Newcomers dazzle for Wild in win over AvalancheBy Jess Myers, The Sports Xchange | The SportsXchange – Sun, Jan 20, 2013 1:00 AM EST
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild's fan base waited six months, through a long summer, and a long lockout, to see their newest players in action. On Saturday, they needed to wait another 20 minutes or so to see them truly perform. After a slow-starting first period, Dany Heatley scored a pair of power play goals -- both of them set up by Zach Parise -- as Minnesota's new-look top line did its job in the season opener, powering the Wild to a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. John Mitchell and Cody McLeod scored for the Avalanche, who failed to capitalize on an opening 20 minutes in which they out-shot Minnesota, 12-5, but only grabbed a one-goal lead. "I was smiling the day we signed these guys, and I'm still smiling," said Heatley, referencing off-season acquisitions Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. "They've added a huge element to our team." Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov denied Wild fans some great drama in the opening minute, knocking down a Parise tip after a shot from the blue line by defenseman Jared Spurgeon. On the next shift the Avalanche quieted the home crowd in earnest, as Mitchell poked Colorado's first shot on goal of the season under Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom for an early 1-0 lead. "We knew this was going to be a tough building to come play in, especially with the hype in the off-season," said Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson. "We (quieted the crowd) in the first but got in some penalty trouble in the second that ultimately did us in." The Wild took advantage of Colorado's 12 second-period penalty minutes, scoring three times. Parise, who signed a $98 million free agent contract in July, fed a pass to Heatley on the Wild's first power play, which led to a 1-1 tie. He said the key was simplifying the game after a rough opening period. "I think we still had a little bit of summer hockey in us, trying to make cross-ice passes," Parise said. "Once we started getting it behind their D, they backed off a bit and that's when we got a lot of our opportunities." Another highly anticipated Minnesota newcomer gave the Wild their first lead of the season less than a minute later, as Finnish rookie Mikael Granlund tipped a Spurgeon shot past Varlamov. Heatley scored on a 5-on-3 power play later in the second. "This was a long time coming, this game," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "With the summer that we had and the excitement that's been around here, it was real nice to get a win for our fans tonight. They were instrumental. We weren't giving them much to cheer about early, but once we did the place was rocking." McLeod had six goals in 75 games for the Avalanche last season and is known more for his enforcer work than for offense. But it was his backhand shot that slipped past Backstrom early in the third period to get Colorado back within a goal at 3-2. But Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who has battled concussion symptoms for two years and was just reinstated from injured reserve this week, scored with 95 seconds left for Minnesota. "There's no question that penalties on us changed the momentum of that game," said Avalanche coach Joe Sacco. "Before that everything was going pretty good. I thought we were in control and in charge. But we've got to stay out of the box." Backstrom finished with 25 saves for Wild, who play Dallas at home on Sunday. The Avalanche, who will have their home opener Tuesday versus the Blue Jackets, got 31 saves from Varlamov. NOTES: Avalanche forward Chuck Kobasew, who had missed practice during the week due to the flu, was scratched from the lineup on Saturday. ... The entire Wild roster was announced prior to the game, including rookie defenseman Mathew Dumba, Minnesota's first-round pick (seventh overall) in last summer's entry draft. The 18-year-old did not dress in the game, but was in uniform for the intros. ... Minnesota newcomer Zenon Konopka and Colorado's McLeod wasted little time reminding fans of their roles for their respective teams, as they dropped the gloves less than three minutes into the first period. ... Dumba is expected to be sent back to the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL soon, but stuck with the Wild through the abbreviated training camp when veteran defenseman Tom Gilbert tweaked a groin muscle during a scrimmage on Wednesday. Gilbert was held out of practice for a day, but played on Saturday.
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