Avalanche\'s Ryan Wilson, left, gets trapped between the boards and Minnesota Wild\'s Chuck Kobasew during a first-period check in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009, in St. Paul, Minn. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Jim Mone
ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota Wild eagerly returned home, and the white "C" newly stitched on Mikko Koivu's dark green jersey seemed bigger and brighter by the end.
Chosen as captain the day before, Koivu lifted his team's sagged spirit with a standout performance on Wednesday night.
Koivu had an assist and the tying goal late in regulation and scored on Minnesota's first shot in the shootout, sending the Wild to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
"He leads by example. He battles and competes," coach Todd Richards said. "He's not perfect by any means, but his hard work and his effort makes up for a lot of the mistakes that happen in a game, whether it's by him or his teammates."
Koivu's first-period power-play shot gave Brent Burns a prime rebound to punch in for an early Wild lead. Darcy Tucker and Kyle Quincey scored goals during an Avalanche-dominant second period, but Niklas Backstrom made 33 saves and Koivu came through with his redirect of Antti Miettinen's attempt to keep the Wild alive.
Backstrom stopped all three shots in the shootout, two of them back-handers that missed wide right. Koivu's low wrist shot was the only score in the shootout, and the Wild for the second time this season came back to win a home game in extra time.
Koivu, one of several key players struggling during the transition to a new scheme under Richards, came through at the right time, with 4:51 remaining in regulation.
"Some nights it's going to go in, and some nights it's tough," Koivu said. "As long as we're getting chances."
The Avalanche outshot the Wild 29-13 after the first period, but goalie Craig Anderson - after overcoming a shaky start - couldn't hold the lead the whole way. Though they made a pit stop at home in the middle of the trip, the Avs finished a stretch of seven straight games on the road, the longest since the franchise relocated from Quebec City to Denver in 1995, with a 4-1-2 record.
"We've really showed we can compete, especially on the road," left-wing Wojtek Wolski said. "It's a good start. We know it's very early, so we've got to keep it up."
Sacco lamented the seven power plays given up that led to both of Minnesota's goals.
"When you spend that much time in your own end, you tend to wear down a little bit," Sacco said.
Despite the loss, this has been quite the impressive start for the supposedly rebuilding Avs, one of the NHL's youngest. The 28-year-old Anderson, a career backup getting his first chance at being a regular, is a big part of the early success. He was making a lot of sprawling saves, though, and giving the Wild several opportunities to score in the first and third periods.
"Traffic is what gets goals in this league," Anderson said. "Any goalie that sees the puck should stop it, and if you don't you won't be here."
The Wild started the season so slowly that the Avalanche already had an 11-point lead in the Northwest Division, less than three weeks into the season. Still trying to find their rhythm with Richards, the Wild returned to their home ice after an 0-5 trip during which they were outscored 20-10.
They had trouble staying healthy, too. Martin Havlat returned, however, from a two-game absence because of a strained groin muscle and the Wild also welcomed right wing Chuck Kobasew to the lineup. Kobasew was acquired in a trade with Boston on Sunday.
"You wonder if you'll ever get over the hump, so hopefully this does give the guys some confidence as far as finding ways to win games," Richards said.
NOTES: Colorado's David Jones checked Minnesota's Nick Schultz so hard along the boards at mid-ice that the glass panel shattered and sent shards onto the table where the scorers and public address announcer sit between the penalty boxes. The stoppage came in the final seconds of the third period. ... Avalanche LW Cody McLeod took an inadvertent stick to the face right before the shot that led to Quincey's rebound goal. McLeod did not return and was taken to a hospital for further examination, but his vision was fine. Remarkably, McLeod refused to stay down after taking the hit and kept skating to get the shot off. "It shows a lot about his determination," Sacco said. ... The Wild picked Koivu as their permanent captain this season, ending their past practice of assigning the honour each month. They will now rotate alternate captains instead.