Gaborik scores twice as Wild trounce Blue Jackets

Author:
Publish date:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Coach Jacques Lemaire's last game with

the Minnesota Wild may also be the final one for star forward

Marian Gaborik. If so, it was a sweet one.

Meanwhile, the Columbus Blue Jackets live to play again.

Gaborik had two goals and an assist to lead the Wild past

Columbus 6-3 on Saturday night, ruining the Blue Jackets'

celebration of their first playoff berth and saying goodbye to

the only coach they've ever had.

The Wild and Blue Jackets came into the league together in 2000.

Asked where he was right now in his decision about next season,

Lemaire flashed a grin and said, "I'm in Columbus. Just finished

the last game of the season."

He later confirmed he would not be back.

"There comes a time when you know it's the right time to go," he

said. "And I know this. I had a great time here. I had eight

great years."

The 63-year-old Lemaire took over the expansion franchise when

it joined the NHL in 2000-2001, the same year the Blue Jackets

came into the league. Lemaire has a career record of 538-415-176

in 14 seasons with Montreal, New Jersey and Minnesota, leading

the Devils to the 1995 Stanley Cup title. He was 291-256-107

with the Wild, including winning records in his last six

seasons.

While Lemaire and the Wild prepared for what could be a

tumultuous offseason, the Blue Jackets were left to look ahead

to the playoffs.

"It would have been nice to win but we've got to erase this,"

said Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash, who had a goal a minute

into the game. "It's over. We're on to a new season now.

Whatever happened the last 82 games doesn't matter anymore.

We've got a fresh start on Wednesday or Thursday."

The Blue Jackets, in the playoffs for the first time in their

eight seasons, must wait to find out who they play in the first

round. If St. Louis wins at Colorado on Sunday, Columbus will be

the seventh seed and will play second-seeded Detroit. Should St.

Louis lose, then the sixth-seeded Blue Jackets would meet

third-seeded Vancouver.

Either opponent is fine with them.

"It would have been nice to win (against Minnesota). But you

know what? Honestly, who cares?" Columbus defenseman Mike

Commodore said. "You finish sixth, you finish seventh, you

finish eighth -- you don't have home ice anyway. If you want to

go far, if you want to do something in the playoffs, you have to

go through the top seeds anyway."

Kurtis Foster and Mikko Koivu each added a goal and an assist,

and Marc-Andre Bergeron and Martin Skoula also scored for the

Wild, eliminated from the postseason on Friday night.

Lemaire reflected on an injury-filled season in which the Wild

came up just short of making the postseason.

"I was really pleased in a way, being this close to making the

playoffs," he said. "We tried a lot of players through the

season. Some of them had great years, others not so good. In

general, I think it was good for the whole team. The guys will

learn from this."

Gaborik, who missed most of the season following hip surgery,

will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and is likely to

leave the only NHL team for which he has played.

He didn't tip his hand when it came to his plans.

"During the summer I'm going to prepare myself," he said. "I'm

really confident that I'm going to be stronger than ever next

year."

Gaborik, the Wild's first draft pick after the franchise won a

coin flip with Columbus, said the Wild gave their best this

season.

"We can be proud of ourselves to finish these three games

strong," he said of the club's first three-game winning streak

since Nov. 13-18. "A little too late, but I thought we left

everything out there."

Jared Boll and Derek Dorsett also had goals for Columbus, which

led 2-0 after the opening 6 minutes before the Wild ran off the

next five goals.

Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, who won the Stanley Cup in 1999

with Dallas, said his team would catch its breath before moving

on to the playoffs.

Now he must teach a young team about what the postseason is

like.

"The best way to describe (playoff hockey) is it is played with

a sense of urgency on a shift-by-shift basis," he said. "It's

played with a sense of desperation, especially in the first

round until teams get worn down, where the teams that are

engaged play like it's the first and last shift of their lives.

They play the whole game like that and the teams that can do

that stuff and have the character to play like that and the self

discipline to play like that, are very successful. It is played

at a very high, high emotional pitch."

The Blue Jackets will discover that soon enough.

TOP HEADLINES

USATSI_15931779
Play

Three Playoff Teams who Could Miss in 2021-22, and Three Non-Playoff Teams who Could Get in

As the NHL's divisions return to the traditional format, some teams will have a tougher time making the post-season, while others' odds of making it will increase.

Evander Kane
Play

The Sharks' Evander Kane Conundrum

Evander Kane's messy personal life amid reports of tension among several teammates has become a cause for concern. The 30-year-old winger's situation is also raising questions over his future with the club.

USATSI_13754514
Play

Get Ready for the Dallas Stars' Defensive Invasion

With the start of the NHL’s 2021 unrestricted free agent period now in the rear-view mirror, it’s as good a time as any to take stock of the league’s power broker teams. And it's time to look like the Dallas Stars as a true contender again, writes Adam Proteau.