DENVER – The chances of the Wild and Colorado Avalanche meeting in the first round of the playoffs again are slim to none, but the two Central Division rivals on Saturday night picked up right where they left off last spring.
In a catch-your-breath, blood-boiling affair that resembled last year’s playoff series in terms of physicality, trash-talking and action, the Avalanche tried to run the Wild out of the Pepsi Center physically. But in the end, the Wild never succumbed and skated off with a 3-1 victory.
The Wild, which had shut out the Avalanche in three previous meetings, got goals from Erik Haula, Justin Fontaine and Jason Pominville and 33 saves from Devan Dubnyk to improve to 13-2-1 since the All-Star break. The Wild took a three-point cushion for the second Western Conference wild-card spot and is one back of Winnipeg for the first wild-card spot.
“In an emotional type of game, we did a good job of keeping our focus, and I really think that was the difference in the end,’’ Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
There were so many Wild fans inside the jam-packed Denver arena, chants of “Let’s Go Wild” and “DOOOOOOO” (in honor of Dubnyk) broke out throughout the game.
Dubnyk, starting his 20th consecutive game to tie Niklas Backstrom’s 2009 team record, improved to 15-3-1 with the Wild and finished February with an 11-2-1 record. Considering he entered with a 1.69 goals-against average .936 save percentage and three shutouts in February, he has got to be one of the contenders for the NHL’s First Star of the Month.
The Wild beat Colorado for the eighth time in the past nine games including the playoffs and improved to 15-3-3 in its past 21 regular-season games in Denver.
With Monday’s 2 p.m. trade deadline approaching, the Wild did lose defenseman Marco Scandella for half the game because of an undisclosed injury. The Wild, already looking for a defenseman, has been without Jared Spurgeon for five games because of a concussion.
Colorado had won five of its past seven overall and seven of its past 10 at home, so Yeo expected the Avs’ best, especially since they’re fighting for their playoff lives after winning the Central last year.
The Wild had to weather a serious storm in the first 10 minutes. But Haula got things started with his second goal in two games by jamming a puck just between Semyon Varlamov’s right pad and the left post.
“Just like the other night [in a victory at Nashville], I feel like everybody showed up,’’ Haula said. “We played a great 60 minutes of hockey.”
The second period was a frantic one. It started with the Avs scoring a dubious goal 92 seconds in.
Maxime Talbot dumped a puck in that caromed funkily into the crease. Dubnyk pinned it under his right pad and then was driven into the net by a driving Cody McLeod in search of the puck. In response, Dubnyk angrily drove McLeod into the ice afterward.
There were no penalties, but after video review, the NHL’s Situation Room in Toronto correctly ruled that the puck was lodged under Dubnyk’s pad as his leg slid over the goal line.
“I guess McLeod had nothing to do with me going into the net, which is somewhat mind-boggling,” Dubnyk said.
That resulted in a tie score even though referees Dean Morton or Chris Rooney arguably could have ruled that McLeod was the reason Dubnyk slid over the goal line. The goal was Colorado’s first in 201 minutes, 32 seconds against the Wild this season and ended the Minnesota’s attempt to become the first NHL team since 1928 to shut out the same opponent four consecutive times.
Nevertheless, the Wild finally drew its first power play of the game. It didn’t come close to scoring, but 11 seconds after it expired, Jonas Brodin hit Haula with a headman pass. Haula fed a charging Fontaine for a layup and a 2-1 lead.
This is where things really got crazy. In a span of 2:18, four penalties were called — three on the Wild.
Colorado had an abbreviated 4-on-3, then a 5-on-3. Somehow, the Wild survived all of that, killing off seven minors in the game to improve to 43-for-44 in 16 games since the All-Star break.