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The last time Minnesota visited Colorado, Niklas Backstrom was on top of his game. The Wild is hoping a return trip to Denver will help its struggling goaltender get back on track and push the club ahead in the playoff race.
Sitting just outside a playoff spot, the Wild enters the final stretch with 10 of its 16 remaining games away from home and begins a three-game trip Thursday night against Colorado.
Minnesota (32-28-6) will need Backstrom to shine, especially on the road, if it wants to reach the postseason for a third consecutive year. The Wild is tied for ninth in the Western Conference and is a point behind seventh-place Edmonton and Nashville.
In addition to the conference-worst Avalanche (29-37-1), the Wild plays fellow playoff hopefuls Dallas and St. Louis over the next four days.
Minnesota will need a better performance from Backstrom, who is among the league leaders with a 2.36 goals-against average but has allowed 21 goals in his last six starts. Playing at Pepsi Center could help, as he is 5-1-0 with a 2.00 GAA in six regular-season trips there, including a 2-0 win Jan. 4.
Backstrom followed with another shutout at East-leading Boston two nights later, marking the last time Minnesota won back-to-back road games.
Thanks to a resurgent offense, the Wild has a chance for consecutive victories away from home Thursday. Minnesota, which has averaged 2.53 goals this season, has scored 14 in the last four games, going 2-1-1.
Stephane Veilleux and Owen Nolan have each netted three goals with Kim Johnsson adding an assist in four straight games.
After losing three in a row to begin a season-high six-game road trip, the Wild won two of its final three, including a 3-2 triumph on Sunday over Anaheim. They returned home and lost 5-4 in overtime Tuesday night to West co-leader San Jose.
While Backstrom stopped just 18 shots, Nolan bailed out his teammate by tying the game in the final 6:04 of regulation with his 400th and 401st career goals.
"If (Backstrom) would've been just a little better," coach Jacques Lemaire said, "we could've won that game."
Backstrom has been mostly better in the regular season against the Avalanche, going 10-2-1 with a 2.18 GAA and winning three of four meetings in 2008-09. He has allowed three goals in those three victories, but had a career-worst performance in a 6-5 home loss Dec. 1.
Backstrom allowed 17 goals in six playoff starts last season against Colorado, but the Northwest Division champion Wild managed to score only 12 times in the first-round upset.
Backstrom will be facing a flagging offense that has kept the Avalanche at the bottom in the West. In losing seven of its last eight, Colorado has been outscored 30-15.
The Avalanche followed a 5-1 win Sunday in Chicago with Tuesday night's 3-0 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers.
"Part of it was mental," defenseman Adam Foote said. "Sometimes that's youth and inexperience. We have to be stronger mentally, and we have to work on that. The last game we were able to hold it for 60 minutes."
The Wild have handled Colorado in the regular season, going 7-1-1 in the last nine meetings and 3-0-1 in their last four in Denver.