Wild no longer running scared

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:58 AM ET

Looking back, Wes Walz believes fear was the major key to the Minnesota Wild's remarkable 2003 playoff run.

"I remember going into the series with Colorado and the experts were predicting we wouldn't win a game or score more than a goal a game," recalled the Wild centre of the run which ended at the Western Conference final.

"We played Colorado scared as could be and I think that's why we had success. We were scared to be embarrassed. Even against Vancouver, we didn't want to be embarrassed.

"I don't think we're scared now. You're nervous because any team you match up against is going to be a difficult chore but we were more scared to be embarrassed back then."

It ended up the Wild were far from embarrassed in their first foray into the NHL post-season. The Wild twice came back from 3-1 series deficits, knocking out Colorado and Vancouver in seven games in the opening two rounds.

Anaheim took Minnesota out of the playoffs in the conference final, en route to its run to the final.

This time, though, the Wild would surprise no one by reaching that far. Or beyond.

Minnesota cracked the 100-point barrier for the first time in franchise history.

The team has offensive firepower that goes beyond Marian Gaborik with the likes of Pavol Demitra, Brian Rolston, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and up-and-coming Mikko Koivu -- all solid goal scorers. This is a much deeper squad and opposing teams know it.

"We have three lines that can score at any time and back then we had one line," said Walz, one of only three original Wild players remaining from the inaugural club from 2000-01. "I guess we had two lines but now I know I don't have to worry so much about scoring because we're a more rounded team."

They are certainly not the boring squad of the pre-lockout era. The Wild aren't yet an offensive juggernaut -- sitting around 20th in league goal scoring -- but they're not a dull squad. Walz insists their game is based on speed and strong defence, although people still refer to them as the trapping club.

"Is that still out there?" he said of the reputation. "We heard it a lot back then but we never considered ourselves a trapping team then.

"To be honest, that word never even came up in our dressing room.

"It still hasn't. I've been here seven years and never heard that word come out of our coach's mouth, no joke.

"It's all just paying attention to detail and being solid on the puck."

Besides, at this time of year, all that matters is winning. Perception is irrelevant and Walz doesn't care what outsiders say about his team.

"We're back in the tournament," he said. "We've got as good a chance as anybody else to win. Look at one through eight in our conference and it doesn't matter who you play in the first round, you're playing a team that's really good.

"You're going to really need some breaks. You need to stay healthy, you need great goaltending and you need to play well. Our goal is to be playing well going into the playoffs and that's all we're going to concentrate on."


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