By Andy Lefkowitz
(AP) — For years, Marian Gaborik provided the scoring and Derek Boogaard added the punch for the Minnesota Wild.
Now with the New York Rangers, the duo returns to St. Paul on Saturday night to meet their former club for the first time.
Selected third overall by Minnesota in the 2000 draft, Gaborik quickly emerged as the face of the franchise, and was the team’s all-time leading scorer with 219 goals and 218 assists before signing as a free agent with New York in July 2009.
Gaborik’s numbers probably would have been significantly higher had he not missed 154 out of 656 regular-season games, mostly with hip and groin injuries. He sat out with a lower-body injury in the Rangers’ most recent trip to the Xcel Energy Center, a 3-2 loss Oct. 30, 2009.
Gaborik missed only six games in his first season with New York while leading the club with 42 goals and 44 assists. He has four goals in two assists in his last five contests after missing 12 with a separated left shoulder.
Coincidentally, Gaborik’s best NHL game came against the Rangers in Minnesota. He scored five goals – the last player with that many in one game – with an assist in the Wild’s 6-3 win Dec. 20, 2007.
Unlike Gaborik, Boogaard’s offensive contributions are limited at best. He totaled 14 points in 255 games for the Wild from 2005-09, but the 6-foot-8, 257-pound forward finished second in club history with 544 penalty minutes.
Seeking protection for goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, New York signed Boogaard to a four-year, $6.5 million contract in July.
“Derek is obviously the biggest and the toughest,” Rangers general manager Glen Sather said. “I think we needed that presence here. There was just too many times last year when I saw guys scraping snow into Henrik’s face around the front of the net and I didn’t like it.”
Boogaard has just 31 penalty minutes in 15 games, but the highlight of his season came when he scored for the first time in 268 games during the Rangers’ 5-3 loss to Washington on Nov. 9.
New York’s two-game swing got off to a poor start with 5-1 loss to Colorado on Friday, denying coach John Tortorella his 300th career win. Lundqvist was pulled midway through the second period after giving up three consecutive goals
“That kind of killed the game,” he said. “I don’t think we were that bad, we just needed a couple of more saves to keep us in the game. But we didn’t get it.”
Lundqvist will likely start despite being 0-2-0 with a 4.88 goals-against average over his career in Minnesota.
After Jose Theodore stopped 41 shots in the Wild’s 4-3 overtime win in Detroit on Friday, Niklas Backstrom is expected to face New York.
Backstrom is 8-4-2 with a 1.91 GAA and one shutout this season. He’s also been red-hot at home lately, allowing only three goals to help Minnesota (10-6-2) win three straight.
Theodore gave up three straight goals late in the second and early in the third periods Friday before Mikko Koivu tied it with 1:23 remaining in regulation. John Madden scored at 4:18 of the extra session as the Wild won their third in a row overall.
“It’s a tough place to play and a tough place to win,” Theodore said. “Our guys showed character by just coming back.”
Minnesota will seek its fourth straight win at home over New York (10-9-1).
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