DENVER – How the Wild has refurbished its season after it looked destined for the discard pile in October was on display in the team’s first game back after a three-day break for the holidays.
A by-committee offense continued to deliver, with fourth-line center Victor Rask taking a turn as the difference-maker in a 6-4 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Friday in front of an announced 18,146 at Pepsi Center.
The Wild defense, by and large, has been tighter — including the goaltending, which featured a season-high 40 saves for Devan Dubnyk.
“This game is probably the best I’ve felt all year,” Dubnyk said.
And resilient has replaced vulnerable as the team’s identity, a Teflon exterior that had the Wild bouncing back after blowing a two-goal lead and dropping into a third-period deficit.
What this meant Friday was a feel-good win, and if the team is to keep its NHL-best 30-point climb since Nov. 14 going, it looks like this is how it has to play.
“Everybody’s contributing,” coach Bruce Boudreau said, “because I think everybody feels a part of it.”
An all-hands-on-deck strategy was what it took to finally shrug off Colorado and improve to 3-8-1 against the Central Division. Rask finally resolved the back-and-forth battle 11 minutes, 58 seconds into the third period when he broke a 4-4 tie on a shot that caromed off the post and behind Avalanche goalie Pavel Francouz.
Ryan Suter flung a puck down the ice and into an empty net with 1:12 remaining to extend the Wild’s run to 13-4-4 over its past 21 games, progress that has the team just one point back of the playoff pace in the Western Conference.
“You have to start counting points now,” Dubnyk said. “Every game is huge.”
The Wild was in control for much of the first period, building a 2-0 lead. At 5:33, Carson Soucy converted on a wrist shot before Eric Staal scored his team-leading 15th goal at 9:22, poking in a rebound off a Kevin Fiala shot.
“We want to be in front, be in the lead,” said Fiala, who finished with two assists. “We don’t want to always have to catch up.”
But the Wild let its grip slip in the waning minutes of the period, with Colorado scoring twice in 46 seconds: first on a tip at 18:24 by Matt Calvert and then on a backhander by Gabriel Landeskog after he split the Wild defense at 19:10.
In the second, the Wild appeared to retake the lead on a shot by Joel Eriksson Ek off the rush at 8:32, but the goal was disallowed. After the Avalanche issued a coach’s challenge to check on whether the play was offside, video review determined Marcus Foligno was.
Later in the second, the Wild did move ahead 3-2 on a power-play point shot by Brad Hunt at 11:18 — the team’s lone goal with the man advantage in two tries. The Avalanche went 0-for-2.
But another last-minute goal stung the Wild, tying the score again. This time, Nathan MacKinnon redirected in a puck off his skate with 48 seconds to go. Dubnyk thought the goal was kicked into the net.
“I still don’t agree with it,” he said. “I’m glad it doesn’t matter.”
Colorado grabbed its first lead of the game only 1:33 into the third period on another deflection by Calvert.
Again, the Wild had an answer.
By 10:41, Mats Zuccarello made it 4-4 when he buried the rebound off a Jonas Brodin shot — a finish that paved the way for Rask’s game-winner.
Six players scored for the Wild, and 12 tallied at least a point.
“We’ve been down, but we stay with it and we know we can get back up,” Suter said. “Tonight was no different.”