ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) _ The Minnesota Wild finished the season strong. Too
bad, for them, they didn't turn things around sooner.
Marian Gaborik had a goal and Dwayne Roloson earned his fifth shutout,
leading the Wild to a season-ending 3-0 victory Sunday over the short-handed
St. Louis Blues.
``It would be nice to be going into the playoffs like this, considering how
well we've played lately,'' said coach Jacques Lemaire, who guided Minnesota to
the Western Conference finals last year. ``But I think we started too late to
play well as a group.''
Stephane Veilleux had a power-play goal, and Marc Chouinard added an
empty-netter for the Wild, who finished 10th in the West _ eight points out of
the final playoff spot. Minnesota went 9-3-1-1 in its final 14 games and moved
above .500 for the first time all season to finish at 30-29-20-3.
``The young guys have come in here and played well,'' Gaborik said. ``It's
nice to finish with a win. Especially in front of the home fans.''
The Blues, who wrapped up the seventh seed for the playoffs Saturday, sat
seven players including Eric Weinrich, Keith Tkachuk, Dallas Drake, Scott
Mellanby, Doug Weight and Chris Pronger.
``It was a good opportunity for some guys without much playing time to get
back into the lineup,'' said coach Mike Kitchen, who went 9-7-4 since taking
over for the fired Joel Quenneville on Feb. 24. ``We're going to need everyone,
so it's a matter of staying healthy and rolling into playoff mode.''
St. Louis has qualified for the playoffs each season since 1980, a 25-year
streak that's the longest active run in the four major professional sports.
``I think we're ready to go,'' said right wing Mark Rycroft, who returned
after an 11-game absence with a leg injury. ``We looked at this game as a
chance for some of us to shake the rust off. But the team has played very well
in the last 15 games or so.''
The Blues will face Pacific Division champion San Jose in the first round
``Confidence is a big thing,'' Kitchen said. ``When I took over, we weren't
a very confident hockey team, but our power play's getting better and we're
getting timely goals.''
Roloson, who made 24 saves, had the second-best, goals-against average in
the NHL behind Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff. Roloson, an All-Star who went
19-18-11, had a GAA of 1.92 entering Sunday.
``It was awesome the way we came together down the stretch,'' Roloson said.
``It was great for some guys to open some eyes.''
Late in the second period, after Rycroft was called for hooking, the Wild
took rare advantage of the extra skater and took a 1-0 lead.
Blues goalie Reinhard Divis denied a slap shot by Brent Burns, but Andrew
Brunette was there for the rebound. He dished it across the crease to Veilleux,
who sent a backhander high into the net.
Minnesota's power-play conversion rate, less than 14 percent, was 28th in
the NHL this season.
The Wild, outshot 10-5 in the first period, took a 2-0 lead midway through
the third when Gaborik's rising wrist shot from the faceoff dot caught a tiny
gap between the post and the left leg pad of Divis.
Divis stopped 22 of 24 shots. Divis made a sharp leg kick in the third
period to deny Gaborik on a penalty shot after Jeff Finley pulled him down in
the St. Louis zone.
Divis was playing for the first time since March 17 to give Chris Osgood a
break in goal.
``He played outstanding,'' Kitchen said, contradicting the self-analysis
Divis gave of his performance. ``That's a tough game to play in for a goalie.
We left a lot of loose pucks in front, but he was terrific.''