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Wild to open playoffs against Avalanche - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Wild to open playoffs against Avalanche

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For the third time in franchise history, the Minnesota Wild will face the Colorado Avalanche in the playoffs.

The first-round, best-of-seven series was determined Sunday on the final day of the NHL's regular season when the St. Louis Blues lost to Detroit, assuring the Avs of the Central Division title.

Game 1 will be Thursday in Denver, Game 2 will be Saturday and Game 3, the first of the series in St. Paul, will be Monday night, April 21.

The matchup pits the Avs' speed and third-ranked offense against the Wild's stingy, sixth-ranked defense.

"Colorado plays hard and they're skilled," Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. "They try to make some more plays off the rush."

The Avs and Wild are no postseason strangers.

The Wild’s Erik Haula, left, Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson celebrate Haula’s first-period goal against the Predators on Sunday at Xcel
The Wild's Erik Haula, left, Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson celebrate Haula's first-period goal against the Predators on Sunday at Xcel Energy Center. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

In 2008, the Wild won the Northwest Division, but fell 4-2 to the Avs in their first-round series.

In 2003, the Wild won their first-ever playoff series in seven games.

Andrew Brunette, now an assistant coach, scored the biggest goal in franchise history in Game 7 of that series, keeping the Wild alive in their improbable run to the conference finals.

Brunette's goal came against hall of fame goalie Patrick Roy, the final one he allowed in his career.

Roy is now in his first season coaching the Avs and a favorite for the Jack Adams Award, given to the NHL's best coach.

He's orchestrated an incredible turnaround in Colorado.

Despite plenty of talent last season, the Avs finished in last place in the old Northwest Division with a 16-25-7 record in the lockout-shortened, 48 game schedule. This season, the Avs won the tough Central Division with a 52-22-7 record entering Sunday.

"Colorado is a team that's completely different from what they were last year," winger Jason Pominville said. "They've only added a couple players here and there, but their coaching staff must have done a great job there and they're just playing with really, really good confidence."

The Avs won four of the teams' five meetings this season, but they haven't faced off since Jan. 30.

Plenty has changed for both teams since then. The two enter the playoffs among the hottest teams in the league.

The Avs entered a meaningless game against Anaheim on Sunday 8-1-1 in their past 10 games and lost 3-2 in overtime. The Wild are 6-1-1 in their past eight games after Sunday's meaningless 7-3 loss to Nashville.

"I feel like against them, we have to keep the puck going forward," winger Zach Parise said. "That's where they struggle. When we didn't do well against them, we tried to do a lot of cross-ice passes and they broke up a lot of plays in the neutral zone. When we did well against them ... we just kept putting it behind (their defense) and making them turn. That's when we got a lot of odd-man rushes against them."

The Central Division matchup will be part of the league's new playoff format, which will pit the winner of the Wild-Avs series against the Chicago Blackhawks-St. Louis Blues winner.

Colorado's high-powered offense has been without team points leader Matt Duchene for two weeks. Duchene recorded 70 points in 71 games this season, but he has been sidelined by a knee injury and might not play in the series against the Wild.

While this Colorado team is different from recent ones, the Wild have a history of success against the Avs.

Since March 5, 2006, the Wild are 32-14-6 against Colorado. In their past 19 games in Colorado, the Wild are 13-3-3.

"It's a tough place to play with the altitude if you get caught out there," Suter said. "If you get caught out there, that really hurts you. We enjoy playing there. It is a tough building to play in; they've got a good atmosphere. But we've had some success."

Follow Chad Graff at twitter.com/ChadGraff.

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