ST. PAUL, Minn. – Of the 1,459 games in Mike Modano’s NHL career, this wasn’t one of his best.
That much didn’t matter. The Minnesota crowd welcomed him back and sent him off the ice, possibly, for the final time. Jamie Benn scored in the shootout after Modano’s wrist shot was denied, giving the Dallas Stars a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night to wrap up the regular season – and perhaps Modano’s career.
Modano even donned his old North Stars jersey after the game and skated around the ice to more claps and cheers, receiving “First Star” of the game honours despite not scoring or doing much of anything else.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Modano said. “The reception was phenomenal.”
He played the first four of his 20 seasons in Minnesota for the North Stars before the franchise moved south, and the fans here never forgot. He didn’t, either.
“Sometimes I wish I was in my prime playing here,” Modano said.
Modano finished the season with 14 goals and 16 assists in 59 games. In this one, he missed the net on two shots and had another stopped. He lost 11 of 17 faceoffs and looked a little tired down the stretch.
“But then there’s games like the other night in Dallas where you think maybe there is still some hope left,” said Modano, who has not declared his intention of playing or not next season.
Modano was overcome by emotion during an extended ovation at home two nights earlier, giving Stars fans quite a show with a goal and an assist in regulation plus a score in the shootout.
This time, he drew a standing ovation when a video of highlights from his days with the North Stars was shown during a first-period break. There were a few North Stars jerseys in the crowd, too, among the fans wearing Wild stuff. The 39-year-old forward’s face quivered during the cheers.
“He’s still got the skills and talent. It’s just a matter of if his head’s in it or not,” said teammate Brenden Morrow, who had a power-play goal.
Steve Ott scored twice for the Stars, tying the game at 3 early in the third period. Mikko Koivu scored twice and rookie Casey Wellman got his first career goal for the Wild.
The other No. 9, Koivu, tried to steal the show by scoring twice from the near edge of the right circle in the opening frame, the first during a two-man advantage for the Wild. The Stars were the only NHL team that hadn’t allowed a 5-on-3 goal this season.
The Stars missed the playoffs for the second straight season, which hasn’t happened since 1987 and 1988 when the franchise was in Minnesota. Modano was drafted with the first overall selection right after that, and away he went.
Coach Marc Crawford’s attempt with his players to “recapture some greatness,” as he put it before the season, didn’t materialize. Loui Eriksson and Benn were bright spots, but the Stars were the epitome of mediocrity, failing to post a winning streak longer than two games.
Modano isn’t the only high-profile player uncertain to return next season, as the Stars sort out their ownership situation. Goalie Marty Turco, who yielded to Kari Lehtonen for this game, is also playing on an expiring contract and might not be re-signed.
“You always want to get the last win,” Lehtonen said. “It makes everything feel a little bit better.”
Niklas Backstrom was back in the net for Minnesota after leaving the last game early, when a slap shot struck him in the neck. Regulars Owen Nolan, Marek Zidlicky, Martin Havlat, Andrew Ebbett, Guillaume Latendresse and James Sheppard were all scratched.
The Wild had a disappointing season, too, the first year for general manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Todd Richards. The team was beset by injuries, but also inconsistency, and the final few weeks featured extended ice time for several young players including Nate Prosser, the eighth native Minnesotan to suit up for the Wild.
Wellman, signed last month straight from the University of Massachusetts, scored nine seconds into the third period, drawing a loud roar from the crowd.
“These guys played a long, gruelling season but I’m just getting started,” Wellman said. “I’m sure I’ll be ready next year, too.”
NOTES: This was Koivu’s eighth NHL two-goal game. He set a career high with 22 goals this season. … Ott finished with six goals in his last six games to reach 22 for the season, a career high. … The Wild called this the sixth largest regular-season crowd, 19,109, in their history.