DENVER (AP)Frederick Gaudreau scored two short-handed goals, Filip Gustavsson stopped 39 shots, and the Minnesota Wild beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 Wednesday night.
Marcus Johansson and Sam Steel also scored for the Wild, who improved to 16-1-4 in their last 21 games and moved three points ahead of Colorado and Dallas atop the Central Division.
Bowen Byram and Lars Eller scored for the Avalanche, who lost for just the 10th time in their last 34 games (24-7-3). Alexandar Georgiev finished with 25 saves.
Despite outshooting the Wild by a 44-29 margin, including a 19-4 advantage in the third period, the Avalanche struggled throughout the night to outmaneuver Gustavsson, who leads the NHL in save percentage and goals against average since Nov. 19.
“It’s so much fun being back there and having that pressure that you can make such a big difference,” Gustavsson said. “I think that’s why I started playing goalie in the first place.”
The first three Minnesota goals came after crucial miscues by Colorado.
An errant pass from Georgiev from behind his own net set up Johansson’s goal just 3:24 into the first period. After Byram tied it midway through the opening period, a battle for a lost puck in front of the Colorado net resulted in a backhanded goal from Steel with about four minutes left in the period. Gaudreau scored just 14 seconds into a Colorado power play at 9:10 of the second period to push the Wild’s lead to 3-1.
“It’s a game of mistakes,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “We made some big ones. We didn’t make a lot of them, but we made some big ones and they capitalized on them. That turns out for me to be the difference in the hockey game.”
Eller scored to get the Avalanche within one with 6:19 remaining in the third, but Gaudreau sealed the win with a short-handed empty-netter with 33 seconds remaining as the Wild improved to 30-0-2 when leading after two periods.
“We knew coming in it would be a tough game,” Gaudreau said. “The crowd was very loud. It was a fun game to play in. It feels good. The thing that feels the best is I think we did it the right way. We were focused for the whole game. It’s fun to get the result from an effort like that.”
Colorado had won the previous two meetings between the teams this season, both of which came on the road. The loss snapped a 12-game streak in which the Avalanche had at least one power-play goal, the franchise’s second-longest run since it moved to Denver in 1995.
“To start the game, they were more competitive than we were,” Bednar said. “I felt like we had some passengers for the first period-plus. When you’re playing a game like this, a playoff-style game, you can’t have passengers.”
NOTES: RWs Brandon Duhaime (non-COVID illness) and Ryan Reaves (upper-body injury) were scratches for Minnesota. … Colorado announced Wednesday that it signed Western Michigan senior Jason Polin to a one-year, entry-level contact for the 2023-24 season. Polin led all NCAA players in goals this season.
Wild At Vegas on Saturday night.
Avalanche: Host Dallas on Saturday night.
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