Marian Gaborik turned down the Wild's offer of a lucrative contract extension. He had played in two games, then missed two months and 27 games because of another injury to his lower body.
Gaborik's unwillingness to accept the contract and the long recuperation period from his injury led many Wild diehards to question his commitment to the team.
And this led to much curiosity as to how the Cult of 18,000 would respond to Gaborik on his return to the lineup Wednesday night in St. Paul.
Coach Jacques Lemaire put Gaborik on the third line with James Sheppard and Stephane Veilleux. That meant the spectators wanting to react had to wait until Gaborik climbed over the boards for the first time.
This occurred 75 seconds into the game. There were some loud boos and an equal amount of loud cheers. There was also a silent majority, waiting to see what Gaborik had to offer before reacting.
Lemaire kept him with Sheppard and Veilleux through a mundane first period. Benoit Pouliot replaced Sheppard as the center to start the second period. And finally, as the Wild's offensive futility continued, Lemaire put Gaborik on center Mikko Koivu's right wing.
The result for Gaborik was an assist and a game-tying goal late in the third period. Calgary won it 3-2 on Todd Bertuzzi's overtime goal, although the return of Gaborik did give the Wild a point in the standings for the first time in six games.
This was a rare night when the Flames' Jarome Iginla failed to score against the Wild. A teammate was lamenting a missed scoring chance to Iginla when a reporter interrupted to ask about Gaborik's impact on the Wild lineup.
"He got one and one tonight, and they scored two goals, so I'd say his impact was big,'' Iginla said. "He's a very good player ... too good for us to leave him alone like we did on that tying goal.
"We had done a good job shutting them down in the third period, and then we let Gaborik open in the front of the net. Big mistake.''
The Wild had been futile for over 15 minutes trying to get a 2-2 tie in the third. Then, Andrew Brunette fought for the puck behind the net, pushed it to Gaborik standing alone at the crease, and there it was:
The lightning stick of Gaborik and a tying goal.
Goalie Mikka Kiprusoff, now with 20 career victories against the Wild, also was asked what Gaborik brings to what had been a goal-starved lineup.
"He's not a bad player,'' Kiprusoff said. "I think a player like that, you can never leave him open. It was bad timing, to make that error while trying to hold a one-goal lead.''
Kiprusoff and the Wild's Mikko Koivu come from Turku, Finland. They work out together in the summer.
"As a rookie, Mikko was a very good two-way player,'' Kiprusoff said. "He still is, but now he's becoming more and more dangerous. And that was a dangerous line tonight -- with Koivu, Gaborik and Brunette.''
Fortunately for Kiprusoff, he didn't see that line from the get-go. It was several shifts into the second period before Gaborik teamed with Koivu and Brunette.
Gaborik took the puck down the slot and shot, there was a rebound and Brunette was able to force it home for a 1-1 tie at 13:48 of the second.
Lemaire then used Cal Clutterbuck in Brunette's spot for a few shifts. The Inspector's explanation was the Flames were trying to get physical with Koivu, so he wanted Clutterbuck's physical style for a while.
The dangerous line was back together for most of the third period and came up with the tying goal.
Considering the Wild has a combined seven goals in a six-game losing streak, maybe Lemaire will be ready to yield and allow Gaborik to celebrate his return to the lineup with constant work with an exceptional center in Koivu.
Lemaire can take the word of Kiprusoff, who has beaten his team more than anyone in eight seasons, that Gaborik teaming with Koivu and Brunette gives a goalie a much greater sense of danger than when Gabby is aligned with Shep, Steph and their 10 total points in 30 games.
Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • firstname.lastname@example.org