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Wild heading home with mix of emotions

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On a night Jacques Lemaire called it quits, the other face of the franchise, Marian Gaborik, might have played his final game with the Wild.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On a night Jacques Lemaire called it quits, the other face of the franchise, Marian Gaborik, might have played his final game with the Wild.

Gaborik, who scored two goals and an assist in a 6-3 victory over the Blue Jackets in the Wild's season finale, sounded like a guy ready to test free agency.

"I'm open to everything," Gaborik said, "but I've waited this long. July 1 is around the corner. We're going to see what happens. To hear from 29 other teams could be kind of cool."

Asked if that meant he plans to go to free agency no matter what contract the Wild offers in the coming days, Gaborik said, "We'll see. We haven't talked all year, pretty much. But I know I'm a free agent July 1."

Gaborik has had his run-ins with Lemaire over the years, but he said his leaving "doesn't change anything" as far as his status in Minnesota.

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"It's been a great run for him and myself as well," Gaborik said. "We've had little things here and there, but every player has ups and downs with his coach. But he's done a great job with the young players to develop and teach, and myself included. I don't think this team would have its success if it wasn't for him.

"He helped me figure out there game and play all-around hockey. I appreciate that."

Gaborik, 27, the Wild's all-time leader scorer with 219 goals and 437 points in 502 games, certainly showed his star power since returning from hip surgery.

In 17 games this season, he scored 13 goals and 23 points.

"Since I got back, I felt better and better every game," Gaborik said. "Too bad we couldn't make the playoffs, but I think we finished very strong. I'm very proud of the guys. It was very fun to play with them. I'm so confident right now. I'm going to prepare myself over the to summer be stronger than ever next year and really dedicate myself to being healthier than ever."

Leave it to the Wild, but after not winning three in a row in regulation since the first three games of the season, the Wild finished the season by winning three in a row in regulation.

The Wild rallied from a 2-0 deficit, and all its unrestricted free agents -- except for Stephane Veilleux -- led the charge in what might have been their final games with the Wild.

Kurtis Foster scored his first goal since March 9, 2008, and had an assist. Martin Skoula and Marc-Andre Bergeron each scored a goal. Mikko Koivu also scored.

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The Wild finished with its third consecutive 40-victory season.

But the reality hit goalie Niklas Backstrom that the season was over. He started a team-record 20 games in a row, but Josh Harding started Saturday.

"It's just so weird. I don't even know if I have the words for what I'm feeling," said Backstrom, who said he's played in the postseason for nine consecutive years in the NHL and Europe. "It just ends like that. We've been working so hard, and suddenly, it's just over. It's still hard for me to get that. I feel like a disappointment."

It's not the healthiest thing to do, but Backstrom said he's replaying so many moments in which the Wild threw away points.

"You're looking back at what you could have done different in single games or the whole season," Backstrom said. "It's a big thing for us to learn and see even a game in December or October, it's two points."

Veilleux, 27, a third-round pick in 2001, was nervous Saturday was his 361st and last game in a Wild uniform.

"My best wish is to stay here," Veilleux said. "I have close to 400 games in the same organization. I'm proud of what I've accomplished here. I gave my 100 percent to this organization. But I know this could be it."

Fritsche recovers from hit

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Assistant GM Tom Lynn said that Wild forward Dan Fritsche sustained a dislocated clavicle when he was hit by Nashville's Jordin Tootoo on Friday night. It was put back in place and "he will be fine after a period of recovery."

Of the Wild's other unidentified injuries, Derek Boogaard had a shoulder injury and Nick Schultz has concussion-like symptoms.

Copyright (c) 2009, Star Tribune, Minneapolis/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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