Jim Souhan: Avs were deeper team, thanks to front office

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 20, 2008 - 12:42 AM

The Wild needed to add more talent at the trading deadline — the way the Avalanche did.

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DENVER — The Wild's players, facing elimination, did their best to keep their spirits up in Denver.

Todd Fedoruk put the Monty Python song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life'' on the locker room stereo. The players got together to shoot hoops at the team hotel on Friday, and, after their morning skate on Saturday, they threw a football around.

It was hockey that proved to be the problem. The Wild's season ended Saturday night at the Pepsi Center, ended after just six playoff games, ended with the Wild having held the lead in this series for less than five minutes.

The Wild's coaches and apologists tried to argue all week that their team was close, was giving an effort, was a victim of bad breaks, but there is another way to view this series: The Wild needed two overtime goals to avoid getting swept by a team it was supposed to beat.

The main difference between these teams, considering the Wild had the superior record in the regular season, might have been in team management. At the trading deadline, the Avalanche added defensemen Adam Foote and Ruslan Salei and forward Peter Forsberg. The Wild added Chris (Healthy Scratch) Simon.

So it should have not been so surprising that the Avs looked like the deeper team all series.

Three of the four players the Wild did add in the last year -- forward Eric Belanger, defenseman Sean Hill and Simon -- were either nonfactors or just plain lousy. The fourth, Fedoruk, is a valuable role player, but he was hardly enough to make the difference in this series.

Belanger was particularly inept, and helped highlight the Wild's lack of center depth. He had just one goal after Jan. 13, and contributed no goals and just two assists after Feb. 20.

Sometimes Wild coach Jacques Lemaire outsmarts himself, and he did so Saturday night, playing Belanger at the point on the power play.

With Belanger at the point, the Wild's first power play accomplished nothing, and the Avalanche capitalized with a short-handed goal.

"I thought 5-on-5 we were the better team,'' Lemaire said. "I thought their special teams, their power play, gave them the edge.''

There was one admirable development for the Wild: Defenseman Nick Schultz, 12 days after undergoing an emergency appendectomy, played in Game 6.

"That,'' Lemaire said, "showed a lot of courage.''

Lemaire spent most of his postgame news conference -- when he wasn't leaving open the possibility that he'll resign or retire -- praising his team's effort and veteran leadership.

Marian Gaborik failed to score a goal again, leaving him shut out for the series, but he made a beautiful pass to set up the Wild's only goal, by Aaron Voros.

That was hardly enough. The Wild fell victim to the same lack of scoring depth that made much of the season such a struggle, despite the team's first division title.

If Gaborik or Brian Rolston didn't score goals, the Wild looked punchless.

"When I look at the effort that our guys put on, you can't ask for much more,'' Lemaire said. "Except goals.''

Unfortunately for the Wild, the NHL czars insist on keeping score that way. With goals.

Lemaire also praised his team's veteran leadership, comparing this team favorably with the conference finalists of 2003.

"I thought we had better leadership than I got a lot of years I've been in Minnesota,'' Lemaire said. "All the guys were excited to play, and they played their best. This was a lot like that year.

"Only it was shorter.''

Lemaire was looking on the bright side of life, at his team's quality morale, leadership and effort.

Maybe next year the Wild will try scoring goals.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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