Wild beat Avalanche 4-1, earn home-ice in 1st round
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Kirill Kaprizov had a goal and an assist and the Minnesota Wild clinched home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs by beating the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 Friday night.
Jordan Greenway had two goals and Tyson Jost also scored for the Wild (53-22-7), who needed one point to guarantee opening the postseason at the Xcel Energy Center where it won a franchise-record 31 games.
Finishing second in the Central Division, Minnesota is 10-1-2 in its past 13 games and 21-3-4 in its past 28. Its wins and 113 points set franchise bests.
“We want to play in front of our fans. We want to start here on home ice. Whatever the outcome was we would’ve dealt with it. But this was definitely something we wanted. It’s nice to see us respond,” Jost said.
Minnesota will face St. Louis in the first round beginning Monday. The Wild were 0-3 against the Blues this season.
“The last couple games going into overtime against them with us being up and them being up, they’ve been tight games. It’s going to be a really good series and I’m looking forward to it,” said Wild captain Jared Spurgeon, who returned after missing two games with an upper-body injury.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves for the Wild, improving to 9-2-0 since coming over from Chicago at the trade deadline. Minnesota’s other goaltender, Cam Talbot, is 13-0-3 in his past 16 starts.
Nazem Kadri scored and Pavel Francouz stopped 18 shots for Colorado, locked in as the Western Conference’s top seed. The Avalanche rested a handful of key players, including Darcy Kuemper, Nathan MacKinnon, the team’s second-leading scorer, Valeri Nichushkin, Devon Toews and Cale Makar, who leads all NHL defensemen with 28 goals.
“In the standings it didn’t mean anything for us, so get a bunch of our guys in that had been sitting out here lately, give them an opportunity, get a big game in against tough opponent. Less wear and tear on some of the guys we left behind who’ve been playing a lot and playing really well,” coach Jared Bednar said.
Limping into the playoffs, the Avalanche are 1-5-1 in their last seven games, yet Colorado finished with a franchise-best 119 points. It will play Dallas or Nashville on Tuesday to start the opening round.
Minnesota scored on two of its first three shots. Greenway beat Francouz on the short side 58 seconds into the game before Jost was the beneficiary of Kaprizov’s puck-handling skills.
Kaprizov, who set franchise records with 47 goals and 61 assists, entered the Avalanche zone on the left side, circled the net, crossed high in the zone, and started to repeat the lap when he saw Jost alone in the slot.
The quick start was tempered 86 seconds later when a kneeing penalty by Colorado’s Kurtis MacDermid sent Marcus Foligno to the locker room. He did not return and will be evaluated Saturday. MacDermid received a major penalty and game misconduct.
“It’s serious enough that one of the toughest guys I’ve ever seen can’t come back and play,” said Wild coach Dean Evason, calling it a “terrible, terrible hit.”
Bednar was more diplomatic.
“Foligno gets a touch on it and tries to get out of the way. I didn’t mind the call. Looking back at it, at first I thought it’d be a two with him trying to get out of the way of it, they clip legs. After looking at it, our guy’s spread out, so I understand the 5-minute major.”
Kaprizov outmuscled a defender to poke in the puck during a second-period scrum and Kadri countered shortly thereafter to make it 3-1. Greenway added an empty-net goal.
NOTES: D Matt Dumba was back for Minnesota after missing a dozen games with an upper-body ailment. … Minnesota is 31-2-1 when leading after one period, 35-0-3 after two periods. ... Wild LW Mats Zuccarello (lower body) missed his fourth straight game, but Evason is optimistic he’ll be back for the playoffs. ... Colorado C Ben Meyers had a loud cheering section. Playing his first professional game in his home state, many of his University of Minnesota teammates were present. Meyers was one of three Gophers’ captains this season before signing with Colorado April 13.
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