Avs Come Up Short In Opener
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Dany Heatley had two power-play goals on assists from new teammate Zach Parise, and the offense-enhanced Minnesota Wild surged into their much-anticipated season with a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.
Mikael Granlund also scored for the Wild in his first NHL appearance, Pierre-Marc Bouchard had a late goal in his first game in more than a year and Niklas Backstrom made 25 saves to help make the amped-up crowd of 19,298 forget all about the 119-day lockout that delayed the opener by 3 1/2 months.
John Mitchell scored early in his debut for the Avalanche and Cody McLeod cut the lead to one with 14:51 remaining in the game, but they were done in during a penalty-ridden second period that had goalie Semyon Varmalov on his heels.
After Steve Downie was called for cross-checking, Parise’s wrist shot bounced off Varmalov’s blocker and back to Heatley, who knocked in the rebound and watched it graze the crossbar on the way in. Just 53 seconds later, Granlund tipped in defenseman Jared Spurgeon’s slap shot to give the Wild the lead.
Midway through that frame, the Avalanche put themselves in a precarious spot against a team with plenty of power-play talent like the Wild now have with their shopping from the last two summers, signing Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter on July 4 and trading for Heatley and Devin Setoguchi the year before.
Downie was whistled for both cross-checking and roughing, giving the Wild an extended extra-skater situation. Then, Ryan O’Byrne picked up a penalty for holding the stick, and the Wild were given an opening-night gift — nearly 2 minutes of a 5-on-3 advantage.
Varmalov made several tricky saves, denying Matt Cullen, Parise and Heatley. But the Wild stayed patient, crisply passing the puck back and forth until picking their shooting spots, and Heatley muscled for position at the crease to redirect a short try from Parise.
The Wild outshot the Avalanche 18-5 in the second period. Mikko Koivu had the second assist on both of Heatley’s goals.
McLeod scored on a rebound of Greg Zanon’s slap shot from the point after the Avalanche won a faceoff in the Wild zone, but that was the extent of their attack after controlling the first period with a sluggish start by the home team. Downie’s shot hit off the post with less than 3 1/2 minutes left.
Mitchell knocked in a tough goal in traffic just 2 minutes and 7 seconds into the game, and 21 seconds later McLeod and Zenon Konopka got into the first fight. Both guys got 5-minute majors, but Konopka, the eighth-year veteran signed by the Wild for some grit and experience on their fourth line, was also given a minor for interference.
The Avalanche failed to convert on both of their power plays in the opening frame.
By adding Mitchell to their third line and P.A. Parenteau to the second line, the Avalanche have some more complements for standout forwards Gabe Landeskog, Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Milan Hejduk and David Jones. But they’re missing center Ryan O’Reilly, who remains unsigned after leading the team with 37 assists last season.
The Avalanche have a capable veteran backup in Jean-Sebastien Giguere, but they’re counting on Varmalov, who finished an up-and-down first year in Colorado strong, posting a 1.88 goals against average over his final 18 starts. Landeskog, the Calder Trophy winner last season as the league’s top rookie, is the other young piece of the Avalanche core as the youngest captain at age 20 in NHL history.
The Wild have a playoff-less streak of four years that’s twice as long as the Avalanche’s, and they’re carrying plenty of pressure to get there after signing Parise and Suter to 13-year, $98 million contracts. The addition of Granlund, their first-round draft pick in 2010, is another big boost. And Bouchard, who missed the last half of last season because of lingering concussion symptoms, is back to give the third line a healthy dose of skill and scoring touch.
NOTES: The Wild improved to 11-0-1 in home openers in their history. This was the sixth-highest attendance total in team history. … Mitchell had 16 points and a plus-10 rating for the Rangers last season.
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