Gaborik scored three goals and assisted on two others as the Minnesota Wild beat the Ottawa Senators 5-2 Tuesday night.
Gaborik, who was an all-star last year and led the Wild on an unexpected playoff run, missed the first 12 games this season in a contract dispute. Since his return, he has struggled with inconsistency and the Wild are likely to miss the playoffs.
But all the pieces came together Tuesday against Ottawa, one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
“It would have been great had Gabby had this type of night early in the season to give him some confidence, and (help him) believe he can do a lot of things on the ice,” Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said.
Gaborik had scored only 11 goals coming into Tuesday’s game after back-to-back 30-goal seasons. He said getting the team off to a hot start with two first-period assists was a key to his outburst.
“When something good happens for me early in the game, I feel great,” Gaborik said. “Whether it’s a good shot, a good pass or a good defensive play, that’s very important.”
Gaborik scored in the first minute of the second and third periods, and he completed his hat trick with two minutes left to seal the victory.
Marian Hossa got his 33rd goal of the season late in the second period for Ottawa, and Bryan Smolinski cut Minnesota’s lead to 4-2 midway through the third before Gaborik scored again, giving Ottawa a 2-3 record on its five-game road trip.
“We wanted to try and salvage the trip with a win, but we got behind the eight-ball early,” Senators center Mike Fisher said. “Defensively, we’re not playing too great right now. We’re making some mistakes, and when we do, teams are scoring.”
The Wild’s usually anemic power play made the Senators pay for a pair of early penalties. Minnesota connected twice one minute apart to take a 2-0 lead in the first period. The Senators already were short a man when Peter Schaefer was called for a seldom seen penalty: shooting a broken stick toward the puck.
That put Ottawa down two skaters, and Minnesota took advantage.
Coming in, Minnesota had just two goals in 47 previous power-play chances over a 10-game span.
Ottawa played without its second-leading scorer and captain Daniel Alfredsson, who sat out with a bruised thigh.
“It shouldn’t change things,” said Senators veteran Bryan Smolinski. “We’ve got some very good players in his spot, but that’s a tough hole to fill. Hopefully, we’ll see him back soon.”
Dwayne Roloson made 36 saves for the Wild, who won their second straight.
“We were much better than we have been all game against a team like this,” Gaborik said. “We didn’t give them much, and on their chances, Rolie wasexcellent.”
^Notes: Minnesota LW Alex Henry was helped off the ice with 4:32 remaining after taking Zdeno Chara’s slap shot off his left knee. … Wild forward Wes Walz returned after missing six games due to an abdominal strain. … Gaborik had scored only one goal in his previous 10 games.