Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Red-hot Wild keeps growing as a team, climbing the standings

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Rookies, Wild game coverage Updated: March 21, 2013 - 5:23 AM
Don’t look now, but the Wild has won four in a row overall, four in a row on the road, swept a 3+-game road trip for the first time since Jan. 2011 and for the first time in history won three consecutive road games by 2+ goals each.
 
Big 4-2 win tonight in Detroit. There seemed to be misinformation out there all night that this would be the Wild’s first win in Detroit in 14 games. It was the Wild’s first regulation win in Detroit in 14 (Jan. 3, 2006), but it was actually the Wild’s fourth win here in 14 games.
 
Nevertheless, the Wild typically doesn’t play well here, just like it didn’t play well in Vancouver before ousting the Canucks 3-1 on Monday. Could this team actually vanquish the 10-year demons in Dallas? That’s right, the Wild hasn’t won in American Airlines Center since 2003. Well, it’ll have two kicks at the can next week (Monday and Friday).
 
But, as coach Mike Yeo and player after play said after tonight’s win, this is a completely different team than year’s past. It has come together impressively since Feb. 9, going 13-5-1 in the past 19 games to sit atop the Northwest Division. It has won nine of its past 12 and is getting contributions everywhere.
 
Every line has an identity. It has scored 18 goals in the past four games. The blue line is playing great, especially effortless Ryan Suter and his ice-in-his-veins partner Jonas Brodin. Suter leads all NHL players in ice time, Brodin leads all NHL rookies. The power play has scored 11 times in the past 12 games and has climbed to 14th in the NHL. The penalty kill ranks fifth.
 
And Niklas Backstrom has just been awesome, going 12-3-1 in his past 16 starts and now sitting tied for second in the NHL with 15 wins. So much for being exhausted.
 
The best part of this team right now: The been-there, done-that attitude. Suter scores in Colorado? It’s followed up by a tiny little fist pump. Win a big game in Detroit? And player after player essentially says what Backstrom said, “It’s two points tonight. Next game comes fast. We just have to move on.”
 
Same stuff was said in Vancouver. There was no big party in the locker room after winning in Vancouver for the first time since 2009.
 
“You’ve got everybody going out and playing our game and playing hard, and that’s a good feeling,” Yeo said.
 
Asked if the Wild may look back at this road trip as a big breakthough, Yeo said, “I sure hope not because we’ve been doing a real good job at just looking at what’s right in front of us.”
 
Tonight, Devin Setoguchi scored two goals. He now has goals in four of the last five games, a five-game point streak and 11 goals and 18 points in the past 19 games. He now shares the goal scoring lead with Zach Parise after going scoreless in his first 10 games.
 
Mikko Koivu scored the eventual winner, Kyle Brodziak scored and Pierre-Marc Bouchard had two assists for his third consecutive multi-point game. Huge turnaround for Bouchard to escape the doghouse. He now has a four-game point streak since being scratched in three straight. Matt Cullen also extended his point streak to six games.
 
Brodin was great again. Charlie Coyle brushed off a dirty Niklas Kronwall head shot by helping set up Koivu’s winner with a great wall play to trigger a Brodin-led 2-on-1 with Parise. Backstrom made a season-high 36 saves.
 
The Wild was outshot 38-19, but not indicative, Backstrom said. He went 17 for 17 in the first period and said the shots were to the outside.
 
A month ago, the Wild would have said its legs were predictably mush after flying across the continent on Tuesday. No more excuses, said Suter. It’s about accountability.
 
“The main thing is everyone is ready to go from the start of the game no matter who it is,” Setoguchi said. “When you’ve got everyone going and every line jumping, it just makes it that much easier to go out there and play for everyone else.”
 
On winning in Vancouver and Detroit, Brodziak said, “Over the years, the wins in these two places have been few and far between. We feel really good about our team right now. We feel confident with any line we put out there, any d-man that we put out there, Backy obviously in the net. Everyone seems to be finding their stride. We’re playing the system well, everyone’s battling hard, our confidence is up as well.
 
“Saying that though, we can’t be satisfied. We’ve got to keep working hard and doing the things that got us to this point. We want to keep growing as a team.”
 
Anyway, read the game story on www.startribune.com/wild and also the notebook on why the Wild must be cautious adding big contracts the next little while. This, like the trade deadline story in Wednesday’s paper, are must-reads in my opinion if you want to understand as a Wild fan why the Wild can’t go out the next few years and sign and trade for every big name in the NHL.
 
That’s it for me. The Wild, which by the way had its bus break down on the way to the airport after the game, has the day off Thursday. Kent Youngblood has practice Friday. I’ll talk to you Saturday from the X before and after the San Jose game. And of course, follow me on Twitter please at www.twitter.com/russostrib. You may even see me at the X for the WCHA Final Five. Can’t wait to watch.

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