DENVER | For a brief moment, the Minnesota Wild lost track of the super speedy Nathan MacKinnon.
That’s all it took.
MacKinnon had a tap-in goal off a nifty pass from Mikko Rantanen to give Colorado the lead, Semyon Varlamov stopped 20 shots and the Avalanche beat the Wild 4-1 on Thursday night in the opener for both teams.
“His vision is awesome,” MacKinnon said of his linemate. “I just drove the net and Mikko made a great play.”
Minnesota goaltender Devan Dubnyk didn’t have much of a chance on MacKinnon’s second-period goal that gave Colorado a 2-1 advantage. Rantanen skated down the left side and sent a pass through a sea of sticks to MacKinnon, who tapped it in before Dubnyk had a chance to fully turn his head.
“He was in a good place and he made a good play,” Dubnky said.
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau offered another explanation.
“It’s MacKinnon. He’s going to get a lot of goals like that,” Boudreau said.
MacKinnon picked up right where he left off from last season, when he tallied 39 goals and 58 assists on his way to finishing second in the Hart Trophy vote. He led the team in shots Thursday with eight.
Carl Soderberg scored, while Rantanen and J.T. Compher added empty-net goals for the Avalanche, who moved to 15-5-3 in home openers since moving to town from Quebec.
Varlamov returned to net after missing the playoffs last season with a knee injury he suffered late in the regular season. He made his eighth opening-night start in a burgundy-and-blue sweater, surpassing Patrick Roy for the most by an Avalanche goaltender. This also was Varlamov’s 400th career NHL game.
“He’s grown so much as a goalie,” MacKinnon said. “His mindset is he can play a low-shot game and stay sharp, and he was great.”
Colorado thought it had a two-goal lead when Colin Wilson scored 1:36 into the third after knocking in a puck out of the air. The goal was reviewed and disallowed after it was determined Wilson’s left glove batted the puck in.
No matter, Varlamov protected things with save after save. None bigger than stopping an Eric Staal wrist shot with his right shoulder on a 2-on-1 with just under 5 minutes remaining.
Rantanen added an empty-net goal with 1:53 remaining and Compher another in the waning seconds to seal the victory.
Colorado outshot the Wild 40-21.
Zach Parise gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead on a backhand pass from Mikko Koivu early in the first period. Parise missed the opening 39 games a season ago due to a back ailment that required surgery. After steadily working his way back into form, Parise suffered a broken sternum in the playoffs.
Minnesota is coming off a season in which it posted 101 points before losing to Winnipeg in the first round of the playoffs.
“There was some sloppiness that’s not going to be seen in game 20,” Boudreau said. “Pucks bouncing over the sticks and over-skating the puck and things of that nature. … I think they did know how quick the pace was going to be, faster than the preseason, but took us a while to get up to it.”
As for the Avalanche, general manager Joe Sakic has modest goals this season after his team returned to the postseason for the first time since 2013-14. Their average age this season is 26.3. They ended last season at 25.8.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs, but the most important thing for us is to see the growth of this group,” Sakic said. “We’re excited to see who makes that next jump.”
NOTES: Wild F Marcus Foligno was tripped by D Tyson Barrie late in the second period. Foligno went to the bench favoring his left leg but returned a few minutes later. … F Vladislav Kamenev (lower body) and D Anton Lindholm (upper body) were taken off injured reserve and reassigned to the Colorado Eagles of the AHL. … Avs F Sheldon Dries made his NHL debut. He had two shots. … Soderberg also had an assist.
Minnesota: Starts a three-game homestand Saturday against Las Vegas.
Colorado: Hosts Philadelphia on Saturday.