DENVER (AP) — Devin Setoguchi broke a second-period tie and Niklas Backstrom stopped 29 shots, helping the Minnesota Wild secure their first playoff spot in five years with a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night.
Zach Parise scored and Pierre-Marc Bouchard added a late empty-net goal for the Wild, who earned the No. 8 seed and will face top-seeded Chicago in the first round of the postseason. Minnesota had a chance to wrap up a spot on Friday, but lost 6-1 at home to Edmonton.
Backstrom came up big in the third period, turning aside 15 shots. He improved to 24-5-3 against the Avalanche.
Ryan O’Reilly had the lone goal for Colorado, which finished in last place in the Western Conference. It remains to be seen if coach Joe Sacco is retained after the Avalanche failed to make the playoffs for a third straight season.
The Wild were thought to be almost a lock for the postseason after investing $196 million in free agents Ryan Suter and Parise. But they had to sweat it out to the last game of the regular season.
Just a month ago, the Wild led the Northwest Division but swayed down the stretch, going 5-8-1.
They had no wiggle room as Columbus — tied with the Wild for the final spot heading into the last game — rallied to beat Nashville, 3-1. Minnesota held the tiebreaker over the Blue Jackets, provided the team beat Colorado.
Minnesota had a 5-on-3 advantage for 55 seconds in the third period, only to be stymied by Semyon Varlamov. The Avs goaltender also stopped Jason Zucker on a breakaway moments after the penalty expired.
Colorado pulled Varlamov with around 1:30 remaining, but struggled to work it into the Wild zone. Bouchard sealed the win by hustling down the ice and tapping the puck into the net with 3.4 seconds left.
Setoguchi gave the Wild a lead midway through the second period when he wound up and lined a slap shot past a screened Varlamov on a power play.
Minnesota caught a break early in the second when a goal by Chuck Kobasew was disallowed after replay officials ruled the puck went in on a kick. Kobasew’s right skate knocked it past Backstrom, who was livid when officials signaled for the goal.
The play went under review for several minutes, before the referee announced it no good, drawing boos from the crowd.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere rested after hurting his groin the night before, giving the start to Varlamov. Giguere went out late in the third against Phoenix and Varlamov helped the Avalanche to a shootout win.
Varlamov, who turned 25 on Saturday, was kept quite busy by the Wild, stopping 30 shots.
Parise gave Minnesota a quick 1-0 lead when he scored on a backhanded shot early in the first. The team kept the pressure on Varlamov, but couldn’t add another as he turned back 15 shots in the period.
Late in the opening 20 minutes, Colorado tied it when Gabriel Landeskog dug out a puck in the corner and fed it to O’Reilly, who beat Backstrom with a wrist shot.
This might have been the last NHL game for Colorado’s Milan Hejduk, who recently said he’s going to contemplate his future in the offseason before reaching any sort of decision about coming back for a 15th season. It’s been a tough season for Hejduk, the last remaining link to the 2001 Stanley Cup squad. He had a career-low 11 points and missed time with shoulder and torso injuries.
The 37-year-old Hejduk is second in franchise history in games (1,020), fourth in goals (375) and fifth in assists (430). He’s also just the third Czech-born player to reach 800 points, joining Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias.
NOTES: The Wild recalled Fs Stephane Veilleux and Zucker from Houston of the American Hockey League before the game. Veilleux was a scratch. The team also reassigned forwards Jake Dowell and Carson McMillan to Houston. … Colorado Fs Matt Duchene and P.A. Parenteau each finished with 43 points. The only previous time in the franchise’s 32-year history it had teammates share the squad’s scoring title was 2008-09 when Hejduk and Ryan Smyth each had 59 points.
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