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Wild take big lead, hold off Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- One year after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Minnesota Wild have set their sights on first place in the Northwest Division.

The Wild kept the pressure on division-leading Vancouver by beating the slumping Colorado Avalanche 6-4 on Saturday at the Pepsi Center to complete a sweep of the home-and-home series and set up a showdown with the Canucks on Monday at GM Place.

"It has been fun," Wild forward Danny Heatley said. "We have four lines that are playing well, our ‘D' is playing well and our goaltender is playing well. Now we have to keep it going. Vancouver is real good in their building and it's going to be a real big one for us."

The Wild have won four of their past five games and are 11-5-1 since Feb. 9. They have scored 18 goals while going 3-0-1 against the Avalanche this season.

Devin Setoguchi led the Wild with two goals and an assist – matching his career high for points in a game -- while Ryan Suter and Pierre-Marc Bouchard each had a goal and an assist to support goalie Niklas Backstrom, who has a 23-5-3 career record against the Avalanche.

"Right now our offense is a result of what we're doing in our own end," Setoguchi said. "We're doing a good job there and we're using our speed to take pucks to the net. When we do that, we've got such a big, strong team that can skate, it's tough to defend."

The Wild broke out to a 4-1 lead in the first period against Avalanche goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who faced 14 shots in his first home start of the season and was replaced by Semyon Varlamov to begin the second period.

"It's too deep a hole to dig ourselves," Avalanche center Matt Duchene said. "Right now it just feels like we're afraid to make mistakes. It feels like we're tight. We're not having fun right now. You don't have fun when you lose. It sounds cheesy, but when you bring the fun back it brings the confidence back and you can start playing better hockey. Confidence is everything right now, and we don't have it."

The Avalanche pulled within 4-3 in the second period on goals by PA Parenteau and Gabriel Landeskog, whose goal at 10:23 caused Wild coach Mike Yeo to call his timeout.

But the Wild regained their two-goal advantage at 12:02 when Pierre-Marc Bouchard intercepted Landeskog's cross-ice pass from the corner and beat Varlamov from the right circle.

"They made a push, and that's the way it always is," Setoguchi said. "It's weird. No lead is safe this year. Every team knows how important these points are in such a short, condensed schedule. You have nothing to save it for. You have to win in order to make the playoffs."

Setoguchi and the Avalanche's Chuck Kobasew traded goals in the third period. Bouchard fed Setoguchi skating in alone on Varlamov at 10:22 and Kobasew scored at 18:07.

"This isn't typical Wild hockey, what we've been accustomed to," Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck said of the high-scoring affair. "I don't think we're expecting to score four goals in the first period every game, but we expect to play the same way every game, whether we score four or we score none. We're doing good things offensively, but in the big picture it's just the way we're playing the game."

Parenteau scored at 2:45 of the second period when he moved through traffic into the goalmouth and slipped the puck past Backstrom. Landeskog scored from the slot off a pass from Duchene, who regained possession after his shot was blocked by Wild forward Charlie Coyle.

Suter and Setoguchi scored 1:44 apart to give the Wild a 2-0 lead at the 6:00 mark of the first period, prompting Avalanche coach Joe Sacco to call his timeout. Whatever Sacco said didn't work because Clutterbuck scored 3:04 later with a shot from a bad angle after Heatley rang one off the left post.

The Avalanche got on the board at 14:11 on a goal by John Mitchell, who scored from near the right-wing boards, but the Wild answered at 17:18 after Heatley fired another shot off the left post. Kyle Brodziak, skating to the net from the right side, watched the puck skip off his skate before he knocked it out of the air and behind Giguere.

Heatley's second assist gave him 400 for his NHL career.

"It's just a number, but I'm not really known for getting assists," Heatley said. "I guess it's kind of fitting that they both came off shots."

Suter opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 4:16, beating Giguere with a one-timer from the right point. Setoguchi scored from the slot at the 6:00 mark, beating Giguere to the glove side while using Avalanche defenseman Matt Hunwick as a screen.

The Avalanche have been outscored 15-6 in a three-game losing streak that followed wins against Chicago and San Jose, dropping them to the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

"It's very hard to explain," Duchene said. "We have to find our maturity as a team and find that confidence again. If we are able to do that we can turn this thing around, but it's got to happen right away."

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