Avalanche-Wild Preview

The Associated Press

Even one win was hard to come by for Minnesota at the end of 2013. After a six-game skid, the Wild have flipped the calendar and are now chasing a season-best winning streak.

The Wild will aim to stay perfect in the new year and win their fifth straight Saturday night against the visiting Colorado Avalanche.

"When we were losing games, we were carrying that baggage into the next game with us," coach Mike Yeo said. "Success can do some damage to you, too, like winning can. We've been able to put that behind us and go on to the next one and recognize what we have to do."

The Wild (24-17-5) stayed hot Thursday with a 4-1 win in Phoenix. Three third-period goals pulled Minnesota ahead, the last two coming from Justin Fontaine to complete his hat trick as the Wild moved back into eighth in the Western Conference ahead of the Coyotes.

The streak has come without left wing Zach Parise, who missed his eighth straight game with a foot injury. Team points leader Mikko Koivu has missed two with a broken ankle and is on injured reserve.

"We have a lot of young guys out there right now following some great veteran leadership and we're playing the game that we need to play," Fontaine told the team's official website. "We've come through a tough stretch. Everyone stayed tight in the room and we got back to the way we need to be playing."

Minnesota has also done a better job keeping the puck out of its own net, allowing six goals in four games after yielding 26 in the previous six.

Against the Coyotes, goaltender Niklas Backstrom made 39 stops to win his third straight start after losing his previous eight. He has a 1.67 goals-against average in the last three games and is 6-0-1 against the Avalanche since Jan. 24, 2012.

"You could tell he wanted the net and wanted this opportunity," said Yeo, whose other goaltender, Josh Harding, is on injured reserve with an unspecified illness.

The Wild are 1-1-1 against the Avs this season after winning the last meeting 2-1 in a shootout on Dec. 14 at Colorado. Minnesota has scored four regulation goals in those games, but Colorado hasn't been much better with six.

The Avalanche (27-13-4) also struggled to find the back of the net in Friday's 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Islanders. Still, they closed out a season-high seven-game homestand with a 4-1-2 record.

"You wanted to pick up as many points as possible and I think 10 out of 14 is pretty good," coach Patrick Roy said. "It was a hard-fought game. Unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of the game but I thought we did a lot of good things out there. We battled and defensively we played well. We didn't give them too many chances."

Nathan MacKinnon scored his 15th of the season to give Colorado a second-period lead. The center has five goals in his last four games and leads all rookies with 29 points. He has two goals and an assist in three games against Minnesota.

Semyon Varlamov had a four-game winning streak snapped against the Islanders and is 1-0-1 against the Wild this season with a 1.38 GAA and .953 save percentage.

Backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere has lost his last four starts after a 7-0-0 stretch to open the season. He faced the Wild on Nov. 29 and won 3-1.

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