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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Niederreiter takes Cooke's spot on checking line; Cooke suspension length coming

Posted by: Michael Russo under Rookies, Wild news, Wild practice Updated: April 23, 2014 - 4:14 PM

Wild veteran left Matt Cooke and GM Chuck Fletcher were in New York today for an in-person hearing stemming from Cooke’s knee-on-knee hit on Colorado’s Tyson Barrie on Monday.

Cooke faces a significant suspension, one that is expected to be announced later today (I'll blog later when ruling is out). Remember, Cooke can appeal any suspension to Commissioner Gary Bettman and any suspension six games or more to a neutral arbitrator. He cannot play during any appeals process.

So at the very minimum, we shouldn’t expect to see Cooke again in the first round. Want to hear my thoughts on Cooke and other interesting things? Last night, I did another edition of Denver Post Avs beat writer Adrian Dater’s Podcast, “Hockey Talk.” Fox 9’s Dawn Mitchell also joins! We talk about a number of interesting things, I think. Here’s the link!!! It’s about an hour. Last week’s one is also on iTunes. (free).

Good day from the X, the site of Game 4 Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. CT. The NHL has announced that Game 5 will be at 7:30 p.m. MT/8:30 p.m. CT on Saturday from the Pepsi Center in Denver.

With Cooke suspended, youngster Nino Niederreiter will take Cooke’s spot on the left side of the shutdown line with rookies Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine on Thursday. Haula, Fontaine and Cooke were largely credited for helping slow the Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Nathan MacKinnon line in Monday’s 1-0 OT win.

Fontaine and Haula were quick to say it was a team effort of five-man units, good gaps and large portions of the game played in the offensive zone. That must continue.

If you remember, in almost identical circumstances, the Wild returned to Minnesota to play Game 3 last year against the Blackhawks. In almost identical circumstances, the Wild needed an overtime win (Jason Zucker’s heroics off Matt Cullen’s setup) to beat Chicago in a game the Wild dominated. Sound familiar?

The Wild then came out in Game 4, started well, didn’t score, went 0 for 6 on the power play and lost 3-0 to the Blackhawks. That set the stage for a Game 5 blowout.

You know that Colorado will come out a desperate team in Game 4 because it knows a victory means it can close the series at home Saturday. The Wild must exceed that desperation Thursday to even up the series.

With Cooke coming out of the lineup, Kyle Brodziak enters back in the fray. Scratched in Game 3, Brodziak will center the fourth line with Dany Heatley and Cody McCormick.

Here’s some of coach Mike Yeo’s thoughts from today:

On putting Niederreiter on that third line: "Yeah, obviously like I said yesterday there's some things we discussed, different scenarios we could have tried. Probably looking at the way Haulzie and Fonzie played, trying to keep that intact. Adding a guy who can be strong on the puck, whose responsible defensively and can play a strong two-way game and that was important to us. Obviously a good challenge for three young kids."

Concerned about youth? “Listen, they're a big part of our team. We have confidence in those guys so we're not going to try to hide anybody out here. Obviously if we feel it's not working, I'm comfortable with any line. I'm comfortable with any of our centermen. If that's their assignment they'll take care of it and if we put somebody else on the task they'll have to take care of it too”

Evaluate Niederreiter’s year: “I think it's been very good. It would be easy to sit here and say he started off one way and finished another. It's the time of year where the hockey has improved and the pace of play has improved. What I really appreciate about him is we've been able to insert him into different roles. We've put him in a scoring role, we've put him in a checking role and he's always sort of adapted. To me, that's the sign of a good player. That's the sign of a guy who's going to have a good career. He's not pigeon-holed. For a player like that, big strong, physical guy he has skill. I feel really good about how he's developed and I think it's been a good first year for him here.”

Urgency needed Thursday: “Well, there better be. It’s not like we’re ahead in the series here. We’re down and I think we recognize that they’re going to come in with a real strong effort next game. i think that they recognize the importance of the next game, let’s not kid ourselves, and I think we should too. We would love the opportunity to go back to Colorado with some momentum, we’d love the opportunity to go back to Colorado and hopefully they’re feeling a bit of pressure. I think that game is going to be an important one.”

Last year proof of that?: “That’s part of it. Let’s not kid ourselves, we know it’s a swing game, for sure. I look closely at that game last year, we had a real good start and then the game kind of got away from us. I think what’s important is, we understand the result we want to have but there’s a way we have to do it and there’s a way we have to play the game. We have to make sure we’re ready for that.”

