ST. PAUL---Minnesota fans tried their best to spoil last night’s homecoming at Xcel Energy Center. Marian Gaborik, the all-time points leader for Wild who left in 2009 for New York and a five-year, $37.5-million contract, was booed every time he touched the puck in the first period. When defenseman Cam Barker decked him with 3:15 left in the scoreless first period, a roar rocked the sold-out rink.
But soon after, it was Gaborik, Boogaard and two Minnesota natives, Rangers rookies Derek Stepan and Mike Sauer, who had dozens of friends and family in the stands, making key plays to lift the Rangers to a 5-2 triumph in their homecomings.
“You saw a little swagger in their game, a little jump," said Martin Biron, who made 26 saves and won his fourth game. “You saw the passes were a little crisper, the strides were a little quicker; when you see those guys stepping up, it brings other guys in the same direction.”
With the game scoreless in the second period, the 6-foot-8 Boogaard slammed Robbie Earl into the right boards, and Sauer, who grew up in St. Cloud, got the puck to defense partner Matt Gilroy, aggressive all night in the offensive zone. His shot was stopped by Niklas Backstrom, but Artem Anisimov, darting into the play off the bench, fired the rebound from the left circle for his seventh goal of the season and a 1-0 lead at 8:50.
“I thought Boogey played well, it was one of his better games," said coach John Tortorella. "On that goal, I thought that was a big shift for him, he did some good things on the wall and I thought Gabby was more engaged. I know they were both nervous, probably Gabby more than Boogey."
With Brent Burns in the box for tripping, Hastings native Stepan, with the puck along the right wall, found Michael Del Zotto creeping in on the left side. Del Zotto held the puck until Backstrom committed and wristed in his second of the season, and first in 19 games at 14:24. Alexander Frolov extended the lead to three with a minute to play on a wraparound and Gaborik, who said he barely heard the booing, was credited with an assist.
"It feels great to get a win, the first time in this building," said Gaborik. "We kinda blew the game (against Colorado on Friday, a 5-1 trouncing). It shows the character of this team. I was thinking about it, it was obviously something special, and I’m very happy with the way we performed."
Unlike the second period in Colorado, when the Rangers allowed four goals to the Avalanche, the Rangers dominated the middle period last night, outshooting the Wild 17-4. In the third, Brandon Dubinsky made it 4-0, faking Backstrom on a breakaway backhander then going forehand for his team-leading 12th goal at 4:53.
Biron had made 10 saves in the first, but his best may have been early in the second, with the game scoreless, when he flashed his glove to deny a wide open Earl. Biron has held opponents to two or fewer goals in five of his six starts.
Matt Cullen spoiled Biron's bid for a shutout with a shorthander in the third, but Fedotenko's backhander made it 5-1 at 14:08. Martin Havlat made it 5-2 with under five minutes to play. The Rangers (11-9-1 and 7-3 on the road) however, held on for a split of the two-game Western swing.