Attitude at altitude: Wild strong on the road, wins 4-3 in Denver
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If the Minnesota Wild makes the NHL playoffs, it will likely be as one of the last four seeds in the Western Conference, which would mean the post-season would begin on the road.
Lately, that's looking like the perfect route to a victory. On Thursday, the Wild's mastery while wearing the road white sweaters continued. Thanks to two goals in the first 61 seconds - the fastest start in franchise history, and stellar performances from a pair who used to make their living in Denver, the Wild collected a 4-3 win in the home of the Colorado Avalanche.
Thanks to the great Midwestern blizzard that cost them a game in St. Louis earlier in the week, the Avalanche had not played a game since before the All-Star Break, and it showed. Wild coach Todd Richards has said that his team should be ready to pounce on Avalanche rust early. But not even he could've likely envisioned a goal by Kyle Brodziak 33 seconds in, and another by Andrew Brunette just 28 seconds later.
Milan Hejduk continued his recent success versus the Wild, scoring twice to give him five goals in his last four games against Minnesota, but he was matched by former Colorado teammate Brunette, who was playing in his 1001st NHL game.
"We've kind of found our game a little bit over the past month and a half," Brunette told Kevin Gorg of FSN North after the game. "We're playing good road hockey."
It was what is quickly becoming a typical road game for the Wild, which won for the 26th time while being out-shot. Grab an early lead, play tight defense, excel on special teams and get great goaltending. That last element came from another former member of the Avalanche, as Jose Theodore stopped 38 shots. That included a steady barrage early in the third period, with the Wild leading 3-2 and Martin Havlat in the penalty box serving a four-minute high sticking penalty.
The two points earned in Denver moves the Wild into the seventh place in the Western Conference standings, which would mean a trip to Detroit for the playoffs if the post-season started tomorrow. It does not, of course, with more than two months of hockey still ahead.
But with the Wild now a tad above .500 at home (12-11-2) and a long way above .500 on the road (15-8-3) this is looking more like a team that may be a buyer, not a seller, at trade deadline time.
Another road game looms on Saturday in the den of the Phoenix Coyotes. And it has nothing to do with Arizona's balmy winter weather when we say that there's no place else the Wild would rather be.