While the Minnesota Wild and their fans were (deservedly) excited over the huge comeback series victory over the Colorado Avalanche, the focus would quickly shift to the next opponent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks.
Minnesota’s next opponent had also completed a miraculous 3-1 comeback of their own in their respective first round matchup against the St. Louis Blues and, like Minnesota, were riding an emotional high.
And fittingly enough, the Canucks could have easily been the Wild’s first round opponent, as they finished the regular season only a single point behind the Avalanche for third place in the Western Conference with 104 points.
The Canucks backed the standing with two major stars of their own in Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi. Both players finished ranked in the top five in the National Hockey League in both goals and points, and promoted another formidable test for Minnesota, as it was the second consecutive round the Wild would face top five ranked players from the opposition.
With both teams finishing a grueling seven game series only days before, it could've been expected that Game 1 would be rather low scoring, as both sides look to re-gain their legs beneath themselves. However, against expectations, a combined seven goals would be scored in the opening contest inside the General Motors Place.
And while Minnesota would hold a two-goal-lead well into the third period, Vancouver would tie the game at three apiece with a mere 1.2 seconds left in regulation, sending the contest into an overtime period.
In that extra frame, the Wild would be done-in by the familiar face of Trent Klatt, who was born in Minnesota and was apart of the North Stars franchise from 1991-94, to give Vancouver a 4-3 victory and opening 1-0 lead in the series.
Minnesota would respond in Game 2, despite being outshot by a wide margin of 31-18, and seal a 3-2 victory to even the series at a game apiece. Sergei Zholtok and Wes Walz would score the sealing goals for the Wild within the first two minutes of the final stanza to put the game out of reach. However, the victory didn’t come without a little bit of mental adversity for Minnesota.
Just under 18 and a half minutes into the third, Vancouver would draw too within one on a goal from Mattias Ohlund, and the thoughts of yet another final period collapse began to creep into the minds of Wild players.
In the game story from the contest, Walz said, “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t creep into my mind. I got to admit there was a lot less emotion on the bench after they scored to make it 3-2. That doesn’t always mean you’re going to hang on, but it’s nice to see the guys are poised on the bench.’’
Vancouver would go on to win two nail biters in a row in Games 3 and 4 by the same score of 3-2 inside of Xcel Energy Center. But despite the results on the scoreboard, in both contests, Minnesota had their chances and more specifically in Game 4, the Wild held a 2-1 lead with just over two minutes to go in the final period before Vancouver would tie and eventually seal the game in overtime, on controversial terms as well.
Now facing the same steep mountain as in their opening series against the Avalanche, there was simply “no tomorrow” for Minnesota with a loss. And the Wild came out with that very mindset in Game 5, as they rode a five-goal second period and absolutely destroyed the Canucks 7-2 to stay alive and shift the series to 3-2.
The Wild would keep up the steaming hot vibes in Game 6 as they would, again, light up Vancouver, this time in-front of their home fans in the State of Hockey in a 5-1 rout to force a seventh and decisive game. In his postgame interview, first-round hero Andrew Brunette who also had two goals in the victory simply said, “We’re a resilient bunch.”
“If you asked us at the beginning of the series if we could play one game versus Vancouver, winner takes all,” Brunette added, “certainly we’d take it.”
At that time, it was simply the biggest game in the young history of the Wild. The franchise was only three years old, but had the chance to do something every other team in the NHL beforehand was unable to accomplish; comeback from two consecutive 3-1 deficits in a Stanley Cup Playoff. But, on the other hand, Vancouver also had that chance. And they, despite the slide, still felt confident for the final matchup in-front of their home fans.
“I still believe that if we play the way we’re supposed to, that we’re going to beat them,” Naslund said.
And play the way they were “supposed to” is exactly how Vancouver opened Game 7, opening up a 2-0 lead just over midway through the second period on goals from Ohlund and Bertuzzi.
It was a spectacular story for the Wild, and it was one that could’ve easily ended there. However, that was not the mantra of that year’s team, it would certainly not come all that way just to lay down and waive the white flag to a division rival.
Pascal Dupuis would open the scoring for Minnesota near the end of the second and bring the good guys within a single goal at 2-1, moving into the final frame.
That final frame would end up being one for the history books for the Wild.
Just over eight minutes into the third, Wes Walz would tie the game at two and then, fittingly enough, Darby Hendrickson, who scored the Wild’s first goal as a franchise, would seal the victory on a slap shot from the top of the key on an absolute ripper to put Minnesota ahead for good, silencing the Vancouver crowd.
Dupuis would put the icing on the cake with another late goal to stretch the lead to 4-2 for Minnesota. And with that, the rest was history, folks.
Another series victory, and another historic comeback. And while Minnesota would see their fortunes run dry in the Western Conference Finals, the 2003 run is still a feat that is widely discussed and remembered amongst Wild fans, to this very day.
And now we ask you. What are your favorite memories from the 2003 playoff run? What famous moments in Minnesota Wild history would you like to see covered in the next installments of Flashback Friday?