ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP)—This is the most anticipated season in the Minnesota Wild’s brief history, and they showed a new spirit along with several acquisitions in their opener.
“It just seemed like that puck was going to go in, no matter what,” said Wild goalie Manny Fernandez, who made 29 saves. “It’s incredible. Last year, nothing really seemed to go our way. If it’s a sign, this year is going to be a good year.”
Branko Radivojevic and Marian Gaborik, part of an all-Slovak line with Pavol Demitra, each had goals for the Wild, who are 5-0-1 all-time in home openers. After dealing for Demitra and signing six free agents to upgrade the roster, there’s a stronger sense of confidence in the dressing room from a team that went 14-28 in one-goal games last season.
“We had trouble finishing games off last year, so hopefully this is the start of beginning to win the close ones,” said White, who was set up by a pretty drop pass from Pierre-Marc Bouchard. He deposited it between Peter Budaj’s legs to end it.
The Avalanche—who lost at home Wednesday in overtime to Dallas after a strong start and fading down the stretch—had the momentum late after looking early like a team playing on back-to-back nights.
Richardson snagged a loose puck that got tangled in a linesman’s skate near the boards and skidded past Minnesota’s Kim Johnsson, another of the multimillionaires added in this summer’s spree. Richardson had a clean breakaway, scoring off a swift move he made on Fernandez’s glove side to cut the lead in half in the latter stages of the second period.
Richardson tied the game with 6:06 remaining in regulation on a long wrist shot from behind the right circle, using Petteri Nummelin as a screen.
Though Colorado missed on many more prime scoring opportunities, much of that was due to the sharp Fernandez, who helped stave off a 5-on-3 late in the middle frame.
“I don’t think it’s all negative,” Richardson said. “We played pretty well both games. We had a couple letups here and there, but those are two good teams. We just need to focus and play a 60-minute game, and I think we’ll be fine.”
Coach Joel Quenneville was pleased by the energy he saw toward the end, even though his skaters went 0-for-5 on the power play.
“Last year they were one of the best penalty-killing teams in the league, and they have a good way with their system—as far as what they give you and what they eliminate,” Quenneville said. “We had our chances.”
The Wild put plenty of early pressure on backup goalie Budaj (Jose Theodore started the opener), owning an 11-5 edge in shots in the first period and taking a 2-0 lead.
Gaborik signed a three-year, $19 million contract shortly after his team traded a top prospect and a first-round draft pick to the Kings for his friend, Demitra.
It’s a combination that could be devastating for opponents, provided they stay healthy. During the pregame pomp, video of commissioner Gary Bettman’s draft-day announcement of the Demitra deal was shown on the scoreboard— prompting a roar from the sellout crowd announced at 18,568.
Radivojevic, the defensive-minded member of this line, was the first to score off a rebound of Gaborik’s shot. Just 26 seconds into the second period, Gaborik fielded a cross-ice pass from Demitra that sped along the red line and tapped it in for a 2-0 lead.
Coach Jacques Lemaire, though satisfied overall by the performance, warned his team about being too cute with the puck after the quick start and stressed that they stay committed to his defensive style.
“We feel that we can play with a lot of teams in the NHL, but we’ve got to be careful,” he said. “We just can’t open up. We’ve got to play a solid game.”
This was the first home opener Gaborik played in since 2002, due to a contract dispute, the lockout and a groin injury over the previous three years. … This was Richardson’s first two-goal output in 43 career games. … Minnesota defenseman Keith Carney left with a strained back, and his status is day to day.
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