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6:00 PM PT7:00 PM MT8:00 PM CT9:00 PM ET1:00 GMT9:00 6:00 PM MST8:00 PM EST5:00 UAE (+1)21:00 ETNaN:� BRT, October 4, 2018
Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado  Attendance: 18,086

Parise back for Wild as they open at Avalanche

Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche

  1. Minnesota finished the season with 101 points, but lost to the Jets in five games for its third straight first round exit. The Wild were excellent at home, posting a 27-6-8 (.939) record, but struggled on the road, going just 18-20-3 (.426) -- that .426 difference in win percentage was the largest in the NHL last season.
  2. The Avalanche rode a hot second half to clinch the final playoff spot before falling to the Predators in six games. The playoff berth was just their third berth in the last 10 seasons, and each one ended in a first round exit; their 10 seasons without a playoff series win is the fifth-longest active streak.
  3. Colorado took points in each of its four meetings with the Wild last season, falling in a shootout in the first meeting before winning each of the next three. The Avs scored seven goals in each of their home matchups against the Wild last season; they'd only done so three times in the four previous seasons.
  4. Nathan MacKinnon exploded for 97 points last season, the most by an Avs skater in his age-22 season or younger since Peter Forsberg tallied 116 points in 1995-96. Mackinnon scored 39 goals after tallying just 16 the year prior; his 23-goal improvement was tied for the fourth largest in the league.
  5. Eric Staal tallied 76 points last season, his most since posting 76 in 2010-11. The veteran forward is sitting at 395 goals on his career, and his 922 career points are the sixth-most among active skaters.
  6. MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog combined for 181 points last season, tied with Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby for fifth-most among all teammate duos last season. Their 181 combined points also mark the most by an Avs duo since 2006-07, when Joe Sakic (100) and Andrew Brunette (83) teamed up for 183 points.

The Minnesota Wild had the foundation for a strong future when they signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to big free-agent deals in the summer of 2012.

The local boys came home to give the Wild a star forward and an impact blueliner, but six years into a pair of 13-year, $98 million deals, Minnesota is still searching for its first title. As year seven starts for both players, the window seems to be closing a little for the Wild, but they have a chance to start fresh when they open the 2018-19 NHL season at the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night.

For Parise, it will be an opportunity to get back to the level he is used to playing. He missed a chunk of the 2017-18 season after undergoing back surgery on Oct. 24. He returned midway through the season and took time to find his rhythm before he suffered a broken sternum against Winnipeg in the first round of the playoffs.

He has had six months to get healthy again, and he feels ready.

"I knew that I was capable of that and my body just wasn't allowing it," Parise told the St. Paul Pioneer Press about last season. "It got to the point when I was skating where I would be like, 'Oh, my gosh, is this how it's going to be for the rest of my career? I'm brutal now.' I couldn't even move out there.

"I feel like I'm back to the player that I was before this started a couple of seasons ago. I feel normal again."

Nothing says normal like playing Colorado early in the season. The two Central Division teams have built up a good rivalry over the past 15 years, meeting three times in the playoffs, including a hard-fought seven-game series in the 2014 first round.

A lot of the same players remain from both rosters but while Minnesota is trying to take advantage of its aging but talented roster, the Avalanche are one of the most-talked about young teams.

With good reason, too. They finished last in the NHL with 48 points in 2016-17 but nearly doubled that with 95 points last season. Colorado made the playoffs for the first time in four years and gave No. 2 seed Nashville trouble before losing in six games.

That experience, plus the dynamic first-line trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, has increased expectations.

MacKinnon was the runner-up for the Hart Trophy after putting up 39 goals and 58 assists, and the 23-year-old center seems to be getting better.

Where things might change is in net. Semyon Varlamov has had an up-and-down, injury-plagued career with the Avalanche and is entering the final year of his five-year contract. Colorado acquired Philipp Grubauer from Washington on a three-year deal over the summer to give the team more depth at goaltender.

Varlamov will start against Minnesota but the rest of the lineup is still in question due to injuries.

"We're still waiting on a couple guys, see how they came through practice today. Some guys have been off for four, five, six days," coach Jared Bednar told the Denver Post. "So we're still getting information from the training staff. As expected, it may look different. It just depends on some of the information we get over the next 24 hours."

Updated October 3, 2018

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