Stop the clap-trap

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 3:01 PM ET

The trip down memory lane is much more fun for Nick Schultz and the Minnesota Wild the further they go back.

Minnesota, which claimed the Northwest Division title this season, has but two playoff appearances in its history.

Last spring, the Wild run ended quickly in a five-game loss to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Anaheim Ducks.

But back in 2002-03, well, that was a great time.

"It was a lot of fun," recalled Schultz, who was in his second NHL season that year.

"We were an underdog team all year, kinda flew under the radar, and got into the playoffs with not near as much talent as this year -- the past few years -- so it was something where we played a great team game, got past a couple of powerhouses in Colorado and Vancouver.

"Being the only team to come back (from down 3-1) twice was pretty special. Hopefully, we can build on moments like that."

That spring, the Wild twice came back from 3-1 deficits to win in seven games, first against the Avalanche and then against the Canucks.

Curiously, both playoff runs in the club's history ended against Anaheim.

For this spring's tournament, though, much has change, in the State of Hockey, as Minnesota likes to call itself.

For starters, Schultz -- who makes his off-season home in Calgary -- is no longer a wide-eyed kid.

"I was 20-years old when we had that run, so you don't understand the magnitude of the situation and how important the games are, you just go out there and play," Schultz said.

"After you play a couple more years, you really see how hard it is to get in the playoffs and have success in the playoffs. Experience from having gone through that has taught me how hard it is and how tough it is to have that success."

And the Wild? Well, the perception remains Minnesota's squad is the dull, boring, defence-first, trapping squad, but it's not true.

It's a quick-skating, hard-charging squad with talent capable of pouncing on the mistakes it forces opposing teams to make with a strong balanced defence.

"The big thing probably is we still play that tight defence, (head coach Jacques Lemaire) wants us tight in the neutral zone, but now when teams turn the puck over, we have more guys on the transition that can put the puck in the net," Schultz said. "That's what's different, that level of confidence we can play in the offensive zone, make plays and score goals."

The Wild roster is no longer filled with pluggers. Schultz, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and star sniper Marian Gaborik are the only players who remain from that team.

Veteran journeymen have been replaced by the likes of Pavol Demitra, Brian Rolston and outstanding young up-and-comers Mikko Koivu and Brent Burns.

Should the Wild come up against the Ducks again, Minny also has its share of knuckle-chuckers to face an Anaheim squad that is among the most penalized in the league with the likes of Derek Boogaard, Chris Simon and Todd Fedoruk. But the Wild expect to make noise on the scoreboard, knock with a Slap Shot game plan.

"You have to realize the situation you have and the chance you have to make a run," Schultz said. "We have a chance to win."

Be certain, no opposition will let the Wild sneak up on them or be caught looking past if they have Minnesota down in a series.

"That's true. I think we're now an established team, played well the last few seasons," Schultz said. "On paper, we're a lot better than we were and play a great team game with guys who have bought into the system."\


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