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The Colorado Avalanche are experiencing their best run of the season thanks in part to the play of rookie Paul Stastny. To keep it going, they'll have to get past a Minnesota Wild squad getting some key rookie contributions as well.
The Avalanche try to gain ground on the Wild in the Western Conference playoff race when the Northwest Division rivals meet Sunday at the Xcel Energy Center.
Colorado (34-29-5) is ninth in the West with 73 points, but is 10 behind Minnesota (38-24-7), which currently holds one of the conference's final playoff spots. In an effort to avoid missing the postseason for the first time since 1993-1994, the Avalanche have rattled off a season-high five straight wins.
The latest came over Eastern Conference-leading Buffalo on Wednesday when Wojtek Wolski scored 1:41 into the final period to give Colorado a 3-2 victory. The Avalanche are outscoring opponents 18-8 during their win streak.
"Right now we seem to be on a roll and playing with a lot of confidence," said Avalanche captain and leading scorer Joe Sakic, who recorded his 965th career assist on Wolski's goal to pass Doug Gilmour for 11th place on the NHL's all-time list.
"All we can do is try to keep winning and put some pressure on and try to get us back in the race."
Stastny continues to pour on the pressure with eight goals and 17 assists during a 17-game point streak.
The center had two assists Wednesday to extend the run and match the NHL rookie record set in 1992-1993 by Winnipeg's Teemu Selanne. Stastny also broke the franchise rookie record, which was set by his father, Peter, in 1980.
"Oh, it won't hit me until summer. But I'm more happy about our team success," said Stastny, who is Colorado's second-leading scorer with 65 points. "Like everyone says, it's a lot more fun in the locker room when you're winning. If we can keep this up, good things will happen for all of us."
Stastny is likely to be facing a fellow rookie in the opposing net.
Goaltenders Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding have helped Minnesota go 12-3-3 over its last 18 games.
Starter Manny Fernandez missed all of February due to a knee injury, with Backstrom taking over the duties. He is 10-3-2 with a 2.34 goals-against average in his last 16 starts, but it was third-stringer Harding who made 35 saves Friday in a 5-1 win over Buffalo.
Harding is 2-0-1 with a 0.66 GAA in four appearances, including two starts, since being called up from Houston of the AHL on Feb. 1. Fernandez is healthy again, appearing in a loss to San Jose on Tuesday, and gives the Wild three viable options for Sunday's game.
"The organization did their homework with their goalies this year," said Wild leading scorer Brian Rolston, who had an assist versus the Sabres.
Dominic Moore scored his first two goals since being acquired at the trade deadline by Minnesota, which has allowed a total of two goals while winning its last two games.
The Wild have killed all 24 opponents' power plays over the last nine games and are 6-1-2 in that span. They have one of the league's best penalty-killing units, thwarting 86.0 percent of opponents' chances this season.
Minnesota is visiting a Colorado team looking to complete a perfect five-game road trip. The Avalanche have not won five in a row away from home since a six-game run Jan. 19-March 11, 2002.
While the Wild could be without Wes Walz for a third straight game due to an upper-body injury, the Avalanche may be missing Marek Svatos for a fifth game in a row with a groin injury.
These teams have split six meetings this season, but the Wild have taken the last two, including a 4-3 win on Feb. 22.