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Avs inch closer with 2-0 win over Wild

by Dan Myers
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Sunday was the end of a stressful week for Colorado Avalanche forward Jamie McGinn, but he ended it in style.

McGinn, who played in this building seven days ago as a member of the San Jose Sharks, scored both goals for the Avs -- his first two with his new team -- in a 2-0 win against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

"Pretty stressful, and hectic but it's nice being on the road with the boys," McGinn said. "You don't know how long it's going to be with a new team [before you score a goal]. You want to jump in and be a part of it right away.

"To be a big part tonight, and put a couple in the back of the net, it makes the transition a little easier."

McGinn and goaltender Semyon Varlamov were all the Avalanche needed Sunday. Colorado outshot Minnesota 17-11 and took advantage of yet another slow start by the Wild.

McGinn's game-winner just 1:42 into the game was the fifth straight game the Wild have allowed a goal within the opening three minutes of the contest.

"Too many tough starts like this. And right now, we don't seem to have the ability to bounce back from that," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "There's no excuse. It just can't keep happening."

A turnover behind the Wild net led to McGinn's first goal. After shots by Stefan Elliot and Peter Mueller hit traffic on the way to the net, the puck ended up on McGinn's stick near the left post. He easily put it in for his 13th of the season.

"Tonight, it was being in the right spot at the right time," McGinn said. "The last two games it didn't happen for me so I was glad to turn things around."

Seven minutes later, on the power play and with the benefit of some more puck luck, McGinn made it 2-0. After a shot from Mueller at the top of the left circle was blocked by Wild defenseman Marco Scandella, the puck deflected to McGinn at the bottom of the circle. His initial shot was stopped by Minnesota goalie Matt Hackett, but the rebound bounced right back to him, and he ripped a wrist shot just under the crossbar.

"In tight, you gotta go up high," McGinn said. "My dad has been telling me that since day one. And when I don't do it, trust me, I get an ear-full after the game."

"He did it by going to the hard areas of the ice, the scoring areas where you need to put yourself in a position to score those goals," said Avalanche coach Joe Sacco. "That was a big start for us and after that, we just played our game."

From there, the Avalanche played a stifling defensive game, forcing the Wild into shots from non-scoring areas. Dany Heatley clanked a backhander off the crossbar early in the second period and was robbed on a brilliant leg-save by Varlamov late in the game at the top of the crease.

Most of Minnesota's remaining 29 shots on goal presented little danger.

"The defense played outstanding, they really helped me a lot," Varlamov said. "They played every rebound and cleared the puck."

The shutout was Varlamov's fourth this season and the victory also evened his record at 19-19-2.

"He's been very solid for us lately here and we're going to need that type of play down the stretch," Sacco said. "When you get to this time of year, goaltending becomes very critical and certainly Varly was solid tonight."

After a pair of rough home losses -- one a 2-0 shutout to Columbus and the other, a 5-1 blowout Saturday night against Pittsburgh, Sunday's win was critical to Colorado's playoff hopes.

The win moved the Avs to within a point of San Jose for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"After dropping two, we needed these two points," McGinn said. "It seems everyone ahead of us is winning right now so we have to stay in the hunt. It's going to be an interesting final stretch here and we want to be apart of it."

The loss dropped Minnesota into a 12th place tie with Anaheim at 66 points, seven back of the Sharks and in danger of being out of the playoff picture. With just 16 games remaining, the Wild could lose one more game and still reach 96 points -- considered the bench mark to grab the final playoff spot in the West.

The teams conclude this home-and-home series Tuesday night in Denver at the Pepsi Center. The Wild have gone 10-1-2 in their last 13 games in the Mile High City, including a 2-0 mark this season.
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