is looking to put Tuesday's stunning 5-4 loss to Nashville behind it. The Predators scored four goals in the final 10 1/2 minutes to wipe out a 4-1 deficit.

"We've all been through games like that, in this League or other leagues," said Wild left wing Dany Heatley, who has 3 goals and 3 assists in a three-game point-scoring streak. "We're in too tight of a race to let that linger and bother us."

Wild coach Mike Yeo has already turned the page, pointing out his team has won two of the past three games and played well in all three, with the exception of the last 10 minutes against Nashville.

"If we want to dwell on anything, it should be the fact that we should have won the game," he said.

Sacco said he didn't feel the need to discuss the Wild's meltdown with his players, since the Avalanche are coming off a poor performance in Tuesday's 3-2 loss in Edmonton.

"We're in the same boat," he said. "The Edmonton game was a game that we obviously wanted to win, just like Minnesota wanted to beat Nashville. I know the circumstances might be a little bit different, but we should have as much of a sour taste in our mouth as they should. We have to make sure we're ready to bring our 'A' game tonight."

The Wild has experienced plenty of success in Denver largely because of goalie Niklas Backstrom. He's gone 8-2-1 at the Pepsi Center with two shutouts, a 2.12 goals-against average and .934 save percentage. Backstrom is 5-1-1 in the past seven games, permitting one goal or fewer in five of them.

"We need to get out of this skid here and make sure we start putting points in the bank," said Avalanche defenseman and Minnesota native Erik Johnson. "If you're going to be successful, you have to take care of your divisional games. We haven't done that to date, and we've talked about it a lot and this is one of those games tonight."
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