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Avs clinch division title by rallying past Minnesota

DENVER — Within minutes of Joe Sakic's game-winning goal, dozens of arena workers scurried to convert the hockey rink to a basketball court for an NBA game four hours later.

How fitting. The Colorado Avalanche have been dismantling the NHL's weakest teams all season long.

Sakic reached the 100-point mark, scoring on a power play with 1:47 remaining to give the Avalanche a 4-3 comeback victory over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday.

Colorado, coming off an important victory over Detroit (97 points) on Saturday, clinched its seventh straight division title and pushed its NHL-leading point total to 105.

The Avalanche also improved to 26-3-2 against teams with a losing record and are 8-0 record against expansion teams Minnesota and Columbus.

"This weekend was huge," Colorado coach Bob Hartley said. "It was a big win against the Red Wings, and we knew it would be tough against the Wild. We answered the bell."

Milan Hejduk added two goals and an assist to help the Avalanche twice erase two-goal deficits. Special teams was a primary difference as Colorado converted three of six power plays, while Minnesota was 0-for-2.

Sakic's game-winner came on a pass from Hejduk while Minnesota's Ladislav Benysek was serving a two-minute minor for high sticking.

"You have to stay out of the box against them," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "They have too many quality players to put out on the power play. If only we would have stayed out of the box."

Lubomir Sekeras had a goal and an assist for the Wild, who lost their fourth straight.

Trailing 3-2 heading to the third, Colorado rallied behind its All-Star line of Sakic, Hejduk and Peter Forsberg.

Hejduk's 40th goal of the season tied the game at 5:08 of the third. Forsberg set up the play by stealing the puck from Sekeras behind the net. Forsberg had three assists, running his total to 20 in the last 14 games.

"We were very flat, especially in the first period, and the second period wasn't much better," Sakic said. "After you play the Detroit Red Wings, coming right back the next day was tough for us."

After a shaky first two periods, Colorado goalie David Aebischer finished with 25 saves. Minnesota's Jamie McLennan had 31 saves and fell to 4-20-6 on the season.

"We gave them too many opportunities," McLennan said. "We took some dumb penalties and beat ourselves. We were in good position."

Minnesota led 2-0 after Sekeras scored 2:13 into the second period, but Colorado converted a 5-on-3 chance when Sakic set up Hejduk on a crossing pass at 4:28. The assist extended Sakic's point streak to six games and gave the Avalanche a needed spark.

"We didn't have it in the beginning, we've got to be honest," Forsberg said. "I thought we did a good job hanging in there."

The Wild, whose 150 goals entering Sunday were the fewest in the NHL, made it 3-1 on Darby Hendrickson's 14th goal of the season. Colorado pulled within one again on Martin Skoula's power-play goal with 2:09 left in the period.

The Wild, outscored by Colorado 11-1 in three previous losses this season, took a 1-0 lead at 9:43 of the first period when Marian Gaborik beat Aebischer from the right circle.

The goal was Minnesota's first in 169 minutes, 6 seconds. The Wild had been shut out two consecutive games.

CANUCKS 5, THRASHERS 3: At Atlanta, Mattias Ohlund's power-play goal with 11:19 left broke a tie as Vancouver snapped a seven-game winless streak with a 5-3 victory over Atlanta on Sunday.

The Canucks, playing their first game since leading scorer Markus Naslund was lost for the season with a broken right leg, maintained fifth place in the Western Division standings, moving two points ahead of idle Edmonton.

The Thrashers ended a five-period scoring drought with three goals in the second period, but lost for the fifth time in seven games.

Dan Cloutier made 29 saves, and held off Atlanta on a two-man power-play in the final three minutes.

Vancouver's Todd Bertuzzi opened the scoring midway through the first period, taking a pass from Brendan Morrison and beating goalie Norm Maracle. Maracle sprawled on the ice to smother the puck in the crease, but it trickled past him.

STARS 5, SENATORS 1: At Dallas, Brett Hull scored three goals and Ed Belfour stopped 26 shots Sunday, leading the Dallas Stars to a 5-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators in a game between division leaders.

Sergei Zubov and Shaun Van Allen also scored for the Stars, who reached 40 victories for the fifth straight season.

Hull recorded his first hat trick for Dallas, scoring late in the second period and adding two third-period goals to give him 33 for the season.

Belfour came within 1:07 of a shutout before Marian Hossa scored for the Senators.

Zubov scored the only goal of the first period on a power play at 11:05. His shot deflected off the stick of Ottawa's Mike Fisher and past goaltender Patrick Lalime.

Van Allen made it 2-0 at 12:04 of the second period on a backhander from the left side of the net off a setup by Brenden Morrow.

DUCKS 4, BLACKHAWKS 1: At Chicago, Jeff Friesen scored his first goal as a Mighty Duck and set up another as Anaheim defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 Sunday.

Jim Cummins, Marty McInnis and Samuel Pahlsson also scored for Anaheim, which got 37 saves from Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Friesen has one goal and seven assists in seven games since joining the Mighty Ducks as part of a March 5 trade that sent Teemu Selanne to San Jose.

Steve Dubinsky scored for the Blackhawks, who have only one win in their last five games.

Chicago is 11 points behind eighth-place Phoenix for the final Western Conference playoff berth with 10 games remaining.

Friesen opened the scoring at 3:58, converting a rebound from the edge of the crease during an Anaheim power play.

Cummins made it 2-0 3:43 later when his wrist shot from the right wing boards fooled Jocelyn Thibault and clanged in off the top of the left post.

Dubinsky cut it to 2-1 with 5:19 left in the first period, beating Giguere with a high shot from the right circle.

McInnis gave Anaheim a 3-1 lead at 2:54 of the second, sweeping in Friesen's goalmouth pass to complete a three-on-two break.

HURRICANES 2, ISLANDERS 1: At Raleigh, N.C., Sami Kapanen and Sandis Ozolinsh scored second-period goals and Arturs Irbe stopped 19 of 20 shots as the Carolina Hurricanes beat the New York Islanders 2-1 Sunday.

The win moved the Hurricanes three points ahead of Boston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Each team has 11 games remaining.

The Islanders, three games into a season-high seven-game road trip, have now lost eight of their last 10.

The Hurricanes, the top penalty-killing unit in the league at home, were successful on all five shorthanded situations. Carolina allowed just one shot after Jeff O'Neill went off for elbowing with 6:15 left and the team clinging to a one-goal lead.

The worst team in the NHL, with a league-low 19 wins, grabbed a 1-0 lead despite Carolina dominating the first period. And Carolina had cause for concern after losing to last-place teams Tampa Bay and Montreal within the last 10 days.

But Kapanen scored his 16th seconds after a delayed penalty was called against New York defenseman Zdeno Chara for dragging down Bates Battaglia behind the net. Before the stoppage, Kapanen beat Rick DiPietro between the legs 2:19 into the period.