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Gaborik scores twice as Wild trounce Blue Jackets

PA Stats Inc
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The Hockey News
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Gaborik scores twice as Wild trounce Blue Jackets

PA Stats Inc
By:

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.

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Gaborik scores twice as Wild trounce Blue Jackets