Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene, left, keeps the puck away from Minnesota Wild defenseman Nick Schultz during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Denver, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
DENVER - Even on the road, Minnesota's Andrew Brunette and Jose Theodore felt right at home.
It wasn't all that difficult, especially since both players spent parts of three seasons with the Colorado Avalanche.
Brunette scored twice and Theodore stopped 38 shots in his return to goal, helping the Wild hold off a rusty Avalanche squad for a 4-3 win on Thursday night.
Theodore insists there was nothing personal as he went up against his former team. This was more about points with the two teams jockeying for positioning in the standings.
As it stands, the Wild would be in the playoffs and the Avalanche out. But there's still plenty of hockey left.
"We look at the standings like anyone else. We're aware this was a must-win game," said Theodore, whose team won for the sixth time in seven games. "They were a little bit rusty in the first period and that's why we took it to them really quick."
Before the fans even had time to settle into their seats, the Wild were already up 2-0. Kyle Brodziak and Brunette both had goals within the first 61 seconds of the game, putting the Avalanche in catch-up mode the rest of the way.
"It's not anything they did, we just weren't ready to start and it cost us the game," Kevin Porter said. "I thought after that we dominated the play. It was a different game after that. But those two minutes killed us."
Colorado's early sluggishness can be attributed to the fact the team hasn't played in more than a week. The Avs were scheduled to take the ice Tuesday in St. Louis following the all-star break, but it was postponed due to weather.
Avalanche coach Joe Sacco was hoping to guard against a lethargic start just like this, even putting his team through a rigorous workout the day before.
The plan didn't work.
"Pretty much a nightmare start," said Milan Hejduk, who scored two goals. "Terrible start."
Hejduk provided a late spark by scoring 45 seconds into the final period and drawing the Avs to within a goal at 3-2. They had a shot at tying the game when Martin Havlat was called for a double-minor after his stick caught T.J. Galiardi in the face.
But Theodore was at his best with the Wild down a player, turning back one shot after another.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard then sealed the win midway through the final period when he backhanded a shot past Craig Anderson for his fifth goal of the season.
Theodore was on top of his game as he returned to the net after missing time with a hip injury. He showed no signs of rust in his first game since Jan. 11.
"It's always good to play against your former team," said Theodore, who appeared in 91 games for the Avs in parts of three seasons. "It was a good test and felt really good."
Brunette continued to haunt his former squad, increasing his point total to 26 in 42 games against Colorado.
"We knew we had to step up our game and we were able to do that tonight," said Brunette, who was a member of the Avalanche from 2005 to 2008.
Although Ryan O'Reilly missed his sixth straight game with a shoulder injury, Sacco remained optimistic the forward will be ready soon, possibly even Saturday against Anaheim.
O'Reilly has been out since a scary crash in Minnesota on Jan. 14, sliding into the boards headfirst.
Peter Forsberg participated in the morning skate Thursday as he continues to ponder a comeback. He's been testing his conditioning and the strength of his chronically injured right foot to see if he's even up for a return.
Forsberg had a solid skating session Thursday. This after sounding a little bit discouraged the day before following an intense workout that had him fiddling with his right skate.
The Swedish star hopes to make a decision soon, especially since the Avalanche are heading out on the road next week for a four-game swing.
"I think right now the ball's in his court," Sacco said. "Peter's the only one that's going to be able to tell us really how he feels."
Notes: Avs D Ryan Wilson turned 24 on Thursday. ... Wild D Marco Scandella missed his seventh straight game with a concussion. ... A snowstorm blew through Denver on Thursday, leading to a sparse crowd at Pepsi Center. So sparse, in fact, the voices of the players on the ice reverberated around the arena. ... With Minnesota's win, the season series is tied at 2-2 with two more games to go. ... Wild D Cam Barker was poked in the eye during a fight with Avs F Brandon Yip in the second period. Wild coach Todd Richards wasn't sure if Barker would be available for the game Saturday in Phoenix. ... Brodziak's goal 33 seconds into the game was the fastest against the Avs this season.