More positives, still no points for Wild in 3-2 loss to Colorado

With his team 12 points back in the Central Division, and seven out of a playoff spot, Wild coach Dean Evason was asked Friday how he keeps his team focused on each game instead of the hole Minnesota has dug early this season.

The Wild entered Friday night’s game against division rival Colorado on a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) and just five victories in 17 games.

“We know where we’re at in the standings, and that we haven’t won some games here as of late,” Evason said. “But we have to instill the positivity (related to) how we’re playing. If we weren’t playing well, obviously we wouldn’t be so positive.”

It’s true Minnesota played better in a pair of losses in the NHL Global Series in Sweden last weekend, falling to Ottawa, 2-1, in a shootout and to Toronto, 3-2, in overtime. But at some point — some point soon — playing well must turn into wins.

Ross Colton, Valeri Nichushkin and Kurtis MacDermid scored goals, and Alexandar Georgiev made 19 saves as Colorado beat the Wild, 3-2, at Xcel Energy Center Friday night. The Avalanche won for the fifth time in six games and pulled into a three-way tie for first with Dallas and Winnipeg in the Central.

Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek scored goals, and Filip Gustavsson made 23 saves for Minnesota, which next plays a matinee Sunday in Detroit.

There were positives for the Wild to hang on to, most notably a resurgent performance by Kaprizov, who scored the Wild’s first goal in the second period and earned an assist on the tying goal. Minnesota also rallied to tie the game after falling behind 2-0, and generated several chances to tie the game late. In the end, though, it was another setback for a team that can’t afford setbacks.

The Wild came out with some energy after the first puck dropped, particularly from Kaprizov, who entered the game with just one even-strength goal this season. His top line with Marco Rossi and Mats Zuccarello kept the puck in Colorado’s zone early.

The Wild were generally sharp until Rossi took a tripping penalty at 12:46. Minnesota, with the NHL’s worst penalty kill this season, survived the penalty, but the momentum moved to Colorado, and the Avalanche scored when Colton finished a rush with a snap shot from the left circle for a 1-0 lead with 2:17 left in the period.

Minnesota had a golden opportunity to tie the score early in the second period when Colton was called for high-sticking Marcus Foligno in the corner and assessed a double-minor. The Wild, however, didn’t manage a shot on goal for 1:35 of the man advantage, and a series of Wild penalties wound up giving the Avalanche two brief power plays, four on three and five on four.

Minnesota killed those off, but the Wild set Colorado up with a man advantage when Jake Middleton was called for interference in his own zone. This time, the Avalanche made some hay, scoring when Nichushkin deflected a Nate MacKinnon slap shot past Gustavsson for a 2-0 lead at 8:39.

Rather than go into a shell, however, the Wild came right back, pulling within 2-1 on Kaprizov’s goal just 34 seconds later. Rossi stole the puck from Riley Tufte in the high slot, then threw it back on net. Georgiev stopped it, but Kaprizov pried the puck loose and scored.

Minnesota pulled even six minutes later on a two-man advantage.

The Wild got a power play when Caleb Jones was called for holding, and were given at least 55 seconds five-on-three when Bowen Byram cleared the puck into the stands and was called for delay of game. Minnesota tied it when Zuccarello found Eriksson Ek screening a defender in the slot for a tap-in at 14:21.

But Colorado took the initiative early in the third period, earning a power play just 1:04 into the frame, and went ahead when an Andrew Cogliano pass got past defenseman Jon Merrill and found MacDermid in the slot. The defenseman, playing in his fifth game this season, skated the puck around Gustavsson and into the right corner for a 3-2 lead at 4:56.

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