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A Wild ride in 2003 Print
Features
Written by Mike Cook   
Thursday, 24 December 2009 00:00
Editor's note: This is the third in a series highlighting the NHL's most memorable and important moments of the decade.

I still don’t like J-S Giguere.

He could help little old ladies across the street, serve hot soup to the homeless and rescue kitties from trees, but he will always be remembered as the goalie that ruined the dreams of The State of Hockey in 2003.

The man in an eggplant-colored sweater with the funny looking mascot shut out the tired Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference finals of that fun spring, dashing the hopes of The Team of 18,000 that rocked the Xcel Energy Center, creating ear-splitting decibel levels.

Mike Cook's All-Decade selections:

• Best Forward: Jarome Iginla (Calgary)
.

A consummate leader on this team for the decade. Classy guy that scored at least 30 goals in each season. Only blemish is lack of a Cup. If he had better playmakers around him (like Sakic had Forsberg in Colorado), and didn't play north of the border, his greatness would be more widely accepted.

• Best Defenseman: Nick Lidstrom (Detroit).

Could be player of the decade. Always makes it look effortless. A leader on some talented Detroit teams. Conn Smythe winner for the 2002 champions and captain of the 2008 champs. Six Norris Trophies. Also could play offense. Had 513 points between the start of the 2000-01 season and end of last season.

• Best Goalie: Martin Brodeur (New Jersey).

Is there any room for debate here? Four Vezina trophies, five straight first-team NHL All Star selections, an Olympic Gold Medal and has nearly rewritten the NHL record book. The rock of that franchise.

• 
Best Coach: Barry Trotz (Nashville).

The only coach in Nashville history, and look at how little he’s had to work with. Yet the Predators are a playoff contender every year, making it four of the last five seasons. It’s easy to win when you’ve got loaded teams.

• Best Executive: Ken Holland (Detroit).

He took advantage of every opportunity available to load up one of the best runs in hockey history. Even after the lockout, he was briefly able to convince guys to sign for less to play for a winning organization.

• Best Game: Game 2, 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals.

Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin each record hat tricks in a 4-3 Capitals win.

• Best Team (over one season): 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings.

Led by Scotty Bowman in the pre-salary cap days, this looked like an all-star lineup: Yzerman, Lidstrom, Shanahan, Holmstrom, Robitaille, Hull, Fedorov, Datsyuk, Larionov, Hasek. They had 116 points in the regular season and four 30-goal scorers.

• Best Team (over one season) Not to Win a Stanley Cup: 2000-01 New Jersey Devils.

Looking to win two straight Stanley Cups, New Jersey had a 3-2 lead over the Avalanche with Game 6 on home ice. Brodeur had an uncharacteristic save percentage of under 90 percent. Scott Stevens and Brian Rafalski were in their prime at the blue line. Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, Jason Arnott, Bobby Holik, Petr Sykora and Alexander Mogilny were solid up front. Too bad they faced Ray Bourque and the Avs in the final.


• Most Important Person: Gary Bettman. 

It wasn’t the easiest decade for the commissioner, but the results of the lockout have been good for the game. Rules have been adjusted to try and help scoring, and the salary cap aims to get some parity in the league and give hope to fans in all markets, except maybe Phoenix.

In just its third season as a franchise, Minnesota was not supposed to be one of the NHL’s final four. But we had Jacques Lemaire behind the bench, a neutral zone trap to stifle opposing offenses and a group of grinders that finally just ran out of gas.

April and May 2003 were supposed to be months that we Minnesotans reacquainted ourselves with the defending American League Central Division champion Minnesota Twins. The NBA Timberwolves were making another first-round playoff exit (remember when it was a big deal for the franchise to do that well?) and the Vikings were laughingstocks after failing to make their first-round pick in the allotted time, allowing Jacksonville and Carolina to pick before the Vikings drafted Kevin Williams ninth overall. That turned out OK for the purple.

However, what happened inside and outside the X captured the state's sporting attention.

Minnesota was seeded sixth in the west and drew the Colorado Avalanche in round one.

The Wild scored three times in about four minutes of game one to win 4-1 in Denver.

We fans immediately began to wonder if that was an aberration, or could this team do some postseason damage? The Wild lost 3-2 two nights later.

As the series shifted to St. Paul, Minnesotans were ready. People lined up in their cars outside the arena for a breakfast rally that offered free coffee and newspapers. I am sure the nearby businesses loved all the early morning honking.

Inside the arena that night, fans were given "State of Hockey" flags to wave, an image still often shown on the Jumbotron that makes many people smile. Unfortunately, 3-0 and 3-1 losses meant many flags stayed under seats.

