Welcome back to Last Word on Hockey’s summer series where we look at the biggest game in franchise history. Each day we will be back with a new team to review. Looking at things like the lead-up, what happened, followed, and why it makes it the biggest game in franchise history. The biggest game does not automatically mean a win, either. Sometimes, it can be a loss that set the franchise back massively. Sit back and enjoy as we break down all 31 Team’s most important game. This is the Minnesota Wild biggest game in franchise history. For more coverage of the biggest games, the full series is here.
Minnesota Wild Biggest Game
The Minnesota Wild have never won a Stanley Cup since being founded in 1997 and beginning play in 2000. The young franchise certainly isn’t as storied as some of the NHL’s oldest teams, but the Wild still have a respectable history as an NHL franchise. Although the Wild have never advanced beyond the Western Conference Final, they still managed to achieve above expectations in their early years.
Wild Biggest Game
When the Minnesota North Stars left the twin cities in 1993, hockey’s home state was left without a professional team. While the now Dallas-based Stars competed at a high level, Minnesotans continuously lobbied the NHL for a new team. After a failed attempt at purchasing the old Winnipeg Jets franchise in the mid-1990s, Minnesota was awarded an NHL franchise on June 25th, 1997. Although the team would not begin play until the 2000-01 season, hockey was back in Minnesota.
Like most expansion franchises, the Wild struggled out of the gate. Young stars like Marian Gaborik gave the fans something to be excited about, but the team was yet to hit their stride. The Wild’s biggest game would not come until the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Game 7 of Round 1 against the Colorado Avalanche.
2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Round 1, Game 1
The Wild wrapped up the 2002-03 season as the sixth seed in the Western Conference. It was the first time the young franchise had made the playoffs. Although they had the same number of points as the Anaheim Ducks (who would eventually sweep them in the Western Conference Finals), they won a tiebreaker via wins. This set the three-year-old franchise up to play the heavily favored Colorado Avalanche.
The Avalanche were a high powered squad, full of star power and buoyed by all-time great Patrick Roy in net. Despite their underdog status, the Wild stunned the Denver crowd. It only took them 27 shots to score four goals on the great Patrick Roy, and that is all they needed. Game 1 went to the Wild, 4-2. The Wild were no pushovers, and they proved it.
2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Round 1, Games 2-6
Despite losing the first game of the series at home, the Avalanche were far from done. They outscored the Wild 9-3 over the next three games to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Patrick Roy earned what would be his final career shutout during Game 3, and rebounded nicely from his first game hiccup. Now, the Minnesota Wild faced the toughest test in their franchise’s young history.
With question marks in net (Manny Fernandez or Dwayne Roloson?) and a sudden offensive drought, the Wild traveled back to Denver for a do-or-die Game 5. The Wild jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two periods, but a Colorado surge brought the game within one goal. The Wild managed to hang on to the 3-2 victory, forcing a Game 6 back in St. Paul.
Game 6 remained scoreless until the 3rd period when both Richard Park and Gaborik netted goals to give the Wild a commanding late lead. However, a goal from Avs legend Joe Sakic and another with just over 90 seconds left in regulation from Greg de Vries forced overtime. Park scored his second goal of the game to force a Game 7 back in Denver.
Minnesota Wild Biggest Game – Round 1, Game 7
The Minnesota Wild’s biggest game in franchise history would come in Denver on April 22, 2003. After battling back from a 3-1 deficit against heavy favorites, all that stood between Minnesota’s newest NHL franchise and the second round was one game.
For the first 20 minutes, it was a goaltending duel. On one side, the legendary Roy worked hard to silence critics and put the Wild away for good. On the other, Manny Fernandez looked to lock down the starting job with a solid performance. Both men succeeded, and the score was tied at 0 heading into the first intermission.
At just 6:16 of the 2nd period, the stalemate was broken as Peter Forsberg finally solved Fernandez to give the Avs their first lead of the night. That lead did not last for long. Less than a minute and a half later, Pascal Dupuis tied the game on the power play. The game would remain 1-1 until the second intermission.
At 13:15 of the 3rd, the Wild found themselves down by a goal again. Joe Sakic capitalized on an Avalanche power play to put his team back in front. Although the Wild were down, it wouldn’t last long. Just over two minutes after Sakic’s power-play goal, Gaborik added an extra-man tally of his own. Just like that, the game was tied again – with under five minutes left in regulation. For the second time in as many games, the Wild and Av’s were headed to sudden death overtime.
It didn’t take long to find that golden goal. Less than four minutes into the extra frame, Sergei Zholtok took a lead pass from his own end and charged up the middle of the ice. He muscled his way into Colorado’s offensive zone before running out of room to skate. He dropped the puck off for Andrew Brunette, who trailed him into the zone. Brunette finessed his way past Colorado’s defense, essentially giving himself all the time in the world to put a move on Patrick Roy. Roy bit on the fake forehand drag, and Brunette was able to switch the puck to the backhand and slide the puck into an empty net. At only 3:25 of overtime, the Minnesota Wild won their first playoff series after fighting back from a 3-1 deficit.
The Wild would go on to beat Vancouver in the second round before being unceremoniously swept by the Anaheim Ducks. They became the first franchise to ever come back from being down 3 games to 1 and win a best of 7 in Stanley Cup Playoff history in two consecutive series. Patrick Roy announced his retirement that off-season after his spotty playoff performance. Although the Wild have never won a cup, in 2003 they brought the spirit of professional hockey back to Minnesota in a big way.
Minnesota Wild Biggest Game – Honorable Mention
The Wild don’t have a history as storied as other franchises. That doesn’t mean they don’t have other important games. On December 17th, 2000, the Dallas Stars played their first game in Minnesota since they left in 1993. It was a bittersweet and emotional homecoming for many – fans and players alike. The Wild were just getting their inaugural season underway, and the former North Stars were fresh off back to back Stanley Cup Finals appearances – including a win in 1999. The Stars were heavily favored and more successful, but that cold Minnesota night belonged the Wild. They won 6-0 in front of their home crowd, and it became a cornerstone moment for the young franchise.
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