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Wild grab final playoff spot with win

The SportsXchange

DENVER -- Four years of frustration came down to a few precious minutes for the Minnesota Wild.

Columbus and Detroit had already won, so if the Wild wanted to reach the postseason, they had to win or miss out.

Thanks to a stellar performance from goalie Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota will play on.

Backstrom had 29 saves, Devin Setoguchi and Zach Parise scored goals and the Wild clinched the NHL's final playoff berth with a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night.

"We've got a lot of work to do and I'm glad to have to be in the office tomorrow," Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said.

The Wild are back in the postseason for the first time since 2008, when they lost to Colorado in the first round. It was the last time the Avalanche won a playoff series.

The Wild, the eighth seed, will face Chicago, the President's Trophy winner, in the first round next week. They were 1-2 against the Blackhawks this season.

"It's been a long time. My first two years we got there and you think it's going to be every year," Backstrom said. "It's the best league in the world, it's the best players, it's not easy to get to the playoffs."

The Wild made it harder by slumping down the stretch. They lost three of their last four before Saturday, including Edmonton's 6-1 rout in Minnesota on Friday. Backstrom gave up three goals on five shots in the loss but bounced back strong against Colorado, which pressured the Wild for the tying goal in the final 10 minutes.

"That's how they do it. They never give up to the last second," Backstrom said. "We battled through that."

Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored an empty-net goal with 2.6 seconds left to seal it and send the Wild back to the playoffs.

"You've got to get the playoff experience, you've got to get back in there," Parise said of the postseason. "After four years of missing the playoffs, you've got to get back in there, taste it and see what it's like and experience those types of games because it's different than the regular season."

Ryan O'Reilly had a goal for Colorado and Semyon Varlamov stopped 30 shots on his 25th birthday.

Colorado, reduced to a spoiler role after going 2-12-1 from March 12 to April 10, finished 29th in the league and is guaranteed one of the top three picks in the upcoming amateur draft. It will be the third time in the past five years the Avalanche will have a top-three pick.

Their finish -- the Avalanche went 6-15-3 in the last six weeks -- has led to questions about the job security for general manager Greg Sherman and coach Joe Sacco, who said he wasn't thinking about his status with the organization.

"I'm going to go about it business as usual, just like I always do," he said. "I enjoy coaching this team. It's a young group and it's certainly headed in the right direction. As far as those decisions that'll be made, those are decisions that are not in our hands. I'm not really worried about that now. We'll see what happens."

If it was Sacco's last game, his team played hard for him and had a chance to win. The Avalanche appeared to take a 2-1 lead 4:55 into the second when Stefan Elliott's shot hit off Chuck Kobasew's skate and past Backstrom, but the goal was overturned after a review.

"I didn't know that you could go from the goal line back to the penalty box and change your decision once it's called on the ice," Sacco said. "I never heard of that before. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, which I don't think I am. But that's the wrong call."

Given new life, Minnesota cashed in on the power play when Setoguchi beat Varlamov with a slap shot from the right circle with 7:40 left in the second.

The Wild had a chance to cushion the lead with 55 seconds of five-on-three midway through the third but couldn't break through.

Parise gave the Wild a 1-0 lead with his 18th goal at 6:42 of the first period, but O'Reilly tied it late in the period with his sixth of the season.

The Avalanche are looking to next season, but one player might call it a career. Forward Milan Hejduk, the last link to the team's 2001 Stanley Cup title, may have played the last game in his 14-year career. He received a resounding ovation from the crowd when he was introduced into the starting lineup. He said the final minutes were emotional, although he said he hasn't made a firm decision on his future.

"We'll see what's going to happen. I don't want to make a decision right now," he said. "I want things to settle down a little bit and talk to my family. Obviously, somebody has to be interested in me too. A lot of things come into play. I don't really want to push it right now."

NOTES: Wild right winger Jason Pominville missed his second game with an upper-body injury. ... Minnesota defenseman Brett Clark was a healthy scratch for the third straight game. ... Colorado right winger David Jones was a healthy scratch for the fifth straight game. Jones, who is in the first year of a four-year, $16 million contract, has three goals in 33 games. ... The Avalanche finished the season with the best penalty kill at home (91.3 percent). Conversely, they were 30th on the road at 69.2 percent.
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