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Wild 5, Avalanche 2 @NHLdotcom

DENVER (AP) - The Pepsi Center crowd went wild after Peter Budaj surrendered back-to-back goals to Minnesota 42 seconds apart early in the first period Sunday night.

That's right. They cheered.

Because into the crease skated Jose Theodore for his Colorado Avalanche debut a month and a day after his trade from Montreal.

The cheers didn't last long.

Theodore's long-anticipated arrival couldn't prevent the already-eliminated Wild from putting a serious dent in the Avs' playoff aspirations with a 5-2 win behind Marian Gaborik's eighth career hat trick.

"In their situation it's got to hurt a bit," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "But they had a lot of good chances and they didn't score. And to me, the next game ... I think they'll get their goals there. They can't be missing goals like this."

Or opportunities, not if they want avoid missing out on the playoffs for the first time since moving from Quebec in 1995.

The damaging loss left the Avalanche 2-2 on their pivotal five-game homestand, tightening the race in the Western Conference, where three teams are within striking distance of their 92 points and sixth-place status.

The Avs had hoped to keep Theodore, who hadn't played since Jan. 31, off the ice until Tuesday night against Phoenix.

"That was the plan, yeah," coach Joel Quenneville said. "He had some work this morning and I think it was an opportunity for us to get his feet wet, get him back in it. It's been a while since he's played."

And Quenneville said he liked what he saw.

"I thought he looked sharp in the net. I like the way he positioned himself. I liked the way he moved handling the puck. I thought he looked comfortable," Quenneville said.

Still donning his mask from the Canadiens, Theodore made several spectacular saves before Daniel Tjarnqvist sent a slap shot through a screen from the right point on a power play at 16:54 of the second period.

Gaborik's short-handed goal early in the third period made it 4-0. John-Michael Liles finally put the Avalanche on the board but he was out of position 24 seconds later as Gaborik scored for the third time.

"When the playoff picture isn't there anymore, it's hard to get motivated," Gaborik said. "But I think we are doing fine and especially these last few games we have to go out there and have fun."

The Avs had little to smile about other than Theodore's return to the ice.

"I felt a little rust," Theodore said. "Overall, it was good just to be able to get in the game like that to work on little details. It's never easy when you walk in when you're not starting and you just go in. But I'm happy that I was able to play a couple of periods before my start.

"I did some good things. I did some things I wasn't solid technically. I felt more comfortable as the game went on and that's what I wanted."

Theodore suited up Sunday night for the first time since the trade, and Budaj must have been looking over his shoulder. He allowed Gaborik's first goal 4 1/2 minutes into the game and then watched Pascal Dupuis tap in another less than a minute later.

"We gave up the lead and he had to come in with us having to play from behind," Pierre Turgeon said. "That opened the game up for chances for them. Good chances."

Manny Fernandez had a career-high 40 saves in positing his 30th victory, quite an accomplishment considering he platooned in the net until the Wild sent former All-Star Dwayne Roloson to Edmonton last month.

Colorado has been searching for a strong presence in net since Patrick Roy retired in 2003. Theodore, the NHL's MVP and the league's top goalie in 2002, is looking for a fresh start after wearing out his welcome in Montreal.

He struggled this season, going 17-15-5 with a 3.46 goals-against average and a .881 save percentage for the Canadiens, and he was pulled in three of his final four starts before losing his starting job altogether to Cristobal Huet. Then he broke his right heel Feb. 16 when he slipped on icy steps at his home during the Olympic break and the Canadiens sent him to Colorado on March 8 for goaltender David Aebischer.

Cody McCormick's fourth goal of the season at 15:52 of the third period made it 5-2 and took Budaj off the hook and saddled Theodore with the loss.

"It was good for him to get into the game," Turgeon said. "It would have been better for him to get a win in his first game here. It didn't happen for him. I think we will bounce back."

Notes: Avs captain Joe Sakic extended his points streak to 13 games, one shy of his career high. ... Tjarnqvist set a career high with three points.

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