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Look now, Wild unbeaten

Knight Ridder Newspapers

ST. PAUL -- OK, here is your chance. Flip through the newspaper to the hockey page and clip out the NHL standings. Laminate it, frame it or tape it to the refrigerator right away because who knows how long this is going to last.

Ladies and gentlemen, your undefeated Western Conference leaders, the Minnesota Wild.

That might sound trivial in the middle of October, when the only championship at stake will be settled on a baseball diamond in California.

But take notice of the powerhouse teams not sporting a zero under the "L" column. Detroit is missing. So are Colorado and San Jose. Add the Dallas Stars to that list, too.

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In their strongest effort of this fledgling season, the Wild hosed off one of the league's hottest teams Thursday night and hung on for a 3-1 victory over the Stars in front of 18,586 at Xcel Energy Center.

Marian Gaborik scored his first two goals of the season, and Manny Fernandez made 33 saves, including several dandies in the final, furious minutes, to help push the Wild to a 3-0-1 start as they prepare to welcome the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings to St. Paul on Saturday.

"This was our best game," captain Brad Bombardir said. "We were up against a great hockey club tonight, and we performed as well as we could for 2 1/2 periods."

Ah, yes. Bombardir was referring to that 10-minute hiccup down the stretch that almost choked the Wild.

Shackled by a two-goal deficit, the Stars broke free from Minnesota's dragnet in the third period and unleashed an attack that knocked the Wild back on their heels and spun Fernandez on his head.

Ulf Dahlen's power-play goal with 4:09 remaining pulled the Stars to within a goal, practically sucking the air out of the arena until Bill Muckalt let everyone breathe again.

Muckalt, hobbled by a bone bruise in his right foot, scored an empty-net goal from the seat of his pants with 59 seconds remaining to give him three goals in two games after not scoring any in 75 spanning two seasons.

Fernandez was brilliant against his former team, making several crucial saves during the second period and in the final minutes to preserve the Wild's tenuous lead.

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Gaborik scored his first goal at 14:38, shoveling a rebound of Pascal Dupuis' drive past Marty Turco. He bagged another late in the second period, finding a seam in the Dallas defense and weaving his way into the slot to one-time a Dupuis feed from the corner through Turco for a 2-0 lead.

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