|Avalanche prepare for rematch with Wild after rout|
SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- In the first-ever Minnesota Wild playoff series 15 years ago, the upstart team in only its third season after expansion rallied from a 3-1 deficit to upset the then-mighty Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 of the opening round.
It was the start of a budding rivalry as the teams were both in the Northwest Division for more than a decade and now face each other in Central Division matchups several times per year.
The latest will take place on Tuesday when the Avalanche come to Minnesota in need of a win versus a Wild team that may be bent on revenge.
It has been barely a week since the Wild visited Denver and limped home after a humbling 7-1 loss to Colorado - a game that both teams will certainly have in mind during this rematch.
"The difference in that game is we came out and had a real good start," Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog said Monday after the team practiced in Colorado, then boarded an eastbound plane.
"We seem to feed off a good start, but we're going to expect these guys to come out hard and to play a lot harder than they did in our building. I'm sure they want to show us they're not ready to give up a playoff spot to us, so it's going to be a fun game."
The Colorado goaltending situation is in flux. Jonathan Bernier had to leave Saturday's 5-2 win over the Coyotes when he took a puck to the head. If he cannot go in Minnesota and has to miss time, the Avalanche are confident that mainstay Semyon Varlamov can fill the gap in the crease.
"He's been great," Colorado coach Jared Bednar said of Varlamov, who has an 18-13-6 record this season. "He had some time off when he re-tweaked his groin there midseason, so we gave him three weeks or so off, and he's getting lots of rest on practice days. He looks good, feels good, so not a problem with him carrying the load."
In Minnesota, Eric Staal has been carrying the load offensively, and even more than a week later he admits the blowout loss in Colorado is under consideration with another crack at the Avs coming at home.
"I think it's in the back of your mind a little bit for sure," Staal said after Minnesota's Monday practice. "They've spanked us pretty good twice in their barn, we're coming off a good practice day today, another opportunity at home, and the points are huge."
It's that odd time of year for the Wild where Xcel Energy Center is the epicenter of all things hockey in Minnesota, meaning the NHL team gets home games early in the week and the amateurs take center stage on weekends.
The Wild traveled to Vancouver and Edmonton last weekend while the legendary Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament was played at the NHL rink.
This weekend, the Wild will travel to Las Vegas and Arizona to make way for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference postseason tournament at Exel.