Built up momentum in Game 3, does Cooke let air out of the balloon?: “It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen. We started the game really well, we built momentum and they started to come on as the game went on. I thought we were actually tight starting overtime. Getting that goal was big for us because it felt like that was the first sign of us starting  to fear that maybe something was getting away from us. I think getting that goal was huge, for me momentum it’s always there, it’s always something that you feel but at the same time, it’s always something you have to establish and keep or establish. So, going into next game, I think both teams will recognize the importance of the start. I know they’re going to come out hard and obviously our guys are going to have to too. We’re going to have to be ready to, not only come out hard, but sharp. If they’re going to pressure harder, we have to move the puck a little bit better, if they;re going to play more physical, we’re going to have to be ready to take hits to make plays, whatever the case is, at the same time, we’re gotta make sure that we’re ready to dictate and not just sit there see what they’re going to bring.” 

Brodziak, what do you want?: “You know, the same things that we always want from him. Obviously penalty killing will be important and sort of a defensive-minded presence on the ice but a guy who’s going to be play the game hard both ends of the ice and a guy who’s going to be strong on the puck. That’s really not a big change for him, and I’m confident he’ll come in and play well.”

Heatley, and how well he played: “I was real happy to see the way that he came in. I give real credit to him the way that he’s handled himself since being out. For a veteran guy like that and the success that he’s had, to not start in our lineup, he handled it with a great deal of professionalism. But more importantly he made sure that he was ready. The fact that he’s been around, that he understands that there’s going to be changes for injury or performance. He made sure that he was ready, and obviously if he keeps going the way he’s at, it’s a great thing for us and he’ll continue to get more opportunities.”

Who initiates physical play now without Cooke?: “I think that typically we’re not a team that one looks to one guy and sees how he’s playing and then we all react to it. We had the opportunity before Game 3 where I met with every player and just kind of figured out where they’re at mentally, and they sat there and told me what they were going to bring. We have an attitude as a group that we all play sort of the same way of how we play without the puck, how we play with the puck and again, whether that’s finishing a check or how you play in your own zone, or how that’s how you execute with the puck, we try to all be on the same page. So I would expect the same tomorrow.”

On Thursday, I'll be on KFAN at some time in the morning on P.A.'s show (9:55 a.m. subject to change), on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio Sirius 207 XM 211 at 3:20 p.m., on NHL Network's NHL Live (arena cam) at 5:35 p.m. and on KFAN with Barreiro at 5:55 p.m.

Joey Hishon, the 2010 first-round pick by the Avs, has been recalled and will make his NHL debut on Colorado's fourth line and the power play. Ryan Wilson replaced Barrie on the blue line.

Matt Cooke to appear at NHL headquarters Wednesday afternoon

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild practice Updated: April 22, 2014 - 3:48 PM

Wild veteran left wing Matt Cooke will have an in-person hearing Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. ET at NHL headquarters in New York for his knee-on-knee hit that injured Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie in Game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.

Barrie sustained an injury to his left medial collateral ligament and is expected to miss four to six weeks, Avs coach Patrick Roy said.

Cooke, who is unavailable for comment until later this week, faces a suspension that can exceed five games (criteria of in-person hearing). Any suspension can be appealed to Commissioner Gary Bettman after the fact. If Cooke is suspended six or more games, he has the right to appeal Bettman’s ruling to a neutral arbitrator.

Cooke, who was assessed a two-minute minor for kneeing, is expected to be represented by agent Pat Morris, an NHLPA representative and Wild GM Chuck Fletcher. The hearing will in front of former defenseman Stephane Quintal, who has taken Brendan Shanahan’s role on an interim basis since the discipline czar (so to speak) left for Toronto. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly is also part of the process.

Quintal and Roy, by the way, were teammates in Montreal briefly.

Since players don’t receive salaries in the playoffs, Cooke can only be fined, but he won’t lose salary that would come with a regular-season suspension.

It'll be interesting to see the eventual video explanation from the NHL because it's hard to see the difference between Cooke's knee and many in this NHL video showing the difference between suspension-worthy knees, non-suspension worthy knees and those worthy of just a fine. Chicago's Bryan Bickell had a similar knee against St. Louis' Vladimir Sobotka in Game 2 of that playoff series. But Bickell's name isn't Matt Cooke and Sobotka didn't suffer a serious injury.

