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Wild-Avalanche Preview

Tuesday, 02.28.2006 / 5:00 PM

Associated Press

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Wild-Avalanche Preview
Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche

GAME: Minnesota Wild (29-25-5) at Colorado Avalanche (32-21-6).

TIME: Tuesday, 9 p.m. EST.

If the Minnesota Wild are going to make a push for the playoffs, they'll need to start defeating the teams in their own division.

The Wild take on the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center in the teams' sixth meeting of the season.

The Wild are in last place in the Northwest Division, seven points behind the third-place Avalanche and five behind fourth-place Edmonton. The Oilers are holding down the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

With Colorado in sixth place in the conference and Edmonton occupying the final postseason berth, Minnesota will have ample opportunity to make up ground in the race, with seven games left against those Northwest rivals. The Wild face the Avs three more times and have four matchups with the Oilers remaining.

Minnesota dropped two of three, all against division foes, just before the Olympic break. Following a 2-1 loss to Colorado on Feb. 9, the Wild defeated the Oilers 6-3 on Feb. 10 before falling 3-2 in overtime at Vancouver.

While Minnesota has three more shots at Colorado, the Wild will have to reverse their fortunes against the Avs if they hope to close the gap in the postseason race. Minnesota is 1-4 against Colorado this season, and has gone 1-10 with two ties all-time in Denver.

In the teams' last six meetings at the Pepsi Center, they have played five one-goal games and a tie, including Minnesota's lone victory Dec. 17, 2003.

Forwards Wes Walz, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Pascal Dupuis picked up their offense in the Wild's last five games before the Olympic break. Walz had four goals and five assists during that span after recording just three goals and six assists in his previous 27 contests. Bouchard had three goals and five assists in the five games, while Dupuis scored four goals.

"I can't wait to get going again," Bouchard said.

Defenseman Daniel Tjarnqvist rejoins Minnesota after playing for the gold-medal winning Swedish team.

The Avalanche have gone 13-4-3 in 2006 to move into the sixth spot in the West. Alex Tanguay has powered the Avs during that span, recording 11 goals and 14 assists in the 20 games.

Another key to Colorado's resurgence after a 19-17-3 start has been the play of goaltender David Aebischer, who lost the starting job briefly to Peter Budaj after struggling over the first three months of the season.

Aebischer was 11-9-0 with a 3.59 goals-against average and .883 save percentage through December. He stopped 32 shots in a 3-0 win over Nashville on Jan. 3, sparking a personal 11-4-2 run during which he posted a 2.56 GAA and .913 save percentage.

The Avalanche have done well against division foes this season, going 14-6-2. Aebischer is 13-3-1 within the division, and 3-0 with a 1.67 GAA in three starts against the Wild.

Aebischer stopped 33 shots in the last meeting with Minnesota on Feb. 9, allowing the Avalanche to come away with a 2-1 victory at the Xcel Energy Center.

"I have more confidence and more fun playing the game right now than I had before the season," Aebischer said after the victory.

Aebischer played well for an upstart Swiss Olympic team that reached the quarterfinals before losing to Sweden. He posted a 2.10 GAA in seven games and made 40 saves in a 3-2 upset of the Czech Republic on Feb. 16.

STANDINGS: Wild - 63 points, 5th place, 10 PB, Northwest Division. Avalanche - 70 points, 3rd place, 3 PB, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Wild - Brian Rolston and Marian Gaborik, 24 goals; Rolston, 37 assists and 61 points; Derek Boogaard, 124 PIM. Avalanche - Marek Svatos, 32 goals; Tanguay, 42 assists and 66 points; Ian Laperriere, 88 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Feb. 26): Wild - Power play: 17.8 percent (60 for 337), 17th in NHL. Penalty killing: 89.4 percent (295 for 330), 1st. Avalanche - Power play: 20.0 percent (73 for 365), 5th. Penalty killing: 85.0 percent (272 for 320), 6th.

GOALTENDERS: Wild - Manny Fernandez (23-9-4, 1 SO, 2.15 GAA); Dwayne Roloson (6-16-1, 1, 3.00). Avalanche - Aebischer (22-13-2, 2, 3.12); Budaj (7-5-4, 2.62).

SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 4-1.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 9; Avalanche, 2-1. At St. Paul, Minn., Aebischer stopped 33 shots and Joe Sakic scored the winner with 5:44 remaining.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Wild - 12-13-4 on the road; Avalanche - 18-8-5 at home.

2005-2006 season series
DateScoreW. Goal
Apr 09 '06MIN 5 at COL 2D. Tjarnqvist
Mar 05 '06COL 3 at MIN 5M. Gaborik
Feb 28 '06MIN 2 at COL 4M. Hejduk
Feb 09 '06COL 2 at MIN 1J. Sakic
Jan 31 '06MIN 2 at COL 3P. Brisebois
Jan 05 '06COL 4 at MIN 2A. Tanguay
Dec 23 '05COL 3 at MIN 5M. Gaborik
Dec 22 '05MIN 3 at COL 4M. Svatos
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GoalieGPRec.GASAGAASv%
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