Franchise Best: Minnesota Wild 2002-03 Season

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The Franchise Best Series comes to you to dive into the all-time best single season for every organization. This, of course, includes post-season results. Join us for a look back at some of the most memorable moments in each franchise’s history. Here is the Minnesota Wild’s best season.

The 2002-03 season for the Minnesota Wild was their best in franchise history. It was their third year in the league and the only time they reached the Western Conference final.

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The Minnesota Wild 2002-03 Season

The Previous Season

Minnesota was still going through the pains of being an expansion team as it finished last in the Northwest Division with 73 points, which was 21 behind the Vancouver Canucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. The Wild finished 12th in the conference, which was a two-spot improvement from last season.

Marian Gaborik took the next step towards a career breakout as he posted 30 goals while Andrew Brunette led the team in points with 69 on 21 goals and 48 assists. Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez split time in net with Roloson getting 14 wins to 12 for Fernandez.

General manager Doug Risebrough and head coach Jacques Lemaire were still trying to find the right pieces to make this team a contender. Lemaire still preached that defensive style that earned him success with the New Jersey Devils. Minnesota still gave up 238 goals in the 2001-02 season.

Off-Season Acquisitions

Risebrough got a veteran center as he picked up Cliff Ronning on June 22, 2002, in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick. Former Ottawa Senators forward Bill Muckalt also signed a multi-year contract with the team in the off-season. There was also the minor signing of Rickard Wallin for off-season moves.

The Regular Season

A Fast Start

The season started with a bang as the Wild went 6-1-1 to start the campaign. Things would snowball from there as the club played with more confidence. Lemaire was able to craft a style that would frustrate the opposition. His brilliant mind was able to keep games close and Minnesota was able to pick up victories.

The Wild were finally displaying that defensive style that Lemaire used in New Jersey. They also were able to rely more on both Roloson and Fernandez, who both split time in net. Roloson finished with 23 wins while Fernandez ended up with 19.

Gaining Respect

The Wild were starting to hang around the top teams and fledgling franchise started to earn respect. Minnesota was taking to its identity of giving opponents tough games with its defense and timely scoring.

The team got the city behind them and were able to will themselves into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed. It would be the first time that the State of Hockey would experience the postseason since the 1991-92 season when the Minnesota North Stars were still around.

Top Scorers

Gaborik continued his scoring ways with another 30-goal season, but this time he was joined by Pascal Dupuis and his 20 goals. Ronning proved to be the pivot that the team was seeking as he chipped in with 17 goals and 31 assists.

Brunette registered 18 goals and 28 assists to continue his growth while Sergei Zholtok, Wes Walz and Antii Laaksonen each posted double-digit goal seasons. Filip Kuba was the top-scoring defenceman with eight goals and 21 assists for 29 points.

In-Season Additions

The only trade that was made was Andrei Zyuzin being acquired from the Devils from the waiver wire. Minnesota also added Jeremy Stevenson in November as well.

 Playoff Performers

Gaborik and Brunette continued their great regular season form as Gaborik led the team with nine goals. Brunette pitched in with seven goals and six assists, and so did Walz, who was not known as a prolific scorer.

Zholtok led the team in assists with 11 while Kuba was once again the top-scoring defender with three goals and five assists. Roloson and Fernandez continued to split time in the crease as Roloson went 5-6 and Fernandez was 3-4.

End Result

Many didn’t pick the Wild to win many games in the playoffs, but they stunned the hockey world as they beat the third-seeded Colorado Avalanche in overtime of Game 7. Minnesota trailed the first-round series three games to one, but won Games 6 and 7 in overtime,

The Wild rallied from being down 3-1 again in the conference semifinals as they rallied past the fourth-seeded Vancouver Canucks. Minnesota netted 16 goals in the final three games to steal the series.

The ride ended at the hands of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, who swept the Wild in four straight games in the Western Conference Final. New Jersey ended up winning the Stanley Cup for its third title.

Other Nominees

2007-08: Gaborik passed the 40-goal mark as the Wild clinched its only division title in team history. A great regular season didn’t translate into playoff success as they were bounced in the opening round by Colorado.

The 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons saw the Wild win a playoff series but weren’t able to advance to the conference final.

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