Minnesota Wild left wing Andrew Brunette, left, shoots the puck past Colorado Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson, front right, for a goal in the second period of an NHL hockey game in Denver on Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010. Avalanche defenseman Matt Hunwick, second from left, and defenseman Adam Foote, back right, defend on the play. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)
DENVER - The Minnesota Wild shrugged off Colorado's aggressiveness with an impressive win.
Matt Cullen had two goals and an assist, Niklas Backstrom stopped 36 shots and Minnesota beat the Avalanche 3-1 on Thursday night.
There was only one fight in the game, but the Wild felt some of the Colorado players were being overly physical. Winger Cal Clutterbuck clashed with Avalanche defenceman Adam Foote near the Minnesota bench after Clutterbuck tried to check T.J. Galiardi into the boards. David Koci took a roughing call early in the second period that led to the Wild's third goal.
"There are some guys over there, two guys in particular, I'm shocked they're still even playing in the league," Clutterbuck said. "If they're going to take a penalty, take a penalty. We're on the road, we'll take a power play any day of the week. If they want to flaunt their egos, they want to show how tough they are, we're going to beat you."
Minnesota coach Todd Richards was happy with the way his team responded to Colorado's style.
"Marty (Havlat) stood up for himself, (Kyle) Brodziak stood up for himself," Richards said. "The big thing is Koci takes that penalty, he doesn't have another shift. My message to the bench was the way you keep this guy off the ice is you score a goal. And we score a goal. If guys want to run around and take penalties, then you've got to make them pay on the power play."
Minnesota made the Avalanche pay even when they had the man advantage. With Colorado on the power play, Clutterbuck stole a soft pass at the Minnesota blue line, raced down the ice and his shot was saved by Craig Anderson. Cullen trailed the play and knocked the rebound into the empty net to make it 1-0 with 10:27 left in period.
"I haven't seen an empty net like that since I don't know when," Cullen said. "It was a good job by Clutter, forcing the turnover and taking it to the net and leaving me the leftovers."
The Avalanche struck back 45 seconds later when Backstrom couldn't cover up a shot by Brandon Yip and David Jones chipped in the rebound for his 12th goal of the season and first in 11 games.
The Wild got the lead back when Marek Zidlicky's shot from the blue line bounced off the boards and by Anderson as he tried to grab the carom. Cullen knocked the puck out of the air to give Minnesota the lead with his eighth goal of the season.
Andrew Brunette made it 3-1 with a power-play goal when he tipped Cullen's shot from off the boards past Anderson for his seventh of the season.
"I played here before," Brunette said. "I know the caroms."
Anderson was pulled in favour of backup Peter Budaj after making 11 saves.
"I just felt that at that time was good to make a change," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "It was the right time."
Anderson was critical of his play.
"I'm fighting through traffic and the guy shoots it wide and it's back in front," he said. "I can't let the guy score so I have to challenge and be aggressive on the initial shot. I have to be a little better, get back to my post and not allow them to have those easy goals."
The Avalanche had several chances to score in the third period, but Backstrom came up with big saves throughout the frame to help Minnesota win its third straight. He finished with 15 saves in the third, his busiest period of the game.
"At the end of the third we were peppering him pretty good and he stood in there," Jones said.
Notes: Budaj had 18 saves. ... Colorado has lost two in a row after winning six straight. ... Cullen notched his first three-point game of the season. ... The Avalanche are 2-5-1 against the Northwest Division and 17-7-3 against the rest of the NHL. ... Minnesota has scored at least one power-play goal in 15 of its past 18 games against Colorado.