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Wild shooters on Duck hunt

MINNEAPOLIS - Mention 2003 to Marian Gaborik, and he can't help but smile. The right winger was an integral piece of the Minnesota Wild's run to the Western Conference Finals, finishing third in playoff scoring with 17 points.

MINNEAPOLIS - Mention 2003 to Marian Gaborik, and he can't help but smile. The right winger was an integral piece of the Minnesota Wild's run to the Western Conference Finals, finishing third in playoff scoring with 17 points.

Mention Jean-Sebastien Giguere to Gaborik, and he suddenly looks like a man who just found out his racing simulator was stolen.

Gaborik's 17 points came in the first 14 games. Problem was, Gaborik played 18 games. Like the rest of his teammates, Giguere made him look like he was shooting a basketball into a knothole.

"He was incredible, you know?" Gaborik said of the Anaheim Ducks goaltender. "Giguere was the story of the whole series. I mean . . . we scored one goal."

That is an issue, because Giguere happens to be the same Giguere expected to tend goal for the Ducks when the Wild begin the playoffs today. Giguere, who hasn't played since March 31 because of a non-life threatening medical condition with his newborn son, returned to practice Monday.

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"I remember they were a pretty tired team (in 2003)," Giguere said. "They went all the way to Game 7 (against Vancouver), and we played them right away. We were able to take advantage of that back then."

Giguere stopped 122 of 123 shots in the four-game sweep, holding the Wild scoreless for 212 minutes, 43 seconds until Andrew Brunette scored in a 2-1 loss in Game 4. The save of the series came when Giguere dived across the crease to rob Gaborik with the paddle in a scoreless Game 1. The Wild went on to lose 1-0 in double overtime.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," center Wes Walz said of the save. "Second period. Giguere single-handedly in Game 1 won that game by himself. That game will go down in my books as one of the most disappointing games.

"We probably should have won that game by three or four goals. If we could have pulled that game out, I thought the series would have been a different series. It kind of took the wind out of our sails."

This time, however, the Wild will be facing a smaller Giguere, but not in girth.

Back in 2003, Giguere and Roberto Luongo were Exhibits A and B for having excessively large equipment. After that postseason, goalies were forced to trim down the tonnage. That, of course, didn't help the Wild during the playoffs.

Goalies no longer can have the "cheater" flap that juts down into the five hole. Also, when goalies drop into the butterfly, their chest protector can no longer pop up.

Giguere was accused of both tactics in the 2003 playoffs, a dream postseason in which he led the Ducks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and became the fifth losing player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

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"When someone's playing that well and guys can't get a puck past him, you're going to look for excuses," defenseman Nick Schultz said. "Everyone thought stuff was wrong with his equipment, that he had two sets of pads and would hide the illegal, bigger ones after games."

But Schultz said, laughing, "There never ever was any evidence it was illegal."

Walz agrees, saying, "Regardless of what people think, when you win the Conn Smythe, you're a great goalie. It's important for us to get enough traffic in front of him and make him go side to side."

In fact, winger Mark Parrish will be especially important. Last season, Giguere had a tendency to melt down when forwards got too close to his crease (once taking 16 penalty minutes when Edmonton's Ryan Smyth bumped him).

"I look forward to the challenge," Parrish said. "There's not too many pretty goals in the playoffs. There's not going to be too many Tic-Tac-Toe, wide-open shots from the perimeter."

Russo writes for the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

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