Today was a day off for both teams, so subject to NHL media regulations for two days in between games, both the Wild and Avs made Mike Yeo and Roy available only.

At the very minimum, Cooke won’t play again in the first round. Yeo discussed this likelihood, how his suspension will affect the team and things did get testy when a Denver Post columnist tried to turn Yeo’s words upside down like the coach told Cooke to target Avs players.

From the start of this series, Yeo and Roy have made it clear that the gameplan is to finish checks on opposing top players. Before the series even started, Roy himself said the Avs had to make life difficult on players like Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund and to make sure that if they’re going to play big minutes, the minutes better be hard minutes.

Yeo’s reaction on the Cooke in-person hearing: “Yeah, obviously things you don’t want to have happen. I think we all want to play good, physical, intense hockey. At the same time, I know that they want to do the same to us. Neither side wants to see anyone get hurt. Obviously on our part, we don’t want to see one of our players get suspended. Obviously not going to be sitting here and saying we’re in a great mood about any of that.”

How does it affect lineup? “Today’s a day off for players and the rest of the coaches. Obviously I’ve already started to think about that, but we’ll have a chance to get together in the morning and discuss it further.”

There are likely three options if one assumes Yeo’s not fiddling with Zach Parise-Granlund-Jason Pominville (I’ll bet my life on that one) and Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle.

Cooke-Erik Haula-Justin Fontaine did an admirable job shutting down Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Nathan MacKinnon on Monday. They went from 13 combined points in Games 1 and 2 to no points and seven shots in Game 3.

Haula and Fontaine will obviously stay, so the options would be Nino Niederreiter, Stephane Veilleux or Kyle Brodziak.

Veilleux could probably slide in seamlessly because he’s a left wing and let’s be honest, that’s his role. But my guess is Niederreiter goes there. Niederreiter has played third line for parts of this season, has the size and Yeo has talked a lot the second half about Niederreiter’s solid defensive wherewithal. Also, Yeo has said a few times recently that Niederreiter is much better on the left side than the right.

If Niederreiter moves up, either Veilleux would slide into the fourth line or Brodziak would. If that were the case, McCormick would likely move to wing with Dany Heatley, who played well Monday.

Yeo on how much Cooke meant to this team- “He’s an important player to our team, there’s no question. There’s a reason he was brought here and physicality is only a very small part of it really. It’s his leadership. It’s his experience. It’s his role as a penalty killer and a checking forward. So, certainly it’s a loss to our lineup. We’ve been a team that has been able to overcome injuries at different points of the season and at different positions. When you look at some of the guys that we have that are either on a fourth line, or even out of the lineup for that matter, these are guys that have played not only third line but even higher, second or even first-line roles at different situations during the year. So we have guys that we know are capable of coming in and filling that void, and obviously that’s going to be an important thing for our team to get adjusted to quickly.”

Was this the risk in signing Cooke? Like I told you on last night's blog, I can provide countless examples every game where Cooke has shown he's a different player than yesteryear. He normally errs on the side of caution whenever somebody's in a vulnerable position, doesn't have the puck or has a chance to be blown up. The stats and his off-ice video work have shown he has reformed (no major penalties since 2011, and ...

But let’s be honest, it was obvious that if Cooke ever crossed the line, the league would take his history (six previous suspensions) into count. So, again, was this the risk in signing Cooke?

“I don’t really want to get into that,” Yeo said. “Obviously, listen, I had the experience of working with Cookie when I was in Pittsburgh and there was a history before he came to Pittsburgh. And he was a real important part of our team, a real good person on and off the ice and helped our team win a championship. So, for me, I was looking at what he did then. I looked at, Chuck obviously as well, looked at the way that he’s been able to change his game since a couple of the things that happened, and that was kind of our focus.”

Does Cooke represent the league well? Yeo: “I’m not going to get into that. Listen, you’re asking me to sit here and criticize my player. I’m not going to do that. I don’t want to get into a whole laundry list of things trying to defend him. This is a situation that happened in the game last night and I believe the league is going to handle this. They always do and they’ve obviously looked at it very carefully.”

