Only 43 seconds into the game Sunday at Xcel Energy Center, Colorado’s Cody McLeod and the Wild’s Chris Stewart dropped the gloves and spent the next few moments taking punches at each other.
This, given the recent history of this revving rivalry, was entirely expected.
But this wasn’t: With just less than two minutes left in the first period, Jarome Iginla’s shot from the right circle was redirected past Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, giving the Avalanche a lead it would not lose.
And the person celebrating that goal? None other than McLeod, the man Wild fans love to hate. The man who mixed it up in the final moments the last time these two teams met.
“It was a nice deflection,” Wild defenseman Ryan Suter admitted. “It was just one of those nights.”
Colorado’s 3-2 victory was its first and only win in this season’s five-game series between the teams. It ended the Wild’s five-game winning streak and added a little more fuel to this festering rivalry.
As if it needed it.
But, if you’re looking for salt in the wound, the Avalanche — which had been outscored 12-1 in four previous games against the Wild — got goals from both McLeod and Gabriel Landeskog, the two players who were fined in the wake of the dust-up that ended the Feb. 28 game with the Wild in Denver.
And if Sunday’s game wasn’t nearly as physical as some expected, it was no less frustrating for the Wild. McLeod scored the first goal, and Landeskog scored Colorado’s third goal, on a power play, 1:19 into the third. Late goals by Stewart and Thomas Vanek — his coming with 19 seconds left — only served to make the final score closer.
“We just didn’t play that great,” Wild winger Zach Parise said. “We had a good start, then we started turning a lot of pucks over through the neutral zone in the second period. That took us away from our game.”
With the loss, the Wild stayed one point ahead of Winnipeg for the top wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference and four points up on ninth-place Los Angeles. The Wild also fell to five points behind third-place Chicago in the Central Division. The Blackhawks gained a point with an overtime loss to the Rangers.
The Wild outshot the Avalanche 34-21 and held the puck for long stretches, especially in the second period. But Minnesota didn’t get enough quality scoring chances and didn’t get enough quality shots. The Avalanche, which won its third consecutive game, used goals in the final two minutes of the first two periods to take control. McLeod’s came with 1:55 left in the first, and Zach Redmond’s shot from the right point found the far corner of the net for a 2-0 Colorado lead with 1:51 left in the second.
“We had a real good start,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “But even with that, we weren’t generating a tone. … I thought we did enough good things maybe to win, but not enough good things to make certain that we did.”
It was only the fourth time in 24 games that the Wild failed to secure a point in the standings.
In the third period, the Wild finally mounted a comeback. Stewart, acquired in a trade deadline deal with Buffalo on March 2, scored his first goal with Minnesota when his shot off the back wall bounced back into the crease, off a Colorado skate and past Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov at 14:04 of the third. Shaken up on the play, Varlamov, who made 29 saves, was replaced by Reto Berra. Thomas Vanek scored against Berra with 19 seconds left, but the Wild’s last-ditch effort didn’t connect.
“We haven’t felt like this a lot lately,” Parise said. “We played one good period in Carolina [Friday] and got away with a win. I don’t think we played well throughout the whole game to get a win tonight. … We have to do a better job getting the puck to the net.”