Add December 20, 2007 to the list of memorable games in Minnesota Wild history.
Among those memories in the State of Hockey since the team's inception into the National Hockey League, here are those I can easily identify:
1. October 6, 2000 - first game in Wild history
2. October 11, 2000 - first regular season home game at Xcel Energy Center
3. October 18, 2000 - first win in Wild history (6-5 over Tampa Bay Lightning)
4. December 17, 2000 - first home game vs. Dallas Stars (6-0 win over Minnesota's original NHL team)
5. March 23, 2003 - Wild clinch first playoff berth in team history (4-0 win over Detroit Red Wings)
6. April 21, 2003 - Richard Park scores game-winning overtime goal in Game 6 to send 2003 Western Conference Quarterfinals against Colorado Avalanche to deciding Game 7
7. April 22, 2003 - Andrew Brunette scores series-winning overtime goal to defeat the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 of 2003 Western Conference Quarterfinals
8. May 8, 2003 - ousted Vancouver Canucks from playoffs with Game 7 victory in 2003 Western Conference Semifinals
9. February 7, 2004 - hosted the 2004 NHL All-Star Game
and now can I add this to this list (not necessarily the only ones that are memorable)...
10. December 20, 2007 - Marian Gaborik scored career-high and club record 5 goals in 6-3 victory over New York Rangers
Did you see that? Let me run that by you again. Minnesota Wild forward Marian Gaborik lit up the New York Rangers for five goals (yes, that's five!) on Thursday night in a 6-3 win. It was the most goals by any one player in a single game during the 7-year history of the franchise. When the night was over, the hockey world was buzzing.
Already known as one of the great young stars of the National Hockey League, Gaborik may have elevated his stardom to a new level with his record-setting performance. When Gaborik was selected third overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, many scouts believed he would be special. Despite various injuries that have slowed Gaborik down, he still managed to scored at least 30 goals in five of his first six seasons. The Wild have made it to the playoffs twice in their history and Gaborik has been a major part of the team's success as the only remaining original player.
However, he had never had that memorable performance that got the whole hockey world talking. You know, where fellow fans would be asking you at the water cooler the next morning after it happened. That was until now.
The New York Rangers made their first visit to Minnesota since October 10, 2003 and maybe they oughta think twice about coming back again anytime soon. Okay, maybe there is no need to go that far with that. Either way, it is always extra special anytime your hometown team visits the State of Hockey and plays the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center on a given night in the 82-game schedule. Since the two teams are in opposite conferences, this matchup might not happen again in St. Paul for another two years regardless of the schedule format change. The Rangers were coming off a 4-0 shutout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, so they had hoped to build on any momentum from that game. But, it didn't work out that way.
It looked good early for the Broadway Blueshirts as they took a 1-0 lead 10:51 into the game on a power play goal from defenseman Michal Rozsival. New York seemed to be in control in which they outshot Minnesota 10-2 in the first period. But it took just a single cough-up of the puck along the sideboards by Jaromir Jagr to lead to a scoring chance in Henrik Lundqvist's direction. Pavol Demitra made a beautiful cross slot feed to Gaborik heading to the right doorstep to bury the one-timer and tie the game at 1-1 through 20 minutes.
Gaborik would then take over early in the second period with a pair of power play goals and boy did his exceptional eye-hand coordination really show on these two plays, too. Demitra would set up Gaborik again, but this time from behind the Rangers net for a perfect centering feed. After Lundqvist stopped him on the initial point blank shot, Gaborik would bat the rebound in midair into the net for the 2-1 Minnesota lead. It was a highlight that ESPN's Barry Melrose would focus on in his analysis of Gaborik's performance. Truly a beauty to watch.
Brent Burns stirred things up in the Wild's favor when he nailed Rangers forward Petr Prucha along the sideboards of the Rangers zone. It got the crowd roaring the instant it happened as emotions rose on the ice. No sooner after Burns had elbowed Prucha in the head during that hard body check, he sent Fedor Tyutin flying backwards as well before a brief scrum ensued. Without a proper penalty called against Burns for his elbowing of Prucha, the Rangers ended up shorthanded as Nigel Dawes was assessed a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his verbal abuse of the on-ice officials for the lack of calls stemming from that incident involving Burns.
On the ensuing power play, Burns would be out there on the ice and set up Gaborik cutting toward the left inside hash marks. After he closed in on Lundqvist, Gaborik lifted a beautiful backhander into the net to complete the hat trick to put the Wild up 3-1 5:38 into the second period. He was pumped up and so were the passionate fans at Xcel Energy Center as they tossed hats onto the ice to serenade Gaborik.
Only 41 seconds after the Rangers cut Minnesota's lead to 4-3, Demitra circled behind the Rangers net to send a long pass out to the point for Nick Schultz for a wide open shot. The puck would hit Aaron Voros atop the crease as he battled with Tyutin for position. With the puck again in midair, Gaborik positioned below the left inside hash marks would bat it into the open left side of the net behind Lundqvist for his fourth goal of the night. That would mark a new single-game high for Gaborik and make it a 5-3 hockey game as the Wild's two-goal lead was restored.
And what better way to mark this historic evening than to see Gaborik score goal #5 on what many think is the most exciting way to score in hockey. Off a Rangers turnover inside the Minnesota blueline, Gaborik stole the puck from Chris Drury and away he went all alone on a breakaway with no one with a chance to catch him with his amazing speed. In Pavel Bure-like fashion, he completed the highlight reel play by burying a wrister past Lundqvist to make it 6-3 Minnesota and lights out. Game, set and match.
