Wild comeback falls short, felled by Avalanche
DENVER (AP) — Semyon Varlamov celebrated his new contract with another stellar performance in net.
Varlamov had 35 saves, John Mitchell had a goal and an assist and the Colorado Avalanche edged the Minnesota Wild 5-4 on Thursday night.
Matt Duchene had two assists for Colorado, which survived a flurry at the end to get the victory. Ryan O’Reilly, Paul Stastny, Nathan MacKinnon and Maxime Talbot also scored.
It was quite a day for the 25-year-old Varlamov, who also finalized a five-year extension with Colorado that runs through the 2018-19 season.
"It was a big day for us. I’m sure it’s a great day for Varly as well," first-year coach Patrick Roy said. "He certainly deserved that contract. We’re very happy it’s a done deal."
The Avalanche acquired Varlamov from Washington in July 2011, and the Russian turned in a pair of inconsistent seasons under former coach Joe Sacco. He has flourished under the tutelage of Roy, a Hall of Fame goalie, and goaltender coach Francois Allaire, improving to 27-9-5 with Thursday’s win.
"Thank God the right people came to the team during the summer," Varlamov said. "Patrick, and especially Francois Allaire. Those guys helped me a lot. They changed my game."
Colorado needed every bit of Varlamov’s talent against Minnesota. He helped the Avalanche win the season series 4-0-1 and move nine points ahead of the Wild in the Central Division. Colorado has a firm grasp on third place and the final automatic playoff seed in the division.
"It was a big game for us. We have three games in hand and we’re up (nine) points in the standings," Duchene said. "That puts us well ahead and we just have to keep taking care of business."
Zach Parise had two goals and two assists and Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville also scored for Minnesota, which went 9-4-1 in January to get into the thick of the postseason race.
The Avalanche used a big second period to help cool off the Wild.
Mitchell broke a 1-1 tie with his sixth goal of the season at 1:43. Stastny scored his 16th of the season on a rebound midway through the period, and Talbot used the stick of Wild center Kyle Brodziak to make it 4-1 at 15:26. Brodziak had gathered a rebound in front of goalie Darcy Kuemper when Talbot came in from behind and hit the center’s stick to put the puck in the net.
"We were so good the first two periods," Roy said. "Offensively this is the best I’ve seen our team play. We were cycling the puck, moving it quick. We had tons of chances."
A minute later, Niklas Backstrom replaced Kuemper, who had 19 saves.
"I let him know it wasn’t him," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "I did it to try to change the momentum at that point."
"Kuemper played a pretty good game even though he got pulled. He made some amazing saves on us," Duchene said. "It could have been 6-, 7-1 if not for him."
Backstrom had nine stops the rest of the way, giving the Wild a chance to get back into it. Parise’s goal at 7:47 of the third made it 4-2. He then assisted on Granlund’s goal at 12:51 that made it a one-score game.
MacKinnon appeared to seal the win with his 19th of the season at 17:35 but Pominville scored 11 seconds later.
Backstrom went off for an extra skater with 1:07 left but the Wild couldn’t get the equalizer.
"When you get behind the 8-ball like we did, it’s tough to get back," Pominville said. "They are a good team for a reason."
Colorado took a 1-0 lead on O’Reilly’s 20th of the season at 4:41 of the first and Parise tied in on the power play 1:35 later.
The Avalanche had three power-play chances to break the tie in the first but couldn’t capitalize. Brodziak nearly scored a short-handed goal but Varlamov made a save on the odd-man rush.