DENVER – By getting stuck in the clump of teams chasing the division leaders, the Wild has not only had to pay attention to the gap it has to close ahead of it but also who’s gaining ground behind it.
And the pressure from both directions doesn’t appear to be weakening.
After the Stars won to grow their cushion over the Wild to four points earlier in day, the Avalanche delivered another blow by overwhelming the Wild 7-2 Saturday at Pepsi Center to tie the Wild in points at 47 after the Wild’s fourth consecutive loss on the road.
“They executed well,” center Eric Staal said. “They were better, and they deserved to win.”
The win extended the Avalanche’s win streak to a season-high five games, a feel-good run that has planted the team firmly in the playoff race and made former great Milan Hejduk’s pregame jersey retirement ceremony even more memorable.
Colorado was almost dominant in the first period, mixing its speed and skill with a physicality that seemed to rattle the Wild. The visitors were sloppy, porous in their defensive-zone setup and mostly out-of-sync in all three zones.
And the Avalanche capitalized.
“They were buzzing,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “We had a hard time getting up to speed.”
Winger Gabriel Bourque, who hadn’t scored since Nov. 10, 2015, snapped out of his funk when he was left unattended in the slot to roof a shot over goalie Devan Dubnyk’s glove 7 minutes, 38 seconds into the first period.
Later in the period, defenseman Patrik Nemeth buried a beautiful no-look drop pass by center Nathan MacKinnon at 18:16. But before the first ended, the Wild was able to get one back when Staal stuffed in a rebound in front at 19:27.
That goal seemed crucial for the Wild, but the Avalanche grew its lead early in the second.
Just after winger Daniel Winnik hit the post with the Wild shorthanded, a shot that could have tied it at 2, the Avalanche went the other way on the power play and went up 3-1 when center Carl Soderberg one-timed a feed from the corner past Dubnyk 8:03 into the period.
“That was a turning point,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Colorado added a fourth goal amid another wave of pressure around the crease. This time, Dubnyk slid across in time to stop a redirect from MacKinnon. He also got a piece of a Gabriel Landeskog shot, but the Wild couldn’t get the loose puck before winger Mikko Rantanen pounced on it and lifted a backhander over Dubnyk with 3:41 left in the second.
The Wild challenged the goal to determine whether Dubnyk was interfered with on the play, but the goal stood.
“I don’t think we were very good defensively,” Suter said. “We didn’t help Duby out much.”
Again, the Wild tried to orchestrate a rally with Staal the conductor — as he buried yet another loose puck for his team-leading 19th goal at 19:22 on the power play.
But it remained a challenge for the Wild to build momentum.
Meanwhile, the Avalanche continued to convert.
Soderberg tallied his second of the game on a rebound at 5:13 on the power play and, after Dubnyk was called for roughing, the Avalanche scored another power-play goal – this one from MacKinnon. Dubnyk was pulled after that, exiting with 26 saves. Alex Stalock made five stops in relief, giving up a goal to center Tyson Jost with 2:15 to go. Jonathan Bernier had 34 stops for Colorado.
Colorado finished 3-for-4 with the man advantage, the Wild 1-for-4.
“They were quicker, and we just didn’t execute well enough throughout most of the game through the neutral zone and eliminate some of their speed and quickness,” Staal said. “They were better than us.”