ST. PAUL, Minn. - Racing up the ice with the puck and only New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in front of him, Marian Gaborik was not going to be denied.
The third-period breakaway that gave Gaborik his fifth goal of Thursday's game was a vintage sequence by the 25-year-old Minnesota Wild star, whose smooth strides and speedy skates have energized the fledgling franchise since the young Slovakian became the first player it drafted in 2000.
Only when he's on the ice, though. The short story of Wild history includes several chapters on up-and-down moments with Gaborik, whose potential has not yet been reached due to recurring groin injuries and lapses in production and effort.
His disinterest in playing defence has made it difficult for him to win over demanding coach Jacques Lemaire, who smiled his way through comments on Minnesota's 6-3 victory but guarded his praise of Gaborik's feat as the first player to score five goals in an NHL game in 11 years.
"The last three games he's been really playing well," said Lemaire, the only NHL coach Gaborik has ever had. "He's been skating. He's on the puck. His game is offence, and when he's skating he's dangerous. He keeps skating, that's how he's going to be."
Gaborik missed five games earlier in the fall because of his groin, which cost him a whopping 34 games last season. Still, he managed 30 goals and 27 assists in 2006-07, and when he skated Minnesota went 33-8-6. This season, Gaborik leads the Wild with 18 goals and 33 points.
"I think that every day in practice: I'm glad I'm on his team, so I don't have to be up against him," goalie Josh Harding said. "He has such a great shot, and he can do everything, and you can't say enough about the talent of that guy."
Gaborik's was the first five-goal outing since Sergei Federov did it for Detroit on Dec. 26, 1996, in an overtime game against Washington. Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux was the last to net five in regulation, on March 26, 1996, versus St. Louis.
"It was an unbelievable thing," Gaborik said after practice on Friday as he reflected on his big night. "You're in an incredible zone. You've got it going for you. It's electric."
In a coincidence nearly as unbelievable as his record-setting performance, which was the first time a Wild player scored more than three times, Gaborik spent a few minutes in the morning watching online clips of Pavel Bure's five-goal game for Russia against Finland in the semifinals of the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
"My buddies sent me a YouTube video," Gaborik said, smiling.
Federov? Lemieux? Bure?
"It's an honour to be in that kind of company there," Gaborik said. "I don't know. It's just a great win. I don't know what else to say."
Whether it was on a power play, a breakaway, or just by batting an errant puck out of the air, Gaborik scored every which way to lead the Wild to their fourth straight win. Lemaire said he had flashbacks to the great Guy Lafleur's goal-scoring success when they were teammates with Montreal in the 1970s.
Teammate Mark Parrish, who was Bure's teammate for a four-goal game with Florida in 2000 and also had four goals himself one night as a rookie with the Panthers in 1998, just shook his head.
"That was pretty amazing foreshadowing on his part, to watch those on YouTube and then go out there and have a night like he did tonight," Parrish said. "It must've got him excited. He's going to have to watch that every game now."
Gaborik has at least one goal in his last four games and at least one point in 11 of his last 12.
"I feel good on the ice right now, especially knowing that we had a great road trip. We came back home and played two great games," he said. "The team has a lot of confidence, and Josh was tremendous again."
The Rangers, who had given up a league-low 75 goals entering the game, were frustrated - but impressed.
"Obviously the puck seemed to follow him," leading scorer Brendan Shanahan said. "I wouldn't say any of them were soft goals. I've seen him a lot, and I think he's maybe one of the top three or four players in the game as far as dangerous with the puck."
Gaborik has nine of the 13 hat tricks in Minnesota's seven seasons. The Wild have tried to get him to form a dangerous line with fellow countryman Pavol Demitra, but neither of them have been consistently healthy enough for them to fulfill that vision since Demitra joined the team before last season.
Lately, though, they've been working well with each other.
"Everything is going to come," Demitra said. "It's in time."