In the first four meetings of the season, the Avalanche and the Wild played tight games both on the ice and on the scoreboard.
Two games were decided in the shootout, while the other two were two-goal affairs that weren't solidified until the Avs scored late empty-net goals.
A close game was once again the case Thursday as Colorado survived a three-goal third period by Minnesota and pulled out a 5-4 victory at Pepsi Center.
The win helped extend the Avalanche's lead over the Wild for the final guaranteed-playoff spot in the Central Division to nine points. Colorado also has three games in hand on Minnesota and has the head-to-head tiebreaker in its back pocket after winning the season series, 4-0-1.
"It was a big win for us. More importantly, we picked up nine points of a possible 10 (against Minnesota), which is something great," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "Our players certainly deserve a lot of credit for it. We had to play well against these guys and that is what we have done all year."
It appeared as if the fifth and final meeting of the season would buck the trend of close affairs as the Avs led 4-1 after the second period, but the Wild scored two goals in five minutes midway through the final stanza to cut Colorado's lead to one.
Nathan MacKinnon scored his rookie-leading 19th tally of the season with 2:25 left to get the Avalanche back up by two, but Jason Pominville answered 11 seconds later to bring Minnesota back to within striking distance.
Colorado couldn't score on several chances at an empty net in the final minute but held on for its eighth win in its last 11 games. The Avs finished January with a 10-3-1 record, marking only the third time in franchise history that they have reached double-digit victories in the month.
"It was a tight game and we need to figure out these third periods where we have the lead and you know, we kind of relinquish that," said Avs forward John Mitchell, who scored a goal and had an assist in the second period. "I think it’s just about staying even-keel, being prepared for the third period and going out there and doing what we need to do to win the game like we did in the first two periods. We needed to do that in the third. We kind of got on our heels and got away from that.”
While many of the players weren't happy about their third-period performance of letting Minnesota get back into the game, Roy said he wasn't frustrated with how his team played in the final frame.
"It's something that I think we are going to learn more and more," Roy said of his squad holding on to third-period leads. "We're going to talk about it, but I'm not going to make a big story of it. The reason is very simple; we were so good in the first two periods. Offensively, that was the best I saw our team play. We were cycling the puck, we were moving it quick, we had tons of chances."
Colorado trails second-place St. Louis by six points and division-leading Chicago by four points. The Avs have three games in hand on Chicago and play both the Blackhawks and the Blues two more times this season.
"We're looking at [the standings]. We know what we want to do," Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie said before the game. "We've had a pretty good stretch of games here, and we want to keep it going into the Olympic Break. We want to try and get as many as we can to make it easier for us afterward."
LANDESKOG-STASTNY-TANGUAY LINE CONTINUES TO PRODUCE
Stastny scored to extend Colorado's lead to 3-1 at 9:17 of the second and picked up his 14th point (five goals and nine assists) of January, the most of any Avs player this month.
The trio has scored four goals in three gams since they were reunited Jan. 24 against Florida. The line had scored 12 goals and helped Colorado to a 12-1 record to start the season before Tanguay injured his knee Nov. 2 against Montreal and missed nearly 12 weeks.
Stastny's 16th goal of the season came after he stayed onside while bringing the puck into the Wild's zone. He did a drop pass to Erik Johnson, who fired a shot from the right circle, and Stastny collected the rebound in the slot and scored.
PARENTEAU HEALTHY SCRATCH
Parenteau missed three weeks with a knee injury before making his return Jan. 21 against Toronto. He played in three-straight games after he came back to the lineup, but Roy didn't want to overwork him early in his return and gave him a night off on Monday in Dallas.
The Avs pulled out a 4-3 win against the Stars and with a full group of healthy forward, Roy decided to stick with what worked in Dallas.
"Unfortunately in this business when you get hurt, it gives opportunity for others to show—actually that is what I ask: to take advantage of this opportunity when a player is hurt," Roy said. "I like the lineup I have right now."
Roy said Parenteau is acting very professional and handling being out of the lineup well. He said he expects the right wing to be back in a game in the near future.
"I know PA is going to help us in the future," Roy said prior to the game. "It happens to every player to go through a situation like this. It's a beauty of having everybody healthy right now, it makes my job tougher because everybody is playing well."
VARLAMOV SIGNS EXTENSION
The Avalanche announced two hours prior to the opening faceoff that the club had signed goaltender Semyon Varlamov to a five-year contract extension through the 2018-19 season.
“Undoubtedly, Semyon has been an impact player for us this season,” said team executive vice president of hockey operations Joe Sakic. “At only 25 years old, he is entering the prime years of his career and he wants to be part of this franchise moving forward. We are very excited to have come to terms with him and the fact that he has agreed to a five-year extension demonstrates his commitment to the Avalanche and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Varlamov made 31 saves Thursday versus the Wild and won his 27th game of the season, setting a new career high for victories in a season. His previous high of 26 wins came during his first year with the Avalanche in 2011-12.
He entered the game with a 2.43 goals-against average, .925 save percentage and one shutout this season. The Samara, Russia native was tied for third among NHL goaltenders in wins, ranks second in saves (1,199), third in shots faced (1,296), sixth in games (42-tied) and eighth in save percentage (.925).
The victory was Varlamov's 10th in the month of January, setting a new franchise record for the most wins in the first month of the year. His 10 victories are also tied for the most wins in any single month in franchise history with Craig Anderson (October 2009), Peter Budaj (March 2007) and Dan Bouchard (February 1981).
Varlamov is 11-1-1 in his last 13 starts and 14-1-5 in his last 22 games (20 starts).
PEE WEE TEAM HONORED
Prior the opening faceoff, the Avalanche honored its pee wee team that will represent the organization at the 55th annual Quebec International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament.
The team, comprised of 11- and 12-year olds, will compete against other squads from the U.S., Canada and Europe at the Feb. 12-23 tournament. This year's Avs Pee Wee Team is the University of Denver Jr. Pioneers, who earned the opportunity to compete at the event after winning the Avalanche Quebec Qualifier Tournament in November.
Colorado will provide the pee wees with Avalanche jerseys and equipment and an all-expenses paid trip to Quebec City, Quebec. American Airlines will provide air travel.
This year's club will look to defend its championship after last year's squad won its division for the first time in the 11 years that the Avs had sent a team to compete.
MORE POSTGAME NOTES
• Colorado is 14-5-2 versus Central Division teams this year.
• Ryan O’Reilly tallied his 20th goal of the year, reaching the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career.
• Gabriel Landeskog extended his assist streak to four games (5a), tying his career long streak set earlier this month from Jan. 2-8.
• Nathan MacKinnon scored his 19th goal of the season, tops among rookies…Nathan finished with nine goals and 13 points in January…His nine goals lead all rookies this month and are the second-most by an Avalanche rookie in January behind Marek Svatos (10) in 2005-06.
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