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Surging Minnesota blanks Colorado 1-0

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER - Josh Harding wasn't about to let a sore hip prevent him from playing Thursday night -- not with his team making a playoff push.

The 25-year-old goalie, starting on consecutive nights because Niklas Backstrom has a bad back, stopped all 29 shots he faced in the Minnesota Wild's 1-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center.

Harding made 12 saves in the third period and Martin Havlat scored with 4:49 to play in the Wild's fifth win in six meetings this season with the Avalanche, whose six-game winning streak came to an end.

Five of the six games between the teams were decided by one goal.

"It's not too bad," Harding said of his ailing hip after posting his first shutout of the season and the fourth of his NHL career. "I was seeing the puck really good and the D-men did an excellent job of clearing guys out of the way. When you're a goalie and you can see the puck and you know you're feeling good out there, it makes a big difference."

The Wild, who have won three games in a row, snapped a five-game road losing streak and pulled within two points of Calgary for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference.

Harding, who made 26 saves Wednesday in the Wild's 5-2 home win over Detroit, acknowledged the Wild's inability to win on the road has been "our Achilles heel" this year.

"All of a sudden we put in an effort like this," Harding said. "Everybody was tired. We were throwing the body and playing great defensively, and that's what it's going to take to win on the road."

The loss kept the Avalanche two points behind first-place Vancouver in the Northwest Division, though Colorado has played one fewer game than the Canucks.

Havlat, who has 3 goals and 5 assists in his six-game point-scoring streak, was sandwiched between two defenders when he whacked Kyle Brodziak's backhanded return pass behind Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson, who slid to his right anticipating Brodziak would shoot.

"I passed it to Brodziak and then I think their D tipped it a little bit, but he still got the puck and he made a great pass to me," Havlat said. "It was a great play from Brodziak. I just had an open net. It was a hard game tonight. We battled to the last second, and that's why we won.

"Our goalie was amazing, battling the whole night. I think he was uncomfortable the last five or six minutes, but he battled through it."

The Wild had the first five power plays of the game but managed a total of just five shots on them.

"The important thing was we didn't get frustrated on the ice or on the bench," Havlat said. "We kept battling and working hard and staying focused to the last second. It would be very easy to get frustrated after those power plays."

It was a tough loss for Anderson, who finished with 25 saves. He had shutouts in two of his three previous games and has permitted just eight goals in his past seven starts. Havlat's goal ended Anderson's shutout streak at 146 minutes, 24 seconds.

"I think it was a pretty good play on their part," Anderson said of the winning goal. "They threw it behind our D and back across again. It's just one of those where I have to respect the shot and (Brodziak) threw it back again. It was a good play on their part."

Avalanche coach Joe Sacco was unhappy with how his team handled the final few minutes, especially after it had killed all those power plays to keep the game scoreless.

"We can't allow that goal at that time," Sacco said. "It's not an odd-man rush and we have to do a better job of not allowing them to score."

Said Avalanche rookie Matt Duchene: "They forced us to make mistakes, and that's when they scored. Even their goal was a couple of lucky bounces for them. Havlat missed the pass first and it came right back to him and got through."

The Avalanche had a chance to send the game to overtime with a 6-on-4 power play that began with 2:29 remaining and Anderson on the bench for an extra attacker.

The Avs buzzed around Harding's net, but couldn't beat him.

"That was pretty boring hockey out there," Anderson said. "We had some good opportunities. It's just one of those games where you didn't get the bounces. Very few times this year have we not gotten a goal."

The Avalanche have been shut out three times this season, including a 1-0 home loss to the Wild on Dec. 9.

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