Cooke’s absence pretty big on that third line? Yeo: “First off, like I said, he was part of that matchup line. But I do believe that we have other guys that are capable of filling that void. Again, this is a tough loss for us, but I know that’s a tough loss for them and I’m sure they’re not going to sit around and feel sorry for themselves. They’re going to try to find guys that can fill the void, and that’s been a team that’s been able to overcome injuries this year, and we’ve been a team that’s been able to overcome injuries, and that’s part of what the playoffs is about, dealing with different types of adversities that come your way. So that’s the challenge.

“These are things that we’ll discuss. I thought that Fontaine was a nice complement to that line so I don’t expect to make any changes there, and obviously part of the reason that Haulzy was there was his speed. So you can expect to see that line stay the same. But where we go from there, I’m not exactly sure yet, and certainly we have a few ideas, but we’ll hammer that out a little bit more in the morning.”

Do your skill guys need to be more on guard?

Yeo: “Well, this is playoffs. They’ve said it themselves that they’re trying to target certain guys, and likewise we’re trying to target certain guys as far as playing physical, but no one wants to see anybody get hurt. That’s not their intention to hurt us. That’s not our intention to hurt them. But this is a fast, physical game, and you look around the league at playoff hockey, it’s hard-hitting. So I think that players are always aware of that. I know that our guys are always aware that a Cody McLeod or a Patrick Bordeleau is trying to get them every time they’re on the ice, and they’re ready for that, and likewise we have to make sure that we’re ready to play a hard, physical game as well.”

Denver Post columnist: So you wanted Cooke to target specific guys? Yeo: “Don’t get into this, alright? I know where you want to spin this. But listen, I want our players when somebody is in front of them to finish their check. That’s hockey. So if you think that I’m saying, ‘Go take him out.’ No, you’re wrong. There’s a lot more respect in this game than that and we have a lot more respect for the game than that. So what we say to our guys is if you have an opportunity to finish your check, finish your check. And that’s the same thing that I’m sure that they’re saying there, too.

What’s Cooke been like in the locker room? Yeo: "I would say that he’s been great for us. I’m not sure that he’s got a charging or a major or boarding penalty this year, I’m not sure. But more importantly he’s been an important leader to our group. We’ve got a lot of young kids on this team, and I think he’s done a real good job helping these kids become pros and helping these guys ride the ups and downs of the season. Certainly, in playoff time, if you look at the adversity that we faced in Game 1 and how things went in Game 2,  he was a guy that helped us regroup and get reset and refocused for this past game."

The unfortunate part of today is it was mostly a follow on the Cooke-Barrie incident, not Mikael Granlund’s overtime thrilling goal or Darcy Kuemper’s shutout. Kuemper will obviously start Game 4. Ryan Wilson will replace Barrie in Colorado’s lineup. More on that in Wednesday’s Star Tribune.

From Elias: Mikael Granlund's first NHL playoff goal earned the Wild a 1-0 overtime victory in Game 3 of its series against the Avalanche. Granlund is only the fifth NHL player in the last 75 years to score his first career playoff goal in a 1-0 overtime game. The others were Andrei Zyuzin (1998), Ruslan Fedotenko (2002), Niko Dimitrakos (2004) and Ryan O'Reilly (2010).

From Elias: Darcy Kuemper, making the first playoff start of his NHL career, recorded 22 saves in his 1-0 overtime victory against the Avalanche on Monday night. Kuemper is only the second goaltender in NHL history to post a 1-0 overtime win in his first postseason start. The first was the Red Wings' Normie Smith, whose first playoff start came in what is still the longest playoff game in NHL history, Detroit's 1-0 victory over the Montreal Maroons on March 24, 1936, which Smith won when Mud Bruneteau scored at the 16:30 mark of the sixth overtime period.

Here is a transcript of Roy from today (courtesy of colleague Rachel Blount):


--Regarding the Wild playing so well at home last night:
This conference is so good. Looking at one stat today, 0-11 on the road. Is that a surprise? No. This is how this conference is. You have to work hard to be part of the playoffs. You had to win big games. It was not an easy ride to be part of the playoffs. Every team had to be good at home, every team had to win big games along the way, every team had to bring their game to another level. That’s what (the Wild) did yesterday. They had great urgency. All the series right now are 2-1 for the team who started at home except for San Jose who plays the third game tonight.

