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Wild crushed by Avalanche in 7-1 rout

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER – The Colorado Avalanche considers each of their remaining games as a must-win situation in their attempt to gain a playoff berth in the hotly-contested Western Conference.

The Avalanche stayed in the hunt Tuesday night with a 7-1 rout of the injury-riddled and reeling Minnesota Wild at the Pepsi Center behind a balanced attack and a solid performance from goalie Semyon Varlamov, who played in his 100th NHL game.

"We'll see how we play the next few games," Varlamov said. "Especially this time of the season, you have to win every game if you want to play in the playoffs."

Seven players scored goals and 10 collected at least one assist as the Avalanche completed a two-game sweep of their home-and-home series with the Wild, whose winless streak reached five games (0-4-1).

Right wing Steve Downie, who missed Sunday's 2-0 win in Minnesota with a shoulder injury, was cleared to play Tuesday afternoon and he contributed a career-high three assists in the second period.

But Avalanche center Matt Duchene, who earlier missed 20 games with a left knee injury, suffered what coach Joe Sacco said is an ankle injury when he was hooked to the ice by Nick Palmieri – no penalty was called -- at 5:14 of the third period.

"We'll know more (Wednesday) morning," Sacco said. "It was an ankle injury and he'll be re-evaluated."

The Wild, who went 10-1-2 in its previous 13 visits to Denver, avoided getting shut out for the second game in a row and fourth time in five games when Devin Setoguchi scored on a penalty shot at 4:34 of the third period. The shot was awarded after he was hooked near the waist by Avalanche defenseman Matt Hunwick while on a breakaway.

Jamie McGinn, who scored twice in Sunday's game, was one of four players to collect a goal and an assist Tuesday. The others were Jan Hejda, David Jones and Cody McLeod, while rookie Gabriel Landeskog had seven of the Avalanche's 39 shots and two assists.

"The win was important," said Downie, who has 2 goals and 8 assists in seven games since his Feb. 21 acquisition from Tampa Bay. "We had balanced scoring and the guys played smart defense. It was a good win all-around with great goaltending."

The Avalanche broke open a tight game with four goals in the second period, three of them coming on consecutive shots from Hejda, Mark Olver and Ryan O'Reilly.

Wild goalie Matt Hackett, who allowed four goals on 21 shots, was replaced by Josh Harding after Olver scored at 15:32 off a short pass from Paul Stastny. Olver skated to the net and slipped the puck underneath Hackett into the net before bowling over him.

"I thought I could have been sharper," Hackett said. "There were a couple bad goals. I guess we need to find a way to get some greasy goals. I have to make some saves, too. I have to improve, too."

The Avalanche scored on the first shot against Harding 62 seconds after Hackett was removed. Landeskog skated down left wing and passed to O'Reilly in the slot for a shot into a half-open net.

McGinn scored at 10:53 of the period with 15 seconds remaining on the Avalanche's fourth power play of the night for a 2-0 lead. Peter Mueller was in the left circle when he fired a shot that McGinn deflected over Hackett's glove.

"Every game, I am getting more comfortable out there and I am starting to enjoy being in the locker room with all of the guys," said McGinn, who was acquired from San Jose on Feb. 28. "They are awesome in here. They are welcoming me with open arms."

Hejda ripped a shot from the left point at 14:38 for his first goal in 30 games after Downie out-battled Wild defenseman Nate Prosser for the puck behind the net.

Varlamov wasn't very busy in the second period, but he made two exceptional saves in the early going to protect the Avalanche's 1-0 lead. He stopped Matt Kassian on a breakaway and gloved Setoguchi's shot from the right circle.

Varlamov also robbed Setoguchi with a glove stop late in the first period during a Wild power play while the Avalanche nursed the one-goal lead thanks to a goal by Jay McClement.

"There were some timely saves, no question," Sacco said. "In a score like 7-1, sometimes your goalie may not get enough credit. I thought when the game was close, he made some key saves to keep the score as it was."

Varlamov finished with 21 saves and has stopped 164 of 169 shots while winning five of his past six decisions, the only loss a 2-0 decision to Columbus on March 1.

"That is my job, to stop the pucks and sometimes make the huge saves and help the guys win every night," he said. "The guys played well in front of me, offensively and defensively. We had lots of goals. We played well and we just need to continue to work."

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