Jamie McGinn got his first career two-goal game just 8:25 into the night, giving the Colorado Avalanche all the scoring they needed in a 2-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday. Peter Mueller and Stefan Elliott assisted in that order on both goals, spoiling rookie Matt Hackett's first start in the Wild net at home after five scattered appearances, including one start on the road. Hackett made 33 saves, with regular Niklas Backstrom out another two to four weeks with a strained groin muscle and backup Josh Harding resting after giving up six goals the previous game at Detroit and getting pulled in the third period.
Semyon Varmalov had his fourth shutout of the season for the Avalanche, stopping 30 shots. After a sluggish first period, the Wild revved up their attack and generated several prime scoring chances. Familiarly, none of them yielded goals. The Wild were scoreless for the third time in their last four games, and they fell to 8-21-7 since they had the NHL's best record in mid-December. Boos sounded overhead as they walked to the locker room after the game.
The Avalanche used a four-game winning streak - scoring four or more goals in each of those contests - to put themselves in decent position in the ever-crowded, shuffling-daily race for the final few playoff spots in the Western Conference. Then they lost two in a row at home this week by a combined 7-1 margin, to last-place Columbus and streaking Pittsburgh. They appeared to recapture some of their mojo on the plane to Minnesota, moving into a tie for ninth place with Los Angeles, just one point behind San Jose. Playing the wilting Wild certainly helped.
Hackett kicked a rebound to the side in the opening minutes, and McGinn was there to poke it in just 1:42 into the game. That was exactly the same amount of elapsed time San Jose scored on a week ago here, when McGinn got an assist on a goal by Tommy Wingels. The 23-year-old left wing was acquired by the Avalanche in a trade hours later. With David Jones shielding Hackett a little later in the period during a power play, McGinn jumped on another juicy rebound and sent the puck over Hackett's head to make it 2-0. Darroll Powe's holding penalty set up the man-advantage situation. Powe played on the second line with Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi, another sign of how depleted the Wild have been.
The Wild won three of the first four meetings between these teams. They'll play again Tuesday night in Colorado. After making the playoffs in each of their first 11 seasons in Denver, including two Stanley Cup championships, the Avalanche have won only one playoff series - in 2010 - and missed the postseason entirely three times in the previous five years. With first-round draft pick Gabriel Landeskog - the NHL's rookie of the month for February - leading the charge with 18 goals and 23 assists, the Avalanche have improved steadily behind a group of promising young players. McGinn added another name to the list when he was acquired this week. Varmalov is another one of those guys, at age 23. He's 4-1 in his last five starts with a total of only four goals allowed.