Patrick Reusse: Back in playoffs, Rolston seeks an improved finish

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 10, 2007 - 6:01 PM

Postseason disappointments led to a departure from Boston. Now, veteran Brian Rolston will try to regain his scoring touch for the Wild.

Brian Rolston
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Brian Rolston

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Brian Rolston has not been out of the first round of the NHL playoffs in a decade. His most recent postseason experiences were not good ones with the Boston Bruins.

Rolston signed with the Wild on July 8, 2004. It was the early stage of a Bruins purge following another playoff flop.

On the day he signed, Rolston said of his stay in Boston: "Two of the past three seasons, we had 100 points and didn't get out of the first round. It was disappointing to the organization, to me."

This was before the lockout, before shootout points were being handed out, and when 100 points still was the mark of a tremendous season.

Boston was the No. 1 seed in the East in 2002 and lost to Montreal in six games. Two years later, the Bruins were the No. 2 seed and lost to Montreal in seven games.

Rolston had one goal and no assists in that series. He joined Mike Knuble and Michael Nylander as veterans allowed to leave as free agents. The Bruins waited until after the lockout to complete the purge, sending Joe Thornton to San Jose on Nov. 30, 2005.

The Bruins have gone backward. Thornton has regained his superstar status in San Jose. And after three years, Rolston has returned to the playoffs in Minnesota.

Rolston's first year here was spent waiting out the lockout. Last season, he reached career highs in goals (34) and assists (45) but did so in a year when the Wild's front office was committed to avoiding the playoffs.

The reinforcements arrived last summer. There was a fast start for both the team and Rolston. He had nine goals in October. Those personal bests from the 2005-06 season seemed destined to fall.

Rolston missed three games in early February because of a virus. There was a 13-game stretch in and around the illness when he scored one goal.

He went from a team MVP candidate to a 34-year-old looking for some late-season momentum. The Wild insiders have been suggesting that Rolston, more than anyone, has to pick up his game from its recent standard for this opening series with Anaheim.

"I had a little bit of a setback with the flu," he said. "I feel like I found my game again toward the end of the season. I'm healthy. I feel great. Let's get started."

Rolston won a Stanley Cup in 1995 as a rookie with the New Jersey Devils. He played in six playoff games and was productive with two goals and an assist.

"I might not have been a big part of that team, but I know what it's like to win a Stanley Cup," Rolston said. "It's why we all play the game -- to get in the playoffs and make a run."

Jacques Lemaire was Rolston's coach in 1995, as he has been in Minnesota.

"Early in your career, there are times when Jacques is pointing out things, and you wonder, 'Does this guy really know what he's talking about?' " Rolston said. "But when you're a veteran, when you've been around the NHL, it all makes sense.

"It's a definite advantage to have Jacques on the bench. He knows what it takes to win. And if we do what he says, we can win, even though Anaheim is an excellent hockey club."

Defensemen Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer will be the main obstacles for the Wild's top two lines: Demitra-Walz-Gaborik and Bouchard-White-Rolston.

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Brian Rolston