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Following their early playoff exit last spring, the Minnesota Wild likely couldn't wait to return to the ice.
They finally get their chance Saturday night.
After winning the first division title in franchise history, the Wild begin their quest for a repeat with a game against the Boston Bruins at the Xcel Energy Center.
Minnesota enjoyed a successful regular season in 2007-08, going 44-28-10 to win the first Northwest Division title in the eight-year history of the franchise. Star right wing Marian Gaborik posted career highs of 42 goals and 41 assists to help goaltender Nicklas Backstrom compile a .685 winning percentage (33-13-8) that was the highest among NHL netminders starting the majority of their team's games.
The Wild's postseason, though, proved unpleasant and brief. Minnesota fell in six games to division rival Colorado in an opening-round series in which it led for less than five total minutes. The Avalanche stifled Gaborik, who managed only one assist in the series.
Over the summer, the Wild acquired a couple of veterans to beef up the offense, signing forwards Owen Nolan and Andrew Brunette. The 19-year veteran Nolan has 807 career points, including 16 goals and 16 assists last season with Calgary. Brunette, who has played in an NHL-high 453 consecutive games, returns to Minnesota - where he played from 2001-04 - after spending three seasons with the Avalanche.
Brunette had 19 goals and 40 assists during the 2007-08 regular season, and three goals and two assists in the playoff series against the Wild.
Minnesota also has high hopes for 20-year-old center James Sheppard, who played 78 games as a rookie last season and is opening 2008-09 on Gaborik's line.
"When he's playing on a line where he can generate a little offense, he does it," Gaborik said. "He's strong. You realize he's pretty fast. It doesn't look that way because he's so big and his skating's got kind of a short stride.
"But when he gets going he's a fast player. It's good. You need that from centermen. He's strong down low. It's his second year so he's still growing, but he's gotten to the point where he can play definitely."
The Wild won five of their seven preseason games, but will be taking the ice Saturday for the first time since beating Montreal 3-0 a week ago.
"It's both good and bad," Backstrom said. "We have time to rest, but we've played seven games in 11 nights so I think we got into a good rhythm. We have to be sharp to keep up that pace and be ready for next Saturday."
The Bruins got their season-opening four-game road trip off to a good start Thursday night, beating Colorado 5-4 on David Krejci's goal with 2:36 remaining. Tim Thomas made 35 saves and Blake Wheeler scored in his NHL debut, but the best news for Boston may have been the successful return of Patrice Bergeron.
The promising center, who missed all but 10 games last season after suffering a serious concussion, had two assists, five shots on goal and won 12 faceoffs.
"When you step on the ice you want to contribute," he said. "I don't care if it's offensively or defensively. I thought I did that the whole game."
Minnesota is 6-1-0 all-time against Boston, with the only loss a 3-2 home defeat Dec. 15, 2005, in the Bruins' last visit to the Xcel Energy Center. Bergeron scored a goal in that meeting.
|Jan 06 '09||MIN 1 at BOS 0||M. Zidlicky|
|Oct 11 '08||BOS 3 at MIN 4||E. Belanger|