DENVER (AP) — Carson McMillan broke a tie midway through the third period after stealing the puck at center ice and Niklas Backstrom stopped 24 shots as the Minnesota Wild broke out of their road funk with a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.
Justin Falk scored his first NHL goal and Dany Heatley added another for the Wild, who halted an 11-game winless streak away home. They also moved into the eighth and final playoff spot in their final game before the All-Star break, leaping over Colorado.
T.J. Galiardi and Chuck Kobasew scored for the Avalanche.
On the winning goal, McMillan stripped defenseman Shane O’Brien of the puck and skated in alone on Jean-Sebastien Giguere, faking left before sending the puck through the goalie’s legs. McMillan was just recalled from Houston of the American Hockey League last week.
The Avalanche pulled Giguere with around a minute remaining, but couldn’t get anything past Backstrom.
Minnesota avoided tying the franchise record of 12 straight road losses, which was set during the 2003-04 season. The streak was snapped in a building the Wild have traditionally felt right at home in, going 9-1-2 in their last 12 games at Pepsi Center.
Colorado had the lone goal in the second period as Kobasew tapped in a puck that had rolled through the pads of Backstrom to tie the game at 2. It was Kobasew’s first goal against the Wild, a team he skated with for two seasons.
From there, things got a little chippy. Upset over a hit along the boards, Daniel Winnik approached Falk near the Wild goal. They both threw their gloves down and, as the theme from “Rocky” blared over the loud speakers, went at it, landing several punches. Both were sent to the penalty box for fighting.
Colorado scored early in the first period when Galiardi backhanded a shot over the glove of Backstrom.
The lead didn’t last long as the Wild came back with a fury, charged up by Devin Setoguchi, who was so irate over an interference call that he clomped into the box and slammed the door with authority. The echo reverberated around the arena.
Soon after, Falk tied the game when his shot from the top of the blue line beat a screened Giguere. It was Falk’s first NHL goal and came in the 54th game of his career.
With just under 5 minutes left in the first period, Kyle Brodziak was stonewalled by Giguere on a breakaway, only to chase the puck into the corner and feed it to a charging Heatley, who blasted it in for his 15th goal of the season.
Heatley beat a hot goaltender as Giguere has been splendid of late.
So much for the notion the 34-year-old has lost a step or two.
Giguere never envisioned seeing this much ice time when he signed with Colorado in the offseason. He was brought in to be a backup along with mentoring young netminder Semyon Varlamov. But Giguere has played so well recently that the goal has been his.
This was his fourth straight start.
Giguere already has more wins (12) than he had all last season with Toronto. He’s also among the league leaders in goals-against average and save percentage.
NOTES: Avs D Ryan Wilson returned to the ice after missing the last two games with a groin injury. D Stefan Elliott was a healthy scratch. …Wild D Marek Zidlicky didn’t dress for a second straight game. … The Wild won on the road for the first time since Dec. 10 in Phoenix.
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