DENVER – The Wild slid into the eighth spot in the Western Conference by the skin of its chattering teeth.
Hanging on for dear life in a tense third period, the Wild rebounded from a five-goal home annihilation Friday night with a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday at the Pepsi Center.
The game became must-win after Columbus, which tied the Wild in points, rallied to beat Nashville.
The Avalanche played the role of spoiler, pinning the Wild in its zone for much of the third period. But behind a bounceback game from goalie Niklas Backstrom, the Wild advanced to play Chicago in the first round.
“It’s been a long time,” said Backstrom, who stopped all 15 of the Avs’ shots in the third period and 29 in the game. “My first two years we got to the playoffs and you think it’s going to be every year. But it’s best league in the world with the best players. It’s not easy to get to the playoffs. You have to be a really good team to get there. It takes a lot of hard work. It’s tough to get there. You have to appreciate that. But you don’t play to get to the playoffs. You play to win.”
And after what Mikko Koivu called a “huge, emotional win,” the captain added, “[Making the playoffs] is the first step and we’re still hungry.”
Zach Parise scored his team-best 18th goal, Devin Setoguchi’s first goal in 15 games on a second-period power play amounted to the winner and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, on his 29th birthday, iced the game with an empty netter.
That sealed the fate of Columbus. The Wild and Blue Jackets tied for eighth with 55 points, but the Wild won the tiebreaker based on having three more non-shootout wins.
As it turned out, the only way the Wild could have gotten into the playoffs is by winning.
“You don’t want to rely on someone else,” Parise said.
It was an impressive response to Friday’s demoralizing 6-1 loss to Edmonton. Backstrom said the best thing for the Wild is it had to erase the memory banks quickly after losing to the Oilers. Backstrom was yanked after giving up three goals on five shots.
“It was indicative of the entire team’s response. That’s character,” coach Mike Yeo said, before grinning wide. “I didn’t want to say it [Friday] night, but [the loss] felt like a good, swift kick in the vulnerable spot of your body.
“For our guys to bounce back and Backy in particular … our leadership was fantastic.”
With the season on the line, the Wild recalled Jason Zucker from Houston of the American Hockey League. He returned to the second line alongside Matt Cullen and Setoguchi. It was the best the struggling line has looked in weeks. It combined for 11 shots, and Cullen assisted on Setoguchi’s first goal since March 29.
Stephane Veilleux was also recalled in case Mike Rupp (knee) couldn’t go, but Rupp was able to play.