Gaborik says he's planning to play vs. Flames
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Wild fans have grown so frustrated with Marian Gaborik's contract status and 27-game absence that mentions of his name over the Xcel Energy Center speakers have brought boos a couple of times this season.
Minnesota's star right wing should find out how the customers feel on Wednesday night. Gaborik declared himself "good to go" to face the Calgary Flames and, pending final consultation with coach Jacques Lemaire, will appear in a game for the first time since Oct. 14.
The next day, he hurt part of his lower body -- presumably that long-problematic groin muscle, though the team won't specify injuries anymore -- which made his future with the Wild even more uncertain. Gaborik's contract expires this summer, and negotiations on an extension broke off before he was hurt. Attempts by the team to trade him have predictably hit a wall.
With the Wild struggling to score, their 76 goals being the fewest in the Western Conference, Gaborik and his All-Star offensive skills have been missed.
Their losing streak is at five games, and they've scored five goals during that span.
"I want to get out there and make a difference, but obviously I want to be cautious," Gaborik said after a spirited practice Tuesday that lasted about 90 minutes.
Lemaire left the decision on when to return up to Gaborik, who missed 34 games two years ago due to a nagging groin injury. The active roster is at 22 players, so if Gaborik comes off injured reserve the team does not have to make a corresponding move.
"More than likely I'll go," Gaborik said, adding: "I think I'm at the point where I can go out there and play a game. I don't think it will get any better. Obviously sometimes I feel discomfort, but I think by playing games it's going to get there. To get out there and get into game shape, I'm looking forward to it."
Gaborik skated Tuesday on a line with James Sheppard and Stephane Veilleux. Lemaire, naturally, cautioned against assuming the return of the franchise's career scoring leader would immediately boost production.
"A lot of people, they figure he's going to come back, he's going to settle every problem we have on this team. We're going to start to score five goals five-on-five and six on the power play," Lemaire said. "It won't happen."
The Wild are an unimpressive 8-6-1 at home. They've fallen a few games behind Vancouver and Calgary in the Northwest Division standings during their slump, so Wednesday will be an important night.
Lemaire, though, also cautioned against expecting Gaborik to be at 100 percent. Skating is only part of the equation in returning from a long injury absence. It takes at least a few games to rebuild the strength necessary to take the hits and the holds and battle for pucks in the corner and in front of the net.
"That gets you tired," Lemaire said. "It's not like skating. I'm telling you."
The coach declined to divulge whether Brent Burns would move back to the blue line on Wednesday if Gaborik plays, but Burns was working on defense during Tuesday's practice.
As for his reception from the home crowd, Gaborik said he wasn't worried.
"It's totally up to them how they're going to take it, but I think I've done pretty good so far for this team," he said. "So I don't think they can have anything bad against me. So we'll see."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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