--On the Granlund goal:
He made a super play on that goal. We don’t try to be overphysical with him. We didn’t get beat by a bad goal. We got beat by an outstanding play. He made a terrific play in the corner and even better to the front of the net. We have 2 guys in front of the net. He went through these guys. He deserves credit for that, for the quality of his play.

--Regarding the power play, particularly in Barrie's absence:
I'm not saying were gonna change a lot of things, but there's options. PA could go back to the point. The player we called up today, Joey Hishon, he's been playing really well on the power play in the minors, he's a guy that could also step in on the power play.

I think we're gonna simplify our power play. That's the first thing. We need to put more pucks on net, that’s the thing we haven’t done. We have to put pucks on net, have a bit more screen and we'll see what happens. This is how Suter scored his goal in Game 1, a wrister that deflected on us and went in the back of the net. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be pretty. It's put pucks on net and compete in front of the net. I thought yesterday our 5 on 5 game, this is what we didn’t do as well. We didn’t go to the net as much, working on rebounds and putting some shots on net. Our shots just didn’t get through and we're gonna have to do that.

Minny's playing well on the penalty killing. They're doing a good job putting some pressure on us. You see they're sending their two D into the corner, putting a lot of pressure on us. For some reason right now we just couldn’t find the opening, and create some scoring chances, and when we do have some chances, their goalies I thought made some good saves. Sometimes, it's just one power play and then things start clicking and that puts pressure on the other team. Jamie had a real good chance in the second period, if you score on that one after the Cooke penalty, I think that could have made them more on their heels. And that’s what were gonna have to do. For some reason when we’re skating, they're getting on their heels. Yesterday we didn’t skate as well and they responded well.

 --Ryan Wilson will take Barrie's spot in the lineup.
He's capable of being physical, finishing his checks. He's strong in front of the net, competing to protect the front of net. Obviously this is not the year he wanted to have. He's struggled with an injury. It’s a good opportunity for him now to take advantage of it.

--He wants to see how Hishon handles the pace of practice tomorrow. If he's satisfied that Hishon can make good decisions on the power play under pressure, he could play.
 

Wild outplay Colorado from start to finish, rewarded with shutout

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: April 22, 2014 - 12:40 AM

After regulation, Mike Yeo went in the back with his coaches and jokingly asked, “Are we psychotic to put ourselves through this?”

Despite completely outplaying the Colorado Avalanche for 60 minutes, despite having the puck for nearly 70 percent of the time according to extraskater.com, the Wild found itself in a 0-0 stalemate with rock-solid goalie Semyon Varlamov and the Colorado Avalanche.

But on the Wild’s 46th shot, Mikael Granlund scored one of the prettiest goals of the Wild season and certainly the largest when he circled the net, won a board battle with Jan Hedja, spun away, drove the net, dove and scored while falling 5:08 into OT.

The 1-0 victory cut the Avs’ series lead to 2-1, ginormous when one considers that only three teams in NHL history have rallied from 3-0 to win a series.

“We were playing really good,” Granlund said. “We were creating chances, so we knew eventually we were going to get rewarded. We just need to keep playing like that. That’s the key for us.”

Granlund, who keeps on taking a licking but keeps on getting right back up, showed his courage all night by taking big hits and driving to the dirty areas with cuts to the net. He was finally rewarded, and so was the Wild for outplaying the Avs and shutting down Colorado’s talented first line of Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Nathan MacKinnon. The three forwards, who combined for 13 points in Games 1 and 2, had seven shots tonight.

Obviously the newly-assembled shutdown line of Matt Cooke (see below blog though and Rachel Blount’s article in Tuesday’s paper), Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine deserve a large amount of credit, but so do the Wild’s defensemen, who were so good tonight, and the Wild’s offensive attack, which forced the Avs to defend most the night from their own end.

“There were a lot of things tonight that felt similar in Game 1 even,” coach Mike Yeo said of the game the Wild also outplayed Colorado but coughed up. “For a couple games, we’ve shown if we’re playing our game and we stay strong with that, then good things will happen.”

Tonight had a bad feel though only because how many times do you see a team dominate, not be able to beat a goalie and then, boom?

“You see it so many times where teams get chance after chance after chance and then a fluky one goes in against you, but luckily that wasn’t the case tonight,” said Granlund’s linemate, Zach Parise, who had an assist on Granlund’s first career playoff goal and seven shots. “We managed to keep it away.”

One big reason is Darcy Kuemper