Speaking of Bure (who had played for the Rangers before retiring a few years ago), Gaborik made a remarkably coincidential admission. On the same morning of this performance, he actually had for a few minutes sat down to watch some YouTube video clips of Bure's five-goal game for Russia during their 1998 Winter Olympics semifinal game against Finland. One player that played with Bure as a member of the Florida Panthers and is now Gaborik's teammate in Minnesota certainly thought of the comparison.
"Shades of Pavel Bure," Wild forward Mark Parrish told Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. "It was just like watching Bure in the day. I mean, Gabby was banking them in out of the air, scoring on breakaways, skating through everybody, making highlight-film goals. My God, he was doing it every which way tonight."
Fans were even hoping Gaborik would get to score a sixth goal. That's asking a lot, don't you think? Not according to Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire. who two nights earlier coached his 1,000th NHL game.
"It was one of those nights," Lemaire said to KARE-TV reporter Jana Shortal after the game. "He could've gotten two more easily."
Well, when the night is as special as it was for a regular season game, you can only root a player on to equal, set or extend a new record. Here, he was trying to become the first player since Darryl Sittler scored six goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs in that memorable NHL-record 10-point game against the Boston Bruins on February 7, 1976. The 294th consecutive sellout crowd with 18,568 fans on hand at Xcel Energy Center at times chanted "Gabby! Gabby! Gabby!" as you'll hear in this YouTube video clip. Gaborik came close a couple of times. The biggest chance came while parked at the bottom of the right faceoff circle, Lundqvist's replacement Steve Valiquette made a tremendous left pad save to rob Gaborik of that elusive sixth goal. You can tell while watching on television, his teammates were deliberately trying to feed him the puck. Either way, it was quite exciting to watch live in your living room, at a local bar or if you happen to be one of the lucky ones actually in St. Paul to see it in person, that considering they've sold out every home game in the team's existence.
"Every time Gabby touched the puck, it was just electric," Burns told Russo in his postgame interview.
When it was all over, Gaborik was carried off the ice by teammates Sean Hill and Keith Carney and when he was easily named the game's #1 star, he applauded the crowd as they cheered.
"It was a great experience. This kind of game was special," Gaborik told Wild play-by-play announcer Dan Terhaar and color analyst Mike Greenlay after the game. "The most important thing is that we got two points. Five goals? It's unbelievable."
The feat was no easy task. Only 55 times in NHL history five goals were scored by a player in one game and it was nearly 11 years to the day since the last time it was done. Gaborik became the 43rd player to accomplish the feat with the last being Sergei Fedorov's 5th goal lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a 5-4 overtime win over the Washington Capitals on December 26, 1996. What I found interesting is that ESPN put up a graphic page showing how rare scoring five goals in a hockey game is compared to how many quarterbacks throw 450 passing yards (44), how many times a Major League Baseball player hit two home runs in the same inning (52) or how many times an NBA player scored at least 60 points in a game (59).
So in other words, Gaborik was in elite company when comes to such statistical single game feats. Oh, and did I mention that he assisted on Pierre-Marc Bouchard's power play goal, the only one Gaborik didn't score? That means he ended up with six points on the night. According to Minnesota Wild official web site content manager Glen Andresen, Gaborik has recorded 9 of the 13 hat tricks in team history. So far, we know as hockey fans that this probably isn't likely to be the last, especially for this 25-year-old Slovakian phenom.
"It's an honor to be in that kind of company," Gaborik said to St. Paul Pioneer Press writer Bruce Brothers.
Between the pipes for Minnesota, Josh Harding also turned in a solid performance by making 32 saves for his fourth straight win. Even though Lundqvist who has garnered much of the hockey world's attention with his outstanding first two-plus months of the season for the Rangers, he cannot be blamed for the outcome despite allowing all six Minnesota goals on just 18 shots he faced. It may have been only Bouchard's goal that should've been stopped, but Lundqvist really didn't stand much of any chance on all five goals Gaborik put past him. Ironically on this night, the Rangers had allowed the fewest goals in the NHL entering this night, yet for the second time this season allowed six in a game.
"I didn't face that many shots and somehow it didn't matter what I did," Lundqvist told Long Island Newsday Rangers beat writer Steve Zipay. "I'm disappointed in myself for not playing better. It's tough. You make a couple saves and he's there again to score another goal."
Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan believed his team played well enough to have a chance to win the game, but the Wild made the most of their opportunities.
"I don't think the score reflects how we played the game," Shanahan told reporters after the game, including MSG Network's John Giannone. "There were some breakdowns, obviously. We took some penalties in the second period. But for the most part, we said after the game that we really don't think that reflects how we played that game."
Shanahan added, "We thought we came out strong. We as a matter of fact I think stuck with our gameplan throughout and 5-on-5 for the most part I thought we really outplayed this team. Just one of those weird nights where the chances they got were really good. We ran into a world-class hockey player who was having the game of his life."
Sure, the Rangers outshot the Wild 35-22 and won 32 of 52 faceoffs, but what good is that when the opposition doubles your team's goal total on the scoreboard? It's almost a reminder of the Dallas game on November 25th where the Rangers outshot and outplayed the Stars, only that final score was just by a single goal instead of three in this one.
New York Daily News Rangers beat writer John Dellapina felt the Rangers left Gaborik open in front of Lundqvist far too often to get the number of scoring chances he did. No doubt he was right and the Minnesota's leading goal scorer made the Rangers pay and paid dearly.
Gaborik became the third opposing player to score five goals in a game against the Rangers, the last being Pittsburgh Penguins owner and Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux on April 9, 1993. For the Rangers, they hope the next guy doesn't come along anytime soon to duplicate it.