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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Columbus 4, Wild 2; Controversial tying goal; Falk injured by head shot?; Strong debut for Wellman

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: March 19, 2010 - 11:18 PM

Where to begin? Didn't I say that last night?

I could have written 40 inches on this game.

I hate to go after the officiating (but I will), especially in a game the Wild played on its heels basically the final 37 minutes. From the moment Casey Wellman beautifully set up Chuck Kobasew for a 2-0 Wild lead 2:42 into the second period, the Wild looked like a different team.

It stopped attacking, it was often pinned in its own end. At 2-0, I said to the writer across the river, "They're going to blow this game."

Part of the reason I said that is Justin Falk was injured (more on that in a sec), and after playing the night before, we've all seen this storyline before, and recently (the Shane Hnidy injury). The Wild was down to five D for basically 2/3 of this game (4/5 of the Hnidy game), and you could see the fatigue sprinkling in tonight. And since the Wild's offense stems from the blue line, it was so visible this was going to be a problem (plus, offensive defenseman Brent Burns is already out with an injury). The Wild just couldn't get up the ice, or generate an offensive attack the second half of the game after it did enter Columbus' end.

But, and I tried in the paper to be professional and objective and let the Wild do the talking, but this is my blog and I'm allowed more latitude here.

If the league's got any desire of actually fixing these type of mistakes by referees and show them when they've blatantly erred, I'd hope referee Stephane Auger has an email waiting for him Saturday morning from Director of Officiating Terry Gregson with a video clip.

There is no way any rational league executive can look at the replay of Kris Russell's tying goal and say that R.J. Umberger didn't blatantly break Rule 69.1 (interference with a goaltender), which in part reads, "The overriding rationale of this rule is that a goalkeeper should have the ability to move freely within his goal crease without being
hindered by the actions of an attacking player. If an attacking player enters the goal crease and, by his actions, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed."

Auger blew it, plain and simple. Sometimes this rule is gray because the goalie will stray outside the blue paint. In this case, it is plain as day. Harding's in the blue. Umberger backs into him BEFORE Russell's shot gets there and Harding is impeded from making the save.

Harding felt the same thing happened to him in Nashville when Patric Hornqvist looked like his clone Tomas Holmstrom and got into Harding's kitchen on Marcel Goc's goal. 

"Last night the ref told me if I made an attempt to come out and save the puck, then that’s goalie interference. Last night I had nowhere to go. He was definitely in my crease and tonight it happened again," Harding said.

Check the gamer for more Harding quotes.

"Umberger skates in and he’s in the crease and josh goes to make the save and he’s not allowed to," Todd Richards said. 

That made the game 2-2, and 27 seconds later, in the a series of incredible mixups, the Wild gave up the breakaway winner to Rick Nash. Basically, a puck popped out after a bad pinch, but there were only four players on the ice. Why? Cam Barker broke his stick, went to the bench, and according to Richards, there was confusion as to whether Barker was getting a new stick or going for a line change.

Nick Schultz jumped on, but then in fear of too many men because both were on, both Barker and Schultz stepped through the door just as Nash flew by on their wing, incidentally. It happened so quickly.

Now, onto Justin Falk, just terrible for this kid. He sprints into town to make his NHL debut because Greg Zanon's been playing on a broken ankle. He dresses for his first-ever game, plays a strong first period and 4:27 into the second, he's not seen again.

Now, I did not see the play perfectly because it was deep in the Wild end and play was at the red line when anybody realized he was down. I saw part of it, the tail end, what I thought at first was a cross-check. I did see the aftermath of him on the ice, looking dazed and staring at referee Brad Watson like, "Did you see that?" Watson just stared back. According to Richards, to start the third, Auger told him neither ref saw what happened.

So what happened? According to the Wild (and they say the angle of the video's not the greatest), Columbus' Andrew Murray nailed Falk with a shot to the head that Richards compared to the blindside head shot that Matt Cooke gave to Marc Savard a few weeks ago.

"To me it looks similar to the hit that savard took," said Richards. "He’s in a vulnerable position, he’s getting ready to clear the puck out of the zone and it looks like on the video that the blow’s straight to the head. He was out of it right away. That's real unfortunate for him."

Regardless as to whether the league reviews this or not, Falk has a concussion. He said he didn't remember the hit or really anything other than getting to the bench afterward. He's very concerned because he said this is the first time he's had concussion symptoms and was mostly frustrated that this was his first NHL game and this is how it ended for him. He had a shot on his first NHL shift and blocked two shots in 10 shifts.

Wellman was real good. Fast, great instincts. He only played four shifts in the first period because there were 10 minutes of penalties, and he didn't play special teams. On his fifth shift, Barker lunged forward to keep a puck in and Nathan Paetsch couldn't handle the puck. Wellman pounced, deked left, skated around Marc Methot and on his backhand crossed a beauty to Kobasew. He drew a minor driving the net, had two shots, set up Kyle Brodziak and nearly had his first goal.

Forgotten in the game, you know how Umberger played checker in the Wild crease on Columbus' tying goal, he played the role of goalie on a big Wellman chance. With half the net to shoot into after a great move, Wellman shot it off Umberger's skate and Mathieu Garon covered. If Wellman scores, it's 3-0 and maybe the game's over.

"That was, that was ridiculous," Wellman said.

Anyway, I'm done. Season's going down the tubes. Detroit, before tonight's games, was on pace for 95 points I believe. Wild would have to go 11-0 to get to 96 now.

Good night Irene. The Wild's not practicing Saturday, so I'll write a notebook of leftovers and try to get some injury updates.

Nate Prosser did skate warmups for the first time tonight. Robbie Earl and Jaime Sifers will likely clear waivers at 11 a.m. If so, they can stay for 10 games or be sent back to Houston. With Falk now hurt, I'd think at least Sifers stays.

OK, early flight. 

 

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