Where to start, where to start?

First, the Avalanche blew a 2-1 lead late in the third tonight to lose to the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-2, so the Wild can really put the hammer down on the Avs on Saturday (2 p.m. CT puck drop) with a regulation victory.

The Avs have played one fewer game, but the Wild’s now three up on a playoff spot and is back to within one regulation/overtime win of the Avs. That big because if for some reason the Wild and Avs end the season tied with points, the first tiebreaker is ROW’s. The second tiebreaker is head-to-head and the Wild has that locked up even with the stupid rule that the first is thrown out when there’s an odd number of games played in a season series (there will be five). So basically, because the extra game in the series was played in Denver, it’s like the Wild’s four-goal, third-period come-from-behind opening night victory ceases to exist.

NHL Wild Card standings

Not sure what got the louder cheer tonight: Zach Parise’s hat trick or Thomas Vanek’s hustling second-period backcheck and physicality to cause Brandon Bollig to crash into the corner boards. Luckily, he was OK despite the face-first violent collision into the wall.

The Wild spoiled Niklas Backstrom’s return to Minnesota tonight with a 6-2 trouncing.

Parise had his NHL-leading third hat trick of the season, and all three goals came in the first period to become the first Wild player in history to score three goals in a period. He also scored the three fastest goals by an individual in Wild history (11:12, surpassing Marian Gaborik by 53 seconds).

Remember, Parise entered the game with two goals in his past 25 games. He matched that in a 46-second span, coming short of breaking Charlie Coyle’s team record of fastest two goals by an individual.

Parise ended up with four points, the ninth time he hit that mark. He was ticked off the off-ice officials called the second Jared Spurgeon power-play goal – a set play Parise and Spurgeon have been working on backdoor – unassisted. That would have been a career-high five points for Parise and tied a career-high with four assists for Mikko Koivu.

“Our scorers are sleeping sometimes. I’ve never seen a home rink that it’s tougher to get points in than ours, seriously,” Parise said.

Minnesota, like few other rinks, is letter to the law on everything and they felt Mark Giordano intercepting the pass negated the assist. But I get Parise’s frustration and I agree that the vast majority of rinks would have handed out two assists.

Still, huge win and huge breakout game for Parise, who was showing signs of late for breaking out of his slumber. He blew the open net on the power play in Chicago the other day, but man, he has been getting chances lately.

“Show me a player that wouldn’t be [dejected] after that,” Parise said of the OT miss in Chicago. “Yeah, I was upset. It was a big game for us and at the time I had a really good look in the third, goalie made a good save, then I missed the one in overtime. Of course I was upset for missing it.”

The difference with Parise and a lot of players is when he’s not scoring, he still does so much on the ice to help you win, Devan Dubnyk said.

“The nice thing about him is when he’s not scoring you still want him on the ice all the time,” Dubnyk, who made 31 saves and was particularly awesome on back-to-back third-period penalty kills. “He’s still effective, he still plays the right way and works, he still creates a lot of stuff even if the pucks aren’t going in for him. It’s nice to see him get a few tonight and hopefully continue that.”

Parise missed practice Wednesday to go see a doctor to get treatment for an injury that will linger for the rest of the season. Apparently, he also got a trampoline for his twin children.

He looked fresh tonight.

I kiddingly asked him if he’ll start taking more maintenance days: “Probably, after that. Yeah, I think so.”

On the relief of breaking out of his slump, Parise said, “That’s the way the game goes. It doesn’t always go the way you want or the way you play, so hopefully from now on we can keep generating some offense and play more like that.”

John Torchetti (now 13-6-1 as coach with three four-game winning streaks) said of Parise, “I just think it's the law of averages. He's a great player, and things started going. His battle-level was up there, and his compete-level. He was in good situations his past few games. The game in Chicago, I thought he should have got one, or maybe two. We didn't need it that game, but certainly the whole team was happy for him tonight because he had a big breakout game for us, and we certainly needed it, and it put us all in a good driving position and being comfortable for the game.”

Asked if he had sense Parise’s frustration of late, Torchetti said, “Great players want to do great things all the time. Zach just has to stick with his identity, which he's done a great job with. Getting in front of that net, like I said. The first 10 games of the year I've never seen a guy work any harder. I just see him battle, battle, battle, and those are the things that are coming now. I've seen it the last for our five games, and he didn't get rewarded for it, but it all equals out. Now we've got seven games left, and good things will happen for him. Just keep working, and stick to his identity, and good things will come.”
 
Most impressive about tonight is the Wild didn’t look ahead to big Avs game.

“We know the importance of it,” Parise said. “We didn’t want to overlook tonight’s game and we did a good job of not doing that. Now we can start getting ready for that big one.

“We always have good games with those guys. They’re exciting, tough games, so I wouldn’t expect this to be any different, I think, with everything that’s on the line.”

Added Spurgeon, “I think we know how big points are right now. We can’t let a game slip by us. We’ve learned that from a couple in the past where we’ve maybe relaxed a little bit too much. Every point’s huge for us right now.”

As for Backstrom, you had to feel for him. Parise’s two goals 46 seconds apart actually delayed the TV timeout in which Backstrom received a pretty cool video tribute. The fans saluted him, but you could tell how dejected he was at the 2-0 deficit.

Watch the video tribute to Backstrom

Backstrom on the tribute: “It [stinks] that we lost, and I'm glad that it's over. It's been a tough couple days, coming here to the Cities. I haven't really been able to go anywhere without people talking about the game. Sure, the outcome, I wish it would have been different, but the first time in my life you're happy the game is over and you can move on."

On the fan reaction: “It was great. They've always been there supporting me and helping me. It was fun. It was a great way to end a chapter and move on. Now it's about this and to improve here and get better here.”

That’s it for me. Early flight to Denver. I will tweet from practice and blog, of course. I will also be on KFAN at 5:55 p.m. with Dan Barreiro.

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