Avalanche finally solve Wild

Published 9:10 am Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Back home in Minnesota, Matt Hendricks found the Wild — and the arena’s end board — to be unintentionally welcoming for him and the Colorado Avalanche.

Hendricks scored short-handed to cap a three-goal second period, and the Avalanche hung on to beat the Wild 4-3 on Monday for the first time in five tries this season.

Fewer than 3 1/2 minutes after Cal Clutterbuck’s short-handed score cut into Colorado’s 3-0 lead to get the crowd back into the game, a turnover by Minnesota quickly became a 2-on-0 break for Hendricks and Cody McLeod.

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“My eyes got like a couple of pizzas,” Hendricks said. “I was pretty excited. I looked and there was nobody around except for McLeod and I.”

Hendricks was tired, but he put off the line change for a few more seconds while he and McLeod capitalized on the rare opportunity. Two Wild players left the ice after the puck was cleared following the giveaway, believing goalie Niklas Backstrom would be able to get the puck without problem.

“I just think the puck took a weird bounce,” Hendricks said. “The way it hit the boards and came out so far, the goaltender couldn’t really make a play on it I don’t think.”

Matt Duchene, Chris Stewart and Milan Hejduk also had goals for the Avs, who took advantage of uncharacteristic sloppiness by Backstrom and the Wild and beat Minnesota in regulation for only the second time in the past 16 regular-season matchups between these Northwest Division opponents.


Owen Nolan and Martin Havlat scored less than two minutes apart midway through the third period, with Havlat’s breakaway cutting the lead to one with 6:03 left and sending the crowd into a frenzy.

Craig Anderson faced a flurry of shots in the final minutes but finished with 28 saves.

“They had something to prove against us, and playing in our building it was the perfect stage for them to do that,” Wild coach Todd Richards said, adding: “We started to unravel a little bit and the emotions got a little high and we were focused on other things, a bit distracted.”

The Wild outshot the Avs 13-4 in the third period.

“They just turned it up a notch, and I think we did a pretty good job of playing solid defensively,” Anderson said.

The Wild were playing well, their best stretch this season under new coach Todd Richards, until arriving in Ottawa on Friday. The van carrying their equipment caught fire, destroying half of the team’s gear, and then three players fell ill and couldn’t play in the 4-1 loss to the Senators.

More than happy to be home, where they’re 10-4-1 this season, the Wild brought energy to this chippy contest — with Clutterbuck and bruiser Derek Boogaard mixing it up with the Avs the most — but negated it with a haphazard performance.

“We’ve faced a lot of adversity in the last couple days,” center Eric Belanger said. “Good teams find ways to get out of it.”

After killing a 5-on-3 in the first period, the Wild gave up a goal with 11 seconds left. Then came the second, when Stewart and Hejduk each scored on slap shots from the right wing — sending the puck past Backstrom’s stick in both instances.

Then came the bad goal to beat all bad goals, when Havlat tried to skate through two defenders and lost the puck at the Colorado blue line. The Avs cleared it all the way to the opposite end, where Hendricks and McLeod tracked it for the eventual winner.

“Good win on the road for us against a team trying to inch back, getting closer to us,” coach Joe Sacco said. “Our guys were very resilient.”