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Wild Warmup: Minnesota at Colorado

Post-holiday schedule commences Friday when Wild travels to Denver to take on division-rival Avs

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /
The essentials

Who: Minnesota Wild (18-15-5) at Colorado Avalanche (23-11-3)

Puck drop: 7:08 p.m. CT

Watch: NBCSN

Listen: KFAN FM 100.3, Wild Radio NetworkWild NHL App

Follow: @mnwild; @mnwildscribe; GameCenter

The Wild Warmup is presented by Bryant Heating and Cooling

ST. PAUL -- The Wild will embark on perhaps the most unusual travel day of the season on Friday when it opens its post-Christmas schedule with a road game at the Colorado Avalanche.

Unlike other road trips, where the Wild flies out the day before the game, the mandated three-day Christmas break means Minnesota will reconvene at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, fly to Denver and arrive at Pepsi Center for morning skate. 

After the game, the Wild will return home to begin its longest stretch of home games of the season, a four-game span that ends 2019 and begins 2020. 

The day Friday is more emblematic of a preseason game, when the team also flies day-of-game. 

The Wild left off before the break with a 3-0 win against the Calgary Flames on Monday at Xcel Energy Center. It provided a much-needed boost to a club that had lost three of four entering the contest and was coming off a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets just two days prior.

Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin scored second-period goals to pace Minnesota while Eric Staal put the exclamation point on things with an empty-net goal with under three minutes remaining in regulation. 

Goaltender Devan Dubnyk, making his first home start in five weeks, made 22 saves to secure his first shutout of the season and the 32nd of his career. 

After a 1-6-0 start to the 2019-20 season, the Wild rallied over the final six weeks before the break and begins play Friday just two points out of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.

"I think we're in a pretty good spot looking back at where we were," Kunin said on Monday. "Obviously we let a few slip away that we wish would've won. Just get a good break and come back rejuvenated and ready to go."

In earning the victory Monday, the Wild also opened up a bit of room on the teams behind it in the standings. 

The Chicago Blackhawks' 36 points is five fewer than the Wild's with Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles (34 points) all lagging behind as well. 

Minnesota is just three points behind Winnipeg for third in the Central and three back of Dallas for the top wild-card position. Colorado sits eight clear of the Wild for second in the division. 

"We're playing better. You'd certainly like to have the first 10 games back, but that being said I always look at the schedule we have now. Every day in this league is a tough game," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game on Monday. "I was really happy that we got over the 40-point mark. I thought that was good."

The Avalanche broke out in a big way before the break, scoring a 7-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. 

Like the Wild, the Avalanche had lost three of its previous four and was in desperate desire of good feelings heading into the layoff. 

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored twice for the Avs while Nathan MacKinnon, Valeri Nichshkin, and J.T. Compher each had multi-point efforts. 

Rookie defenseman Cale Makar, who missed the final eight games before the Christmas break because of an upper-body injury, is expected to make his return to the lineup on Friday. Makar, arguably the front runner for the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie, has eight goals and 28 points in 29 games this season. 

MacKinnon leads Colorado with 21 goals and 55 points. Both Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog have missed significant time with injuries this season but are healthy now. Rantanen has 11 goals and 25 points in 21 games while Landeskog, who has also been limited to just 21 games, has eight goals and 14 points. 

Philipp Grubauer has seen a bulk of the action in goal, starting 21 games and posting a 10-8-2 record with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.

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