ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP)—Colorado just won’t let Minnesota and its fans have any fun.
Joe Sakic took the edge off another loud crowd with two goals in the game’s first eight minutes, and Patrick Roy barely missed his second straight shutout while leading the Avalanche to a 3-1 victory over the Wild on Wednesday night.
The Avalanche, who finished the regular season by winning 25 of their final 37, now lead this best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal series 3-1.
The Avs, who also got a late goal from Dan Hinote, will try to end the series in Denver on Saturday.
“We expect to see them play their best game,” Roy said.
By coach Jacques Lemaire’s estimation, the Wild already have.
“The last game, I felt we played as good as we could,” Lemaire said. “I think today we even played better.”
Marian Gaborik scored late for the Wild, whose postseason debut has been a frustrating one.
“They’re down,” Lemaire said. “Very, very disappointed.”
For the first 30 minutes, Minnesota controlled the flow and spent most of its time in Colorado’s zone yet still found itself trailing by two goals.
The Avalanche were outshot 14-7 midway through the second period and 25-21 for the game. But they simply beat the Wild at their own game—with patient offense, solid transition defense and excellent goaltending.
And Colorado has the advantage in that last category.
“What Patty did in the net in the last two games has pretty much shown why he’s so special,” coach Tony Granato said.
Roy was pelted early, but nothing the Wild put on net would go in until Gaborik’s power-play goal with 2:40 remaining cut the lead to 2-1.
That ended a string of almost 118 scoreless minutes for Minnesota.
“It was good for the fans,” Lemaire said. “They’ve been waiting for a while.”
Bill Muckalt and Cliff Ronning were denied from close range on their first shifts, and Richard Park hit the pipe later in the first. Wes Walz’s rebound was turned away near the end of the opening period.
Fernandez made 16 saves, his only blemish coming when Hinote—left alone to Fernandez’s right—dumped in an easy rebound for the game’s final goal.
Roloson had been bothered by a sore groin muscle, but Lemaire went with him because he believed Fernandez would be a little stale after not playing for two weeks.
Despite the way it worked out, Lemaire said he was “very comfortable” with his decision.
“Those are things I can’t control,” Fernandez said.
The Wild have played every bit as hard and created just as many quality scoring chances as their opponents in this series, but the step up in skill level of the All-Star veterans on Colorado’s two lines has been apparent.
Sakic, who has four goals and an assist in the series, made it 1-0 at 6:10 of the opening period when he fielded a nice back-handed pass from Steven Reinprecht in the corner, deked defenseman Lubomir Sekeras and scored from his knees just inside the left circle as he tripped over the stick of Sekeras.
One thing the Avalanche vowed to improve was their tendency to back off after getting an early lead. It seemed to happen Wednesday
“That’s been our downfall,” Hinote said. “We sit on leads and don’t bury teams. It’s a mental thing we have to fix going into the next couple games and the next round, if we get there.”
Perhaps silently considering Colorado’s recent history, Hinote was careful to not speak as if the series was over.
The Avalanche have gone to a seventh game in six of their past eight playoff series, and they had a lead in five of those.
“We have to be at our best on Saturday,” Granato said. “We can’t let offthe gas at all.”
Paid attendance was 19,350, four less than Monday night. … Sakic has the most points (22) of any Wild opposing player. He has 13 goals and nine assists in 17 career games against Minnesota. … This was Fernandez’s third career playoff appearance. The first two came with Dallas—two minutes against New Jersey in the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals and 17 minutes in a 1998 series against San Jose. … Roloson was pulled once during the regular season, March 9 in Atlanta when he gave up four goals in 33-plus minutes. … Matt Johnson, Minnesota’s penalty-minute maven, was a healthy scratch for the third game in a row. … Muckalt, kept out of all but eight regular-season games by a dislocated shoulder, started and saw his first postseason action. … Coloradohad killed 12 of its last 13 penalties until Gaborik’s goal.