The Minnesota Wild made their debut on October 6, 2000 with a 3-1 loss to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim with rookie Marian Gaborik of Slovakia scoring the first ever goal in team history. A loss to Phoenix followed the next night before they scored their first point in their home debut on October 11th with a 3-3 tie against the Philadelphia Flyers. Remember ties?
Two more losses at St. Louis and at home to the Edmonton Oilers left the upstart Wild 0-4-1 heading into their sixth game on this date in 2000.
Their next opponent was the Tampa Bay Lightning, who came to the Xcel Energy Center hoping to take advantage of the young Wild’s early struggles. The scoring began when Vincent Lecavalier of the Lightning beat Wild goaltender Jamie McLennan with a wrist shot from the slot at 6:52. It would be the only goal of the first period.
Russian Maxim Shushinsky got the Wild even with a one-timer past Lightning keeper Kevin Weeks just 50 seconds into the second period for his third goal in six games.
Tampa Bay went back on top with a power play goal from Brad Richards at 9:26 only to have the Wild thrill the home fans with an offensive outburst that netted three goals in under five minutes. Cam Stewart converted a rebound of a shot by Shushinsky for his first goal of the season at 13:12 to even the score at 2-2.
With both Paul Mara (tripping) and Todd Warriner (hooking) in the box for penalties at 14:46, Shushinsky redirected a shot from defenseman Filip Kuba for his second power play goal of the game to put the Wild back on top at 15:05.
With Minnesota down a man with Stewart in the box for hooking, Bryan Muir had a pass get by him at the point, which sprung Minnesota’s Darby Hendrickson to the other way. Scott Pellerin joined him and converted the shorthanded opportunity with a backhander past Weeks for a 4-2 Minnesota advantage at 18:11 to really get the building rocking.
Early in the third period Tampa Bay found themselves a man short and Warriner scored a shorthanded goal to pull the Lightning to within one at 3:47 before rookie Alexander Kharitonov erased the remainder of Minnesota’s two goal margin when he scored from Richards at 14:27, setting up a dramatic final five minutes.
With Pellerin being checked behind the net, he fought off a check and sent a pass to Kuba pinching in at the right faceoff circle, who sent the puck across the ice to the 18-year-old Gaborik, who beat Weeks with a backhander on his stick side putting the Wild back on top with 1:28 remaining, which caused the building to erupt as they sensed the first victory in Wild history was now a very real possibility.
Weeks was pulled for Dan Cloutier, who was pulled shortly thereafter for an extra attacker. With less than a minute remaining, Pellerin received a pass at center ice from Jim Dowd, and unselfishly gave the puck to Gaborik, who sealed the victory when he buried the puck into the empty net from the slot, which really got the party started in the stands.
The assist was Pellerin’s fourth point of the night, a first for the Wild. Dowd’s three assists was a career high for the American.
“It feels great to win our first game,” Gaborik said. “I had a good first period, but made some mistakes on the power play. I told myself to work harder and the fruits of my work came. I’m very happy.”
“Tonight was a roller-coaster ride,” Pellerin said. “We got ahead and shouldn’t have let them back in, but I’m glad we closed them out. It’s our first win. We made some mistakes and we’re fortunate to win. The fans have been unbelievable. It was nice to give them this win. I’m sure they were starting to have some doubts. I’m glad, we didn’t want to wait any longer.”
The win for the Wild was the first win for an NHL team in Minnesota since the final home win for the North Stars on April 10, 1993, a span of over seven years.
“Definitely, it’s nice to get the monkey off our back,” said McLennan. “We were building up to this first win but coming up short. The whole first win, it’s exciting, we’ll savor the moment. The character and poise of the guys really came through that’s a key for building. It’s nice to know that our team can come through in the clutch.”
The game was recently named as one of the Top 10 Games in Wild team history.