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Wild-Avalanche Preview @NHLdotcom

Three points were all that separated the Northwest Division-winning Minnesota Wild and the Colorado Avalanche from being seeded three spots apart in the Western Conference playoffs.

Through three games of their conference quarterfinal series, the difference between the teams is becoming just as difficult to distinguish.

None of those contests have been decided in regulation, but Minnesota - the winner of two of three in overtime - will look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead on Tuesday in Game 4 at the Pepsi Center.

The Wild scored two third-period goals to tie the Avalanche 2-2 in Game 1, but lost home-ice advantage when Joe Sakic scored the winner in overtime. Then it was defenseman Keith Carney who was Minnesota's unlikely hero in Game 2, scoring 1:14 into the extra period to even the series.

Sakic tied Game 3 at two apiece in the third period on Monday in Denver, but the Wild took the series lead - and regained home-ice - when Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored his first goal of the playoffs at 11:58 of overtime, giving Minnesota the 3-2 win.

It appeared Colorado would touch the puck for an icing call just before the overtime tally, but a strange carom off the boards sent the puck to forward Brian Rolston, and he found Bouchard in the slot.

"We were fortunate on the last goal," coach Jacques Lemaire said. "The puck never got across the other side of the net, so Rolston could get it and make that play to Bouchard. It's strange the way it happened, but sometimes you need a break to win, and we got it."

Dating back to their seven-game, first-round series in 2003, the last five playoff games between the Avalanche and Wild have ended 3-2 in overtime.

Mikko Koivu had only 11 goals this season for Minnesota, but he's stepped up since the playoffs have started. In his first three career postseason games, the third-year center has a goal in each.

He's the only Wild player with more than one goal thus far.

Marion Gaborik's lack of production has to be a concern for Minnesota. Gaborik led the Wild and was seventh in the NHL with 42 goals in the regular season, but he doesn't have a point in the playoffs despite registering 12 shots.

In six regular-season games against the Avalanche, Gaborik had two goals and two assists.

Strangely, the Wild haven't scored in the first two periods of the three games despite peppering Colorado goaltender Jose Theodore with 57 shots. But from that point on, Theodore has become vulnerable, allowing all eight of Minnesota's goals.

"What I expect of myself is to make big saves, especially in overtime. Then again, anything can happen, and we saw another kind of weird bounce," Theodore said. "That's pretty much how the series has been played so far. We've got to turn the page and bounce back."

Theodore fell to 9-17-0 with a 2.93 goals-against average in his last 26 playoff starts.

It's been Sakic who has once again risen to the occasion for Colorado offensively in the postseason. He scored the overtime winner in Game 1 - the eighth of his career, an NHL record - and had a goal and an assist on Monday.

But after scoring two power-play goals in five chances in the first two games of the series, Sakic and the Avalanche went 0-for-6 in Game 3 with the man advantage.

"We had some pretty good chances," said Sakic, who leads all active NHL players with 182 playoff points. "But at this time of year it's production."

Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom was excellent when his team was short-handed on Monday, and he's enjoying his second postseason series far more than his first.

Backstrom was up and down as Minnesota was eliminated from the conference quarterfinals in five games by eventual Stanley Cup champion Anaheim last spring, but he's posted a 2.06 GAA and a .926 save percentage against the Avalanche so far.

His 44 saves on Monday were by far the most of his eight-game postseason career.

Game 5 is slated for Thursday at the XCel Energy Center.

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