Colorado Avalanche's Stefan Elliott, second from right, breaks up a scoring attempt by Minnesota Wild's Darroll Powe (14) as Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, of Russia, defends the net in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, March 4, 2012, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Just another Sunday night for Jamie McGinn. Help beat the Wild and leave Minnesota's arena with a boost in the Western Conference playoff race.
Last week turned out to be his final game with San Jose. Now he's adjusting to a fledgling Colorado team gaining confidence by the day.
McGinn got his first career two-goal game just 8:25 into the night, giving the Avalanche all the scoring they needed in a 2-0 victory over the Wild on Sunday.
The Avalanche moved into a tie for ninth place with Los Angeles, just one point behind San Jose. After a four-game winning streak—scoring four or more goals in each of those contests—they lost two in a row at home this week by a combined 7-1 margin, to last-place Columbus and streaking Pittsburgh.
"This is huge. After dropping two we knew we needed these two points," McGinn said. "Everyone ahead of us is winning right now, so we have to stay in the hunt. It's going to be an interesting final stretch here, and we want to be a part of it too."
The Wild are all but out. For the seventh straight game, they gave up the first goal. Five of those have been in the first three minutes, including here when McGinn poked in a rebound 1:42 into the game. That was exactly the same amount of elapsed time San Jose scored on a week ago here, when McGinn got an assist. The 23-year-old left wing was acquired by the Avalanche in a trade hours later.
"It's always difficult when you're so used to being in a certain situation and then all of a sudden things change for you. As a coach you have to take those kinds of things into consideration and remember it's a whole new environment for him," said coach Joe Sacco, who put McGinn on a line with Paul Stastny and David Jones.
Peter Mueller and Stefan Elliott assisted in that order on both goals, spoiling rookie Matt Hackett's first start in the Wild net at home after five scattered appearances, including one start on the road. Semyon Varmalov had his fourth shutout of the season for the Avalanche, stopping 30 shots.
"I think I got lots of tough moments today," Varmalov said. "They're a very good team, and I think I was playing too deep a little bit."
They're not playing very well, if they do have the capability to be a very good team.
After a sluggish first period, the Wild revved up their attack and generated several prime scoring chances. Familiarly, none of them yielded goals. The Wild were scoreless for the third time in their last four games, and they fell to 8-21-7 since they had the NHL's best record in mid-December. They were booed off the ice.
"I have to find a way to make sure we're ready to go at the drop of the puck the next game," said coach Mike Yeo, who has had to constantly shuffle his lines to cope with the loss of captain Mikko Koivu (shoulder) and wings Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion) and Guillaume Latendresse (concussion).
With Jones shielding Hackett a little later in the period during a power play, McGinn jumped on another juicy rebound and sent the puck over Hackett's head to make it 2-0. Darroll Powe's holding penalty set up the man-advantage situation. Powe, a checking specialist, played on the second line with Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi, another sign of how depleted the Wild have been.
"I think it's more between the ears than it is the ability of a player," Yeo said, assessing the team's struggles.
With first-round draft pick Gabriel Landeskog—the NHL's rookie of the month for February—leading the charge with 18 goals and 23 assists, the Avalanche have improved steadily this season behind a group of promising young players. McGinn added another name to the list when he was acquired this week.
"They've got a lot of talent, especially some of those young guys. They've really adapted to the league. Every single game, they get better and better," Wild defenceman Tom Gilbert said.
Varmalov is another one of those guys, at age 23. He's 4-1 in his last five starts with a total of only four goals allowed.
"He's been very solid for us lately here, and we're going to need that type of play down the stretch," Sacco said.
Hackett made 34 saves, with regular Niklas Backstrom out another two to four weeks with a strained groin muscle and backup Josh Harding resting after giving up six goals the previous game at Detroit and getting pulled in the third period. Hackett said he was nervous his first time playing at Xcel Energy Center, but a little early anxiety in the net was the least of the Wild's problems.
NOTES: Avalanche LW Mike Connolly made his NHL debut after being recalled from the AHL. The former University of Minnesota Duluth star last played at Xcel Energy Center last April, when the Bulldogs won the NCAA championship. Connolly came with McGinn in the trade with San Jose. ... The Wild also recalled a prospect they recently picked up in a trade, D Steven Kampfer. He became the 44th player to take the ice this season for the Wild, most in the NHL and a franchise record. ... Avalanche RW Steve Downie, another recent trade acquisition, was scratched because of a shoulder injury sustained Saturday.