Wild-Avalanche Preview

The Associated Press

The Minnesota Wild are eager to get back on the ice after suffering one of the more demoralizing losses in franchise history.

Opening a three-game road trip in Denver could be just what they need.

The Wild, who went into the All-Star break with an encouraging win at the Pepsi Center, look to beat the Colorado Avalanche for the sixth time in seven meetings Thursday night.

Minnesota (24-19-7) returned to action following the All-Star festivities with a home game Tuesday against Nashville, and seemed well on its way to a third straight victory while leading 4-1 with 11 minutes remaining in the third period. The tables quickly turned, however, and the Predators scored four unanswered goals - three in the final 3:21 - to send the Wild to a stunning 5-4 loss.

"If you've ever been punched in the stomach really hard, that's pretty much what this one felt like," Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said.

The winning goal was especially painful, as Nashville's Mike Fisher flipped a seemingly harmless shot from behind the right circle that somehow slipped underneath Josh Harding's pads with 21 seconds remaining.

"No way in 100 years should we have lost that game," said Harding, who allowed goals on three of the final four shots he faced.

Despite the heartbreaking defeat, Minnesota is still in sole possession of eighth place in the Western Conference with 55 points, though Colorado (26-24-2) is just one back. The Wild have had little trouble accumulating points against the Avalanche lately, winning five of the last six meetings.

They've fared quite well at the Pepsi Center, where they've won three straight to improve to 9-1-2 in their last 12 visits. Minnesota came away with a 3-2 victory in Denver last Tuesday, snapping an 11-game road losing streak.

Justin Falk scored his first NHL goal in that game, while Carson McMillan and Dany Heatley also scored for the Wild.

Heatley, who leads the team with 17 goals and 37 points, had his first two-goal game for Minnesota on Tuesday and added an assist, giving him seven points in his last three contests.

The Avs began the unofficial second half of their season Tuesday by losing 3-2 at Edmonton. Peter Mueller and Gabriel Landeskog scored for Colorado, but the team has trailed at first intermission in each of its three straight defeats.

"There wasn't enough (desperation)," coach Joe Sacco said. "This is playoff hockey for us right now and we need to have more urgency right from the start. You have to be ready to start on time in this league. This is a no-excuse business."

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who has seen more action than Semyon Varlamov lately, got the night off Tuesday but could be back in goal against the Wild. He made 31 saves against Minnesota last week.

Niklas Backstrom stopped 24 shots in that game, improving to 19-5-2 with a 2.24 goals-against average in his career versus the Avs.

Backstrom and his teammates have done a good job of shutting down some of Colorado's top scoring threats.

Ryan O'Reilly, who leads the Avs with 14 goals and 23 assists, has three points in 13 career games against the Wild, while Paul Stastny - second on the team with 13 goals and 31 points - has one goal in the last eight meetings. O'Reilly didn't play last week because of an illness.

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