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Wild grab division lead with win over Avs

by Brian Compton and Brian Hunter

Goaltender Niklas Backstrom dominated in between the pipes as the Minnesota Wild took over sole possession of first place in the Northwest Division with a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
Watch highlights of the Wild's big 3-1 victory 
Green is part of the Minnesota Wild’s color scheme, but they didn’t need the luck of the Irish to pick up a victory on St. Patrick’s Day – just the usual steady play of goaltender Niklas Backstrom and defenseman Brent Burns.
Backstrom stopped 29 shots – including all 15 he faced during the third period – and Burns chipped in a goal and an assist as the Wild claimed a 3-1 victory Monday night over the Colorado Avalanche at Xcel Energy Center and sole possession of first place in the Northwest Division.
''It's exactly like a playoff game,'' Minnesota forward Brian Rolston said. ''The good thing about all of us being around the 84(-point) mark is we'll all be playoff ready. These last nine games will be a playoff game every night because we're all fighting, scratching and clawing to get into the playoffs.''
With 86 points after Monday’s win, the Wild took over the third seed in the Western Conference. Colorado, Calgary and Vancouver -- all playoff teams if the season ended today -- are all close behind in what has shaped up as the NHL’s most competitive division.

Branko Radivojevic redirected a Burns blast midway through the second period for the game-winning goal, and Stephane Veilleux put the puck into an empty net with 6.4 seconds left in regulation after Backstrom held off the Avalanche down the stretch.    ''We know that we're leaving tomorrow for four games on the road,'' Backstrom said. ''We needed this win. We needed the two points. It's good for us. We got it in regulation. It's good to move on and get ready for Wednesday. It's good for our confidence to show we can play against these clubs. We know how we should play against them.''
Joe Sakic’s power-play goal was all the offense Colorado could muster in losing its second straight following an 8-1 run. Jose Theodore made 26 saves, denying Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s backhander with eight minutes left by making a brilliant sliding stop, but the Avalanche never managed the tying goal.

''We played the way we were hoping to play,'' Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. ''You play like that, that's a recipe for success. I think we'll build off the things we did well.''
One thing the Avalanche didn’t do well was capitalize on penalties by the Wild. They came up empty on three power-play attempts in the first period, including a 5-on-3 that lasted for 40 seconds. And naturally, when Colorado was hit with its first minor infraction, Minnesota took advantage.
With Todd Fedoruk set up in front screening Theodore, Burns took a pass from Rolston and released a quick shot from between the circles that snuck inside the left post. Burns’ 14th of the season came 8:54 into the first and staked the Wild to a 1-0 lead.
Sakic’s 11th goal at 4:51 of the second tied the score and came after Andrew Brunette forced a turnover deep in the Minnesota zone. Paul Stastny collected the puck and fed it into the slot where Sakic skated in and buried a shot past Backstrom.
Radivojevic regained the lead for the Wild less than five minutes later. Burns took a hard shot that the rugged winger expertly deflected in with 10:18 left in the period for his fifth of the season. Burns’ assist gave the defenseman his ninth multi-point game this year.
Veilleux, who went 33 games without a goal at one point this season, notched his sixth in 16 games since and ninth overall. The empty-netter gave Minnesota consecutive home wins in regulation for the first time since Dec. 18-20, possibly signaling a turnaround after a stretch of nine losses in 13 games.
''We had talked about getting some points lately that would build up our confidence, and that's what we did,'' Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. ''Confidence was better, now we've got to stay with this and not think we can play any way we want and win. We still have to play a team game.''
Colorado, on the other hand, finished 1-for-6 with the man advantage, as its power play continued to struggle on the road. The Avalanche entered Monday night with an 11.2 percent power play rate away from Pepsi Center, worst in the League. Ryan Smyth wasn’t overly concerned, though.
''We'll execute that and find ways to capitalize on it because it's very important down the stretch and in the playoffs,'' Smyth said. ''It was a crucial part of today's game.''

Canucks 3, Coyotes 1 | Video

Henrik Sedin and Taylor Pyatt stopped long scoring droughts, and Roberto Luongo made 25 saves as Vancouver handed Phoenix at GM Place to move into a three-way tie for second place in the Northwest Division with Calgary and Colorado.
More importantly, the Canucks (37-26-10) moved four points ahead of the No. 9 Nashville Predators in the Western Conference, as Alain Vigneault’s club aims to nail down a playoff spot.
Sedin scored twice in the victory, putting a stop to a 17-game stretch that saw him score only empty-net goals.
''If you don't score and you're supposed to score, it s always nice to get some goals,'' Sedin said. ''We got some bounces and went to the net a little bit more tonight and the whole team played better so it makes it easier.''
Following a 2-0 loss to the Coyotes last Thursday, Vigneault decided to put the Sedin twins on separate lines. While they also didn’t skate together in Saturday’s 4-3 win over Dallas, they managed to find time on Monday night to rekindle the magic they create so often.
''It's great to see Hank score, he was right in front of the net on both goals and he stood up and played a good game tonight,'' said Daniel Sedin, who had two assists to snap a six-game funk. ''I think you have to shoot the puck and look for rebounds and then you can make plays. Maybe we got way from that when we were in this slump.''
Speaking of slumps, Phoenix is suddenly mired in one. Monday’s loss dropped the Coyotes seven points behind the Canucks with only nine games to play. Daniel Carcillo scored the lone goal for Phoenix.
For Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky, Carcillo was the lone bright spot.
''I thought Danny played a tremendous game,'' Gretzky said.
Vancouver aims for its third straight win on Thursday night against the Edmonton Oilers, who, like Phoenix, are fighting for their playoff lives. The Canucks will play four of their next five games away from GM Place.

“We’re trying to catch the teams in front of us,” Henrik Sedin said. “We have a really tough stretch here with a lot of games on the road. It was a huge win for us.”
Material from wire services and team broadcast and online media was used in this report.

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