DENVER – Speed kills, and arguably the fastest skater in the NHL is slaughtering the Wild’s playoff hopes.
One game after Colorado Avalanche teenage star Nathan MacKinnon assisted on three goals in a Game 1 victory, the Wild again had no answer for the NHL’s second-youngest player.
MacKinnon, the NHL’s Calder Trophy shoo-in after being drafted first overall in last June’s draft, scored a goal and added three assists to pace a 10-point night by Colorado’s top line in the Avalanche’s 4-2 Game 2 victory on Saturday night at Pepsi Center.
Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog scored twice and Paul Stastny, two days after scoring the tying goal and overtime winner in Game 1, scored an empty-net goal and had three assists. MacKinnon, 18, and Stastny each have seven points in the series to help give Colorado a 2-0 lead in the first-round playoff matchup with the series switching to St. Paul on Monday night.
“Their line has been on fire,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “We’re skating backwards. You can’t defend on your heels. We’ve been defending on our heels, and it’s just not good enough.”
The Wild, which hasn’t won a playoff series in 11 years, is in danger of losing in the first round for the second consecutive season and fourth time since 2007. The Avalanche was a league-best 26-11-4 on the road this season. Teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-seven playoff series hold a record of 287-45 (86.4 percent).
“All you can do is win our two games,” forward Zach Parise said. “We’re in a hole now, but we’ve got to win the third one. That’s all we can worry about regardless of what happened here.”
Two minutes after Charlie Coyle silenced a raucous crowd by giving Minnesota an early 1-0 lead, MacKinnon took over.
“He’s growing up faster than anyone could expect,” Landeskog said. “He knows what he’s good at and he knows how to use it. The skills he’s got, the way he skates, I haven’t seen anything like it.”
After Coyle’s goal, the Avs scored three in a row all after MacKinnon jetted uncontested through the neutral zone as if he was shot through a cannon.
“We’ve been able to shut down really good players all year long,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “We’re backing up too much. We’re allowing them to build speed.”
The Wild also was careless with pucks, and forwards were taking poor neutral-zone angles. Captain Mikko Koivu was caught flat-footed before Landeskog’s two goals.
“We caused that ourselves,” Koivu said. “It felt like broken plays. They got the puck and we got caught. That’s how it felt.”
After MacKinnon tied the score at 1-1 with his first career playoff goal, Landeskog’s two goals chased Ilya Bryzgalov with 8 minutes, 1 second left in the second. Bryzgalov, who gave up three goals on 14 shots, had no shot to stop the third goal.
MacKinnon flew into the Wild end and wheeled easily around defenseman Jared Spurgeon to create a 3-on-1 down low. Stastny made a behind-the back pass to Landeskog, who buried his third goal of the series.
In came Darcy Kuemper, in uniform for the first time since March 29. Kuemper likely will start Game 3 (Bryzgalov has given up 16 goals in his past four starts).
MacKinnon’s goal, the first of many in his playoff career, beat Bryzgalov blocker side, a proven Bryzgalov weakness since he arrived in Minnesota on March 4. Landeskog’s first of two goals, which came off MacKinnon’s drop pass, was a snipe over Bryzgalov’s glove that arguably should have been stopped.
“Minnesota is not the only team that has struggled to control MacKinnon,” Avs coach Patrick Roy said. “He’s caused problems for many teams this year.”
Yeo flipped struggling Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin on the first and second pairs. In the second period, Nino Niederreiter and Matt Moulson switched lines. In the third, Yeo reunited the Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line and a put together a Moulson-Koivu-Coyle line.
Yeo can do all the line switching he wants. If the Wild doesn’t figure out a way to clean up the neutral zone and shut down the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Stastny line, this series will be over before he knows it.
“You’ve got to get the next one. That has to be the mind- set,” Suter said. “You can’t get frustrated. We’ll be better.”