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Updated: February 2nd, 2012 11:25pm
Defense dominates in Denver as Niklas Backstrom, Wild blank Avalanche

Defense dominates in Denver as Niklas Backstrom, Wild blank Avalanche

by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com
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As a snowstorm pounded the Front Range outside Denver's Pepsi Center, a perfect storm of Minnesota Wild defense doomed the Colorado Avalanche inside the rink. Greg Zanon scored his first goal in months on the Wild's first shot of the game on Thursday, and that's all either team could muster, as Minnesota started a road winning streak, beating the Avs 1-0.

Zanon's slap shot from the point made its way though a crowd and past Avs goalie J-S Giguere six minutes into the game, and that was it for the offense. It was Zanon's second goal of the season and his first since Oct. 15.

Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom was calm throughout, turning aside all 17 Colorado shots in the third, and giving fans a bit of a throwback to the lock-down defensive hockey that was so widespread under former coach Jacques Lemaire.

"That's our game. That's what we do," Wild coach Mike Yeo told reporters after the win. "Fights and hits and guys blocking shots. Outstanding effort from our guys, coming off the last game especially."

The skinny

Yeo perhaps should've been reminded that we weren't going to talk about that last game, ever. You'll recall the Wild squandering a 4-1 third period lead at home and losing 5-4 to Nashville earlier in the week - an effort that produced plenty of anxiety about the team's mental state during the opener of this road trip.

But instead of collapsing under the weight of their past failure and the high expectations, the Wild started strong and got stronger throughout. It was especially obvious in the person of Backstrom, who never seemed to get rattled as the Avalanche sent wave upon wave of shots, and bodies, into the Minnesota goal crease.

"He was seeing pucks and in control, controlling his rebounds and positioning, he was just in a great spot," Yeo said. "There were plays that could've developed into scoring opportunities and he'd just kill the play."

With Matthew Hacket playing well in Houston, it's been widely speculated that the Wild have a glut of goalies and someone may be traded. That talk prompted Yeo to challenge Backstrom and Josh Harding, saying that it was time for one of them to step up and claim the job.

What we saw on Thursday may have been a big step in that direction, as Yeo told the press that Backstrom will start again on Saturday in Dallas.

Turning point

The Avalanche turned up the pressure late, sure that they could make Backstrom crack. And with just over a minute to play and Colorado's goalie pulled, Wild defenseman Justin Falk was whistled for a penalty, giving the Avalanche a 6-on-4 advantage. But that actually worked to the Wild's advantage, as the penalty allowed them to ice the puck freely. In the final minute, Minnesota sent the puck the length of the ice four times, just missing an empty net goal twice and taking more than 10 seconds off the clock each time, which allowed them to win the game.

Numbers game

• 25: Career shutouts by Backstrom, who stopped all 37 Colorado shots.
• 6-1-1: Backstrom's record, with three shutouts, during his last eight starts in Denver.
• 2: Members of the 2001 Minnesota state champion Bloomington Jefferson peewee team (Peter Mueller and Erik Johnson) in uniform for the Avalanche on Thursday.
• 22: Inches of snow predicted to hit Denver in the current storm, making the Wild's planned post-game departure for Dallas a tricky proposition.

Health watch

Nearly 40 minutes of intense physical play came to a head in the second period with a pair of fights. Defenseman Clayton Stoner mixed it up with Cody McLeod, and when the penalty time was up, Stoner headed straight to the training room with what's being called a lower body injury. The injury forced Yeo to play with five defensemen for the rest of the game. Still, the coach hid kind words for the fighter.

"We lost Stoney in the game, but stepping up and having that scrap, you could tell he was ready to respond," Yeo said.

Summary

First period
Wild - Greg Zanon 2 (Heatley, Brodziak), 6:04

Second period
No scoring

Third period
No scoring

Shots: Wild 3-11-7-21; Avalanche 10-10-17-37. Saves: Wild, Niklas Backstrom (37-37); Avalanche, J-S Giguere (20-21). Power plays: Wild 0-for-1, Avalanche 0-1.

Three stars
1. Niklas Backstrom
2. Greg Zanon
3. J-S Giguere

Coming up

One third of the three-game road trip down, two stops left. From Denver the Wild travel to Dallas to face the Stars on Saturday, then on to Columbus to see a familiar face in a game with the woeful Blue Jackets on Tuesday. Former Wild coach Todd Richards in behind the bench in Columbus, taking over as their interim coach earlier in the season.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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