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Wild win to force game 7 -- again
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Now the Wild find themselves one victory away from a spot in the Western Conference finals, and a spot in the NHL record book. (MPR Photo/William Wilcoxen)
The Minnesota Wild keep surprising the hockey world. They beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 in St. Paul Wednesday night to push their Stanley Cup playoff series into a decisive game seven, which is Thursday night in Vancouver. The game marked the fifth time this spring the Wild have pulled out a victory when a loss would have ended their season.

St. Paul, Minn. — Of the 30 teams in the National Hockey League, only half a dozen scored fewer goals than the Minnesota Wild this season. But now -- now that only five NHL teams are still playing -- the Wild have suddenly become the lamp-lighting kings of hockey, filling the nets with 12 goals in their last two games. Left wing Andrew Brunette has three goals in those games. He says the Wild aren't really doing much differently.

"We've got some nice bounces. And earlier in this series, we didn't get any of those. None. We got some scoring from everybody -- Cliff pitched in excellent, Antti played a great game tonight, Darby got a very timely goal. We're getting it from everybody like we did all year," says Brunette.

Cliff Ronning assisted on three Minnesota goals, while Antti Laaksonen, Darby Hendrickson, and Lubomir Sekeras each scored their first playoff goal. But all of that happened after the Wild played a pretty poor first period.

In the first third of the game, the Wild managed only four shots on goal while Vancouver had 12. Minnesota defenseman Willie Mitchell says the Wild were not as focused as they should have been, on the heels of their 7-2 thrashing of the Canucks in game five.

Before the playoffs, I guess nobody knew them (the Wild players) except the people in Minnesota. Now the people are starting to talk about them, and it's nice for them.
- Wild coach Jacques Lemaire

"We were running around at the start a little bit. We knew they were going to come hard, especially after last game and the score of the last game. We managed to weather the storm, and after that we got into our rhythm and played a little better," says Mitchell.

The game was scoreless at the first intermission. Coach Jacques Lemaire says the players needed a little settling down after that first period.

"We didn't play good positioning hockey at all. We were all over -- getting caught, giving 3 on 2s," says Lemaire. "When I talked with them after the 1st period, they were all 'Yes, yes, yes.' Y'know, they realized it, but a little late."

Lemaire says the Wild get caught up in the excitement of the game's start, and their early mistakes are sometimes the product of their eagerness to take the lead. Lemaire says their play improved markedly after they did take the lead on Brunette's goal early in the second period. Vancouver goaltender Dan Cloutier looked shaky in the third period, allowing three of Minnesota's seven shots to get past him. He took a razzing from the Minnesota fans, but Wild left wing Marian Gaborik does not expect Cloutier's wobbliness to carry over into game seven.

"Tomorrow's a new day and they're going to be a different team. We've just got to bear down, and shoot on him as much as possible and look for rebounds. Hopefully something's going to go in," Gaborik says.

Dwayne Roloson was sharp in Minnesota's net, making 30 saves and getting picked as Star of the Game.

Now the Wild find themselves one victory away from a spot in the Western Conference finals, and a spot in the NHL record book. A handful of hockey teams have bounced back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series. But no team has ever done it twice in a row. That's what the Wild will be shooting for when they take the ice for game seven in Vancouver.

The season is already a smashing success for a third-year expansion team. The 19,000 fans on hand for game six included Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who says a good hockey team helps boost morale in a time of layoffs, war, and recession.

"Exceeding expectations is always a good thing. This is an organization and a team that have far exceeded expectations, so it's a pleasant surprise," says Pawlenty. "It's like a rock concert, where the game tonight is like an encore. You just don't want it to end. The town's on a roll, the state's on a roll in terms of our hockey team -- and you just want it to keep going."

Coach Lemaire's team includes a few budding stars and a few veterans who've known professional success. But most of the players have been rejected by other teams, and Lemaire says he's happy to see them in hockey's national spotlight.

"It's a bunch of guys that, they believe. Before the playoffs I guess nobody knew them, except the people in Minnesota. Now the people are starting to talk about them and it's nice for them," says Lemaire.

If the Wild do advance to the conference finals, they would face the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in a series that would open Saturday in St. Paul.

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