<
>

Chouinard's hat trick leads Minnesota past Calgary

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- The crowd was roaring, the Minnesota Wild
were ready, and Miikka Kiprusoff and the Calgary Flames came out
flat.

Marc Chouinard scored three goals and Todd White added a goal
and two assists, leading the Wild past the Flames 6-3 on Wednesday
night in the season opener for both teams.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard had three assists, and Brent Burns and Kyle
Wanvig each contributed a power-play goal for Minnesota, which
surprised defending Western Conference champion Calgary and its
stellar goalie Kiprusoff with an outburst of offense.

The Wild, who held a 16-3 shot advantage in the first period,
led 3-0 until late in the second.

"You spot a team that much momentum, point-blank chances, stuff
like that, it's not a good game," said Jarome Iginla, whose goal
pulled the Flames within 4-3 midway through the third period. "We
were standing still the whole game. It's not good enough."

Dwayne Roloson, an All-Star in 2004, had 28 saves for the Wild,
a small but speedy team that's never been much of a scoring threat
but figures to take advantage of the league's new rules designed to
open up the game and make it more fan-friendly.

"It's going to be up in the air pretty much every night," said
Chouinard, a five-year veteran who notched his first NHL hat trick
after totaling a career-high 11 goals in 2003-04.

Minnesota is hurting a bit up front, where top skater Marian
Gaborik (groin) is on injured reserve and rookie center Mikko Koivu
(knee) is expected to miss a month. Calgary has one of the league's
biggest and best blue-line units, especially after adding free
agent Roman Hamrlik this summer.

But for all but the middle of the final period, this was a
mismatch the other way.

"You know they're going to come out of the gate hard," said
Flames coach Darryl Sutter, who criticized the performance of his
first line -- Steve Reinprecht, Chris Simon and Chuck Kobasew -- and
defensive pair -- Andrew Ference and Steve Montador.

Kiprusoff, who led the league with a 1.70 goals-allowed average
in 2003-04 -- his first with the Flames, uncharacteristically gave
up several long rebounds. He found himself way out of position on
the Wild's first goal, just 103 seconds into the game when
Chouinard nearly fell over poking the puck past Ference.

"They were shooting a lot, so there were a lot of rebounds,"
Kiprusoff said. "But I've got to do a better job."

Reinprecht picked up an interference penalty late in the first
period, giving Minnesota its first power play. Burns scored from
the point with 2 seconds left before the buzzer, making it 2-0.

The importance of special teams units should be greater this
season with an expected increase in obstruction penalties under the
league's vow to crack down on them, and the Wild have to be happy
with theirs so far -- going 2-for-3 on the power play and killing
seven of the Flames' eight chances.

Early in the second, after Simon was called for hooking, Wanvig
gave Minnesota a three-goal lead when he took Bouchard's pass from
the corner and scored from the top of the crease.

"I thought we were in good shape -- and demonstrated we were in
good shape," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "We skated well."

Daymond Langkow scored a power-play goal for the Flames, who
then stormed back late in the third period with goals by Stephane
Yelle and Iginla in a span of less than 90 seconds to cut the lead
to 4-3.

But White, acquired in a trade with Ottawa on draft day, gave
his new team some space with his goal with a little more than 3
minutes remaining -- prompting a "sieve, sieve, sieve!" chant from
an arena-record overflow record crowd of 19,398. Chouinard chipped
in an empty-netter with 3.9 seconds left.

"We have a very loud crowd, and I know it can be
intimidating," Chouinard said.

Game notes
Minnesota's other goalie, Manny Fernandez, didn't suit up
because of muscle spasms in his neck and upper back. Lemaire said
he should be ready for Saturday's game at Phoenix. ... Langkow,
another addition for Calgary, was acquired in an August 2004 trade
with Phoenix. ... Alex Henry is the captain this month for the
Wild, who have continued their unique tradition of rotating the
players who wear the "C" on the jersey.