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Absolutely Wild

Gaborik's return sparks Minnesota's meteoric rise

Posted: Monday March 26, 2007 12:17PM; Updated: Monday March 26, 2007 1:16PM
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Gaborik (right) and linemate Pavol Demitra have at last become the electric threat the Wild envisioned at the start of the season.
Gaborik (right) and linemate Pavol Demitra have at last become the electric threat the Wild envisioned at the start of the season.
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Races abound around the NHL -- both team and individual. When it comes to scoring, Joe Thornton's late-season surge has everyone wondering if he'll catch Sidney Crosby and successfully defend his Art Ross Trophy of a year ago.

When it comes to MVP talk, again the focus surrounds Crosby leading the confounding kids from Pittsburgh. Throw in goaltenders Martin Brodeur in New Jersey and Vancouver's Roberto Luongo and the debate is rather complete.

Luongo's first season out west has him backstopping his team to a potential Northwest Division title. The only problem is that the Minnesota Wild have tied Vancouver for the top spot as both teams continue to win at a relentless pace. The Wild got hot in early January and haven't cooled. The catalyst to their upward mobility in the standings was the Jan. 6 return to the lineup of Marian Gaborik. The team's fortunes since then show a direct correlation to one skater's return, as it has reeled off a 24-6-5 run.

Currently, Gaborik is on a personal eight-game point streak and the Wild is in the midst of a franchise-best nine-game winning streak. Gaborik is 5-8-13 in his past eight games, but the numbers tell only part of the story.

Paired with Pavol Demitra on the top line, the two wingers are electric in the open ice, the dangerous dynamic that GM Doug Risebrough envisioned when he acquired Demitra from the L.A. Kings last summer. With Brian Rolston at 30 goals and Gaborik and Demitra well over the 20-goal plateau, it marks the first time the Wild has ever had at least three scorers net 20-plus goals.

And while the balance is essential, Gaborik is the one who makes the Wild go. He is skating with full confidence and the rest of the Wild are playing a more aggressive style offensively. The defense is much more apt to step up in the neutral zone and key a quick strike transition chance.

As Wayne Gretzky summarized the current Wild edition last week when his Coyotes fell 3-2 in Minnesota, "The only thing that beats hard work is talent and hard work. For them, the hard work is still there and now they have a lot more talent than in years past."

That's where Gaborik's second half is truly amazing and probably not getting enough recognition due to his missing 34 games with groin ailments. The Wild began the season with a six-game winning streak and shortly thereafter Gaborik went out of the lineup. The Wild hung in without him, but weren't entirely sure how good they could be.

Most around the team thought Minnesota had a good squad, but now reality is matching or exceeding earlier projections. That's why you cannot minimize Gaborik's influence. It's quantifiable: he has 28 goals in 42 games -- a pace that would lead the league if he had played the full schedule thus far. Point-wise, his half-season tally (50) likewise projected would have him battling Crosby and Thornton.

Because Gaborik won't produce a full body of work, though, no awards will be forthcoming -- certainly not the Ross and very likely not the Hart Trophy. But in the big picture, while he has been the Wild's focal point for some time, it is now truly his team. Marian Gaborik is the Wild's MVP, as in Most Visible Presence.