Yeah, we knew that few teams had come back to win a playoff series after being down 3-1, but we continued to believe.

Minnesota held on to win game five 3-2 at Denver's Pepsi Center, and when Richard Park scored in overtime of game six, I’m pretty sure I woke up my wife with my celebrating in the house. I may have woken up some neighbors as well.

Back to the Mile High City they went for game seven.

I went to a Timberwolves game.

I have been a freelancer for the Associated Press since October 2000. My first assignment was the Wild’s first-ever win, 6-5 against Tampa Bay. A poster of that day, with Wes Walz being congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal, still hangs in my garage.

Doing what I enjoy doing, I happily accept any assignment given me.

Troy Hudson scored 37 points and Kevin Garnett had 20 rebounds as the Wolves beat the Lakers 119-91 to even the first-round playoff series at one.

As I sat courtside keeping score and updating statistics, my mind was more focused on the events at Pepsi Center, not Target Center. During breaks in the action we switched our courtside monitor to the hockey game for updates.

Fortunately, Game 7 went into overtime. That let us get much of our work done at the basketball game before the extra period in Denver began.

When my basketball work was done, I stayed to watch the extra session. I wasn’t going to risk missing something in my short walk to the car.

Had I left, I would have missed probably the greatest goal in team history.

I still remember watching Andrew Brunette take a drop pass from the late Sergei Zholtok, cut to his backhand and deposit the puck behind Patrick Roy early in the OT. It was the final goal allowed by Roy in his Hall of Fame career.

The look of Bruno skating away without his stick, mouth open, is something that can only make me smile. The Minneapolis Star Tribune created a button with the phrase “Believe it.” That button is in my cubicle at work.

I also remember well the shocked look on the faces of Lemaire and his assistants as they tried to congratulate each other on the bench, apparently thinking, "What the hell did we just do?"

Many journalists in the Target Center Media Room wondered as well. Even the Los Angeles writers.

How were we all to know the ride had just begun?

Round two saw the start of the heated rivalry between the Wild and the Canucks. The teams split the first two games in Vancouver, including a cheap shot by Matt Cooke on Matt Johnson at the end of game two.

Booed lustily, the Canucks took a pair of 3-2 decisions in St. Paul to go up 3-1 in the series. The Wild crushed the Canucks 7-2 at GM Place and 5-1 at home to stay alive and set up another seventh game on the road.

My full-time job is as an assistant editor in the nonpartisan Public Information Services Office of the Minnesota House of Representatives. That means I get to like and dislike both sides of the aisle.

This magical playoff run came during the time of session when conference committees are often meeting well into the night -- or more accurately, meeting for a few minutes then recessing for a long time to meet behind closed doors and coming back with an update.

Sadly, our office didn’t yet have laptops for us to take to meetings. Therefore, I sat in conference committee a few times wondering more about hockey scores than higher education funding. However, word quickly circulated via people with wireless devices when there was an update.

Fortunately, a good friend works in the Senate. His office was close to the hearing room where the conference committee was taking place. I can’t remember specifically what game it was, but I can vividly remember going there after a meeting to watch the third period of a game in Vancouver.

A number of senators soon joined us at the table to watch hockey. Some people even had an adult beverage. For once, something seemed right in the state capitol.

Minnesota’s magic ride nearly struck midnight in the deciding game, when the Canucks jumped out to a 2-0 lead late in the second period. However, the Wild scored the final four goals to eliminate their division foes. I sat stunned on my couch. My wife was asleep.

The Twin Cities were going crazy. Wild sweaters and apparel became a hot fashion. People even knew how to say and spell names like Pascal Dupuis, Antti Laaksonen and Andrei Zyuzin.

That energy could not be redirected to the players, who were showing the wear and tear of two tough series.

Two days later, on a sunny Saturday afternoon in St. Paul, Petr Sykora scored 8:06 into the second overtime for a 1-0 win.

It was a prelude to the end.

Anaheim scored two short-handed goals in a 2-0 Game 2 win, and Minnesota fans knew it was all but over. Try as they might, the tired Wild had nothing for the Ducks, losing 4-0 in Game 3 and 4-1 in Game 4. Giguere, who became the first goaltender in 58 years to open a playoff series with three straight shutouts, ran his shutout streak to 217 minutes, 54 seconds, the fifth-longest in postseason history.

The excitement ended too soon, but it was a run that will never be forgotten.

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Last Updated on Friday, 25 December 2009 18:01