Minnesota Wild right wing Nino Niederreiter, left, dives across the crease against Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, center, and Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Denver on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
DENVER - Josh Harding was brilliant in regulation and only got better from there, showing why he's one of the league's top goaltenders.
Harding made two glove saves in the shootout and Mikko Koivu scored the deciding goal as the Minnesota Wild rallied for a 2-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night.
"If Harding isn't as good as he is, we score a few more," lamented Matt Duchene, who had the Avalanche's lone goal in the shootout.
But he is that good, lowering his goals-against average to an NHL-best 1.49. Harding had 26 saves and then nonchalantly described his performance by saying, "I felt good."
This was a big road win for the Wild after losing in San Jose and Anaheim. That they mustered this sort of come-from-behind effort in their third contest in four days made it all the more impressive to coach Mike Yeo.
"After two periods, I'm thinking to myself, 'Man, we look like we have nothing in the tank. We look tired,'" Yeo said. "There were plays or decisions we made that are usually kind of a result of fatigue. The way they stepped up in the third period, the way they kept themselves in the game, the way they battled to give ourselves a chance to score that goal—that was a big character win."
Trailing 1-0, Nino Niederreiter tied the game with 3:53 remaining in regulation when he deflected in a shot from Ryan Suter in front of the net.
Perhaps only fair, since Colorado scored its lone goal in regulation when a shot clanked in off the skate of Maxime Talbot.
"Two fluky goals," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "They were not pretty goals, but at the same time part of the game."
Koivu's goal was nifty, sending a backhand just over Semyon Varlamov and just under the crossbar. Zach Parise also scored for the Wild in the shootout.
So, is that the type of shot Koivu envisioned all along?
"I'm not going to tell you what I wanted to do because every time we go against these guys we're in a shootout," Koivu said.
After Duchene scored to open the shootout, Harding stopped P.A. Parenteau and Ryan O'Reilly to preserve the win.
"I don't think we played bad hockey," Duchene said. "I thought we played a heck of a hockey game. We're having tough luck right now. We made a lot of good plays and the one that goes in for us hits a skate and goes in. I thought maybe the bounces were going to go our way."
Midway through the second period, Cory Sarich unleashed a shot from just inside the blue line that deflected off of Talbot's skate and past Harding. It was Talbot's second goal for the Avs since being acquired from Philadelphia on Oct. 31.
Niederreiter tied it up when his deflection trickled past Varlamov.
Once again, the Avalanche struggled on the power play. They're now 0 for 26 over their last 10 games.
It was a clean first period, with no goals and just one penalty on Minnesota's Jonas Brodin for interference.
Harding came up big in the opening 20 minutes and stopped all 11 shots he faced, including a point-blank attempt from Cody McLeod.
Defenceman Jan Hejda was back on the ice for Colorado after missing a week with a right knee injury. He had to be helped off the ice in Edmonton on Dec. 5 after losing an edge and going feet first heavily into the boards.
"Wasn't as bad as how it looked on television," Hejda joked before the game.
NOTES: The Wild juggled their lines after recalling C Erik Haula from Iowa of the American Hockey League on Friday. ... The Avalanche held a moment of silence before the game for Arapahoe High School staff, students and families who were affected by the shooting at the suburban Denver school on Friday. ... Avalanche D Ryan Wilson (back) missed his 17th straight game, but may be moving closer to a return. "We want him to have a couple of practices before he plays," Roy said. ... F John Mitchell played in his 300th game. "It's a good number," said Mitchell, who had an assist on Talbot's goal. ... The Avs are 2-0-1 against the Wild this season.