John Madden scored with 9:05 left to break a tie and lift the Minnesota Wild to a must-have 5-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.
Rookie defenseman Jared Spurgeon tacked on another score less than three minutes later and Kyle Brodziak added an empty-netter to pad Minnesota's lead, dropping the Avalanche to 2-16-2 since Jan. 18.
Kevin Porter and Paul Stastny had goals for the Avalanche, but they again hit their ceiling: They're averaging less than two scores during this terrible 20-game stretch. For the season, they're a 0-27-4 when getting only two or fewer goals.
Martin Havlat and Andrew Brunette scored for the Wild. Chuck Kobasew gave Minnesota a big lift, stealing the puck from Matt Hunwick behind the net and feeding Matt Cullen for the setup to Madden.
Guillaume Latendresse returned from a 58-game absence for the Wild in a limited role, skating on the fourth line with Eric Nystrom and bruiser Brad Staubitz.
Latendresse had two surgeries in late November to repair injuries to his midsection, and the Wild could sure use some of the offense he generated last season while scoring 25 goals in just 55 games. The Wild are trying to string together their lines without captain Mikko Koivu and relentless Cal Clutterbuck.
Koivu is just starting to skate again after breaking his finger nine games ago and Clutterbuck missed his second straight game with what the Wild have vaguely been calling an upper-body injury.
With a critical road trip approaching — starting later this week, they travel to face four straight Western Conference playoff contenders including NHL-leading Vancouver — the Wild sure needed to pick up two points from this game against the backsliding Avs.
They began the day in a three-way tie for ninth place, two points behind Los Angeles.
The Avalanche found themselves in a sliding-doors situation, when defenseman John-Michael Liles suffered a leg injury in the first period and didn't return. They had just gotten his blue-line mate, Ryan O'Byrne, back for this game for the first time since his face got cut by a skate blade against Edmonton on Feb. 23. O'Byrne, who wore a special caged helmet for extra protection, needed 100 stitches to close the wound and missed four games.
Havlat scored a little more than seven minutes into the game. He grabbed a spot-on pass at the crease from Brent Burns and sent a short redirection shot wide right of the net. Kyle Brodziak snagged the ricochet off the end wall, though, and with his back to Havlat he shoveled the puck back to his linemate for the second-chance tap-in past Avalanche goalie Peter Budaj.
The next key bounce went Colorado's way.
Midway through the second period, Porter pounced on a rebound of Ryan Wilson's shot and slapped it into the net.
The Wild were sluggish in most of the middle frame, and Stastny made them pay for it by backhanding in a rebound of Milan Hejduk's shot that glanced off Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom's glove for a 2-1 lead for the Avalanche.
But Brunette gave them the spark they badly needed, punching in a rebound of Pierre-Marc Bouchard's slap shot that fluttered around Budaj's shoulder before the goalie was able to control it.
Notes: Brodziak has 33 points, already surpassing the career high he established last season. ... Brunette's eight power-play goals lead the Wild. ... Stastny's goal broke a home streak for the Wild of 19 straight penalties killed, spanning six games. ... Wild D Marek Zidlicky left in the second period after blocking a shot with his right hand, but he returned in the final frame. ... Duchene's assist was just his fifth point in his last 14 games. The All-Star has only one goal in this stretch. ... The Wild won four of their six games against the Avalanche this season.