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12 MINNESOTA Wild
Brian Cazeneuve
October 13, 2003
A shocking playoff run last season sets the bar higher for this fourth-year expansion team
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October 13, 2003

12 Minnesota Wild

A shocking playoff run last season sets the bar higher for this fourth-year expansion team

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SI RANKING
(1 BEST-30 WORST)

OFFENSE

19

DEFENSE

13

GOALTENDING

20

POWER PLAY

27

PENALTY KILLING

3

G.M. AND COACH

3

The element of surprise is gone, and opponents no longer look at the fourth-year Wild as an expansion doormat. After Minnesota pulled off the feel-good story of the year by advancing to the Western Conference finals—"We all recognized it was one of those special seasons," says general manager Doug Risebrough—the team now has the unenviable task of living up to heightened expectations.

One big reason for the club's success was its ability to produce under pressure. During the regular season the Wild went 8-1-10 in overtime, the league's best record. Then, in the playoffs, Minnesota became the first team ever to rally twice from 3-1 series deficits in the same season, defeating the Avalanche and the Canucks in Game 7s on the road in the first and second rounds, respectively. When the trap-happy Wild wasn't coming from behind it was superb at holding leads: Minnesota was the only club to go undefeated when ahead after the first period (21-0-1-0) and the second (30-0-1-0).

To continue to improve, the Wild, which ranked 24th in goals last season, needs forwards Marian Gaborik and Pascal Dupuis, both of whom were holding out in contract disputes as of Monday, to return and produce as they did in 2002-03. Gaborik, 21, had his second straight 30-goal season and led the Wild with 65 points, while the 24-year-old Dupuis scored 20 goals and led Minnesota with a +17 rating. Wing Andrew Brunette gives the Wild a solid power-play specialist; he scored half his 18 goals in man-advantage situations.

Goalies Dwayne Roloson (23-16-8,2.00 goals-against average, .927 save percentage) and Manny Fernandez (19-13-2,2.24, .924) formed one of the NHL's best tandems, but coach Jacques Lemaire would like one of them to emerge as his clear No. 1 netminder. One of Lemaire's notable achievements has been his ability to stitch together a group of castoff defensemen such as Brad Bombardir, Willie Mitchell and Andrei Zyuzin into a cohesive and outstanding unit. Keeping the Wild fairy tale going another year would be just as impressive.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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