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With just one playoff appearance in their brief history, the Minnesota Wild hope some key off-season acquistions will lead to more offense - and eventually more postseason play.
The Wild open their sixth season Thursday when they welcome the Colorado Avalanche to the Xcel Energy Center in a matchup of Northwest Division teams.
Despite posting its second-highest win (38) and point (84) totals in franchise history last season, Minnesota finished 11th in the Western Conference, 11 points behind eventual Stanley Cup finalist Edmonton.
The Wild and new captain Brian Rolston, coming off a career-high 79-point season, want to duplicate the Oilers' success.
"We want to win the Stanley Cup. That's what we play the game for," he said.
Throughout their existence, the Wild have relied heavily on Marian Gaborik for offense. The third overall pick in 2000, Gaborik is the team's all-time leading scorer with 134 goals and 174 assists.
He also is coming off his most successful season - despite playing in just 65 games, Gaborik posted a career-high 38 goals.
With changes made in the offseason to bolster an offense that ranked 25th with 226 goals, the Wild have other scoring options. Minnesota was unusually active in both the trade and free agent markets, most notably swinging a draft-day deal with Los Angeles to acquire high-scoring center Pavol Demitra.
Demitra, entering his 13th season, appeared in just 58 games during his only season with the Kings, but finished second in goals (25) and third in points (62). A Slovakian native like Gaborik, Demitra was a three-time 30-goal scorer while playing for the St. Louis Blues.
Mark Parrish, an Edina, Minn., native returns to his home state. The right wing had 29 goals in 76 games last season with the New York Islanders and Los Angeles, and has never scored fewer than 17 goals in his seven-year career.
"We're not fooling anybody in here," said Wild center Wes Walz. "We know that with the changes that management has made, it's a different feeling in this room. There's no question about it."
On defense, Minnesota brought in Keith Carney from Vancouver, Kim Johnsson from Philadelphia and Petteri Nummelin returns to the NHL for the first time since 2000-01, when he played 61 games with Columbus in its expansion year.
"This might be the best squad we've ever had defensively and offensively. What we might have been lacking in the past, our all-around game defensively is going to be better," goaltender Manny Fernandez said.
After sharing goaltending duties for much of his first four seasons in Minnesota, Fernandez saw the bulk of the playing time when the Wild shipped Dwayne Roloson to Edmonton in March for a future No. 1 draft pack. Fernandez was 30-18-7 with a 2.29 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage in 56 starts last season.
Colorado (0-0-1) will have to bounce back quickly following a bad season-opening loss. After giving up two goals 28 seconds apart in the third period, Avalanche goaltender Jose Theodore gave up the game-winner to Darryl Sydor 2:07 into overtime of a 3-2 loss.
"The first two periods we played really well. I think the difference was Marty," said Colorado's Joe Sakic, referring to Stars goaltender Marty Turco, who made 36 saves and assisted on Sydor's tally.
Sakic, who scored Colorado's first goal, managed only one goal and five assists in his eight games against the Wild in 2005-06. He is 10 points shy of becoming the 11th player in league history with 1,500 points.
Rookie Wojtek Wolski, expected to pick up the scoring slack for Colorado after Alex Tanguay was dealt to Calgary, also scored and defenseman John-Michael Liles had two assists.
Theodore fiinised with 30 saves in the loss. He struggled in losing his only meeting with Minnesota last season, allowing three goals on 19 shots in relief of Peter Budaj, who was pulled after 5:17 of the first period, in a 5-2 loss on April 9.
Gaborik recorded a hat trick in the game, beating Theodore twice.
Colorado went 5-3 against Minnesota in 2005-06, with each team scoring 25 goals.
|Mar 31 '07||MIN 1 at COL 2|
|Mar 11 '07||COL 2 at MIN 3 - OT|
|Feb 22 '07||MIN 4 at COL 3|
|Feb 01 '07||MIN 5 at COL 3|
|Jan 06 '07||COL 2 at MIN 1 - SO|
|Nov 18 '06||COL 2 at MIN 1 - SO|
|Oct 29 '06||MIN 1 at COL 4|
|Oct 05 '06||COL 2 at MIN 3 - OT|