By Alan Ferguson
Colorado (31-38-1) at Minnesota (32-29-8) 8:00 p.m. EST
ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) -- Usually their biggest strength, the
Minnesota Wild's defensive play has become unreliable at the
wrong time and it's threatening to keep them from a third
straight postseason berth.
Facing an offensively challenged Northwest Division rival might
help them get back on track as they host the Colorado Avalanche
on Tuesday night.
After allowing an average of 2.29 goals through its first 59
contests, Minnesota (32-29-8) has given up 3.40 per game in its
last 10, losing eight and dropping into a 10th-place tie with
St. Louis in the Western Conference.
The Blues handed the Wild their latest loss by scoring three
power-play goals in the first 28:08 en route to a 5-3 win
Sunday. Niklas Backstrom was pulled after two periods for Josh
Harding, and the Wild cut into a 4-1 deficit with two goals in
the third but couldn't get the equalizer.
"We need to be a bit more desperate out there," Backstrom told
the team's official Web site. "We need to be hungry for the
puck. It's like the playoffs out there. We have to make in now,
or, soon, it's going to be too late."
Backstrom posted a 2.20 goals-against average through his first
50 starts and got a four-year, $24 million extension March 3. In
his last nine appearances, however, he's 2-3-3 with a 3.46 GAA.
If Backstrom starts Tuesday, he would seem to have a good chance
to bounce back against the Avalanche, whom he's dominated in his
career. His best effort during his slump came Thursday night
when he made 40 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss at home to
Colorado, and he's 10-2-2 with a 2.08 GAA in 14 games against
He beat Colorado 2-0 with 33 saves on Jan. 4 at the Pepsi
Colorado has climbed out of the West cellar despite dropping
eight of its last 11, but has scored fewer than three goals
eight times during that span.
Peter Budaj's goaltending has been one of the lone bright spots
of late for the Avalanche (31-38-1), who appear headed for their
first last-place finish since moving from Quebec for the 1995-96
season. Colorado is nine points behind the Wild, the
next-closest team in the Northwest.
Budaj started the season 16-25-1 with a 3.03 GAA but has won
three of his last four starts, allowing six goals. He shut out
Minnesota over the final 49:45 of regulation in Thursday's win
and stopped two shootout attempts to improve to 8-7-2 with a
2.77 GAA against the Wild.
Budaj followed with a 3-2 win Saturday night in Edmonton but sat
the next night in Vancouver as Andrew Raycroft allowed three
goals in the first 15:18 of a 4-2 defeat.
"Right now, it's playing for pride," said defenseman
John-Michael Liles, who assisted on both Avalanche goals Sunday.
"We're playing for pride and playing for each other, and that's
all you can focus on right now. In the first period, we didn't
have that mentality."
Minnesota is 7-1-2 in its last 10 regular-season meetings with