Gaborik’s goals give Wild 3-1 win over Flames, and division title

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Marian Gaborik added to his career-high goals total, now 42, on a defining night for a career that began 7 1/2 years ago – the first time the Minnesota Wild took the ice.

Gaborik scored twice in the third period to help the Wild beat the Calgary Flames 3-1 on Thursday night for their first Northwest Division title. Despite the loss, Calgary received some good news later Thursday. Edmonton defeated Vancouver 2-1 and sent the Flames to the post-season.

The only player left from the franchise’s inaugural team, Gaborik – named captain in March, his first such honour – came through at the perfect time.

“If we want to do well in the playoffs, he’s the guy that’s got to play. He’s got to be at his maximum,” said Minnesota’s Jacques Lemaire, who also earned his 500th career victory and became the 12th coach in NHL history to reach that mark.

Yes, it was quite a night at Xcel Energy Center, as Wild players gave their just-worn jerseys to contest winners after a loud celebration in the crowd to warm up the vocal chords for next week. Minnesota will be the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and have an extra home game for at least the first round.

“It was incredible,” defenceman Brent Burns said. “Especially out there, it was pretty sweet to do it in front of our fans.”

Gaborik nearly had a third goal, sandwiched between the two that counted, but that was waved off because of a whistle while the puck disappeared from plain sight beneath a scrum of bodies in the crease.

Miikka Kiprusoff made 23 saves for Calgary who still have positioning in the Western Conference to play for. The bottom four slots could all change by the weekend, and the regular-season finale at Vancouver looms awfully large – at the very least, for seeding.

The Flames could end up facing the Wild, who probably prefer a different opponent. This was only their second win against Calgary in eight meetings, and despite a quiet performance in this game, Iginla has been unstoppable against Minnesota.

Plus, Kiprusoff (19-6-3) has by far the most victories against the Wild by any opposing goalie.

But this might have served as an opening salvo of sorts.

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“We keep going like this, we’ll be good,” Gaborik said.

For the night, though, it was time to savour.

“It ranks right up there,” he said, adding: “It’s a great feeling for myself and every guy in this room. It’s a great accomplishment to have a banner up there.”

Daymond Langkow’s power-play wrist shot gave the Flames the lead just 2:41 into the game, but Todd Fedoruk – one of Minnesota’s tough guys and rarely an offensive threat – answered in a man-advantage situation minutes later.

Pavol Demitra made a perfect pass from behind the end line, and Fedoruk deftly backhanded it past Kiprusoff as he darted across the slot. The second period was slow, and then the Wild made their mark down the stretch.

“I imagine a lot of teams are pushing right now and pressing a bit, but that’s part of it,” Iginla said. “These games are big games. You play the whole season down to the last few and the division comes down to the last few, so every team’s in the same boat.”

In the final minute of the opening frame, Dion Phaneuf knocked Stephane Veilleux flat with a blind-side hit that riled up the Wild. Seconds later, right after a stoppage of play, Burns confronted Phaneuf and dropped his gloves for a drawn-out fight that stretched across the entire width of the ice. Both players landed several punches, and Burns had his jersey ripped off.

Those major penalties carried into the second period, and another infraction – on Dustin Boyd for delay of game – gave Minnesota a 4-on-3 that nearly netted the go-ahead goal. Calgary made a careless line change, and suddenly Kim Johnsson was on a rush up the right side all by himself.

He made a crossing pass to Gaborik, who didn’t handle the puck cleanly as he tried to one-time it into the corner of the net.

Kiprusoff, that old Wild nemesis, suddenly appeared and knocked the puck away with his pad. That was Gaborik’s only shot on goal in either of the first two periods.

Notes: Gaborik has 10 multi-goal games this season. This was his second straight. … Iginla has 46 points in 43 career games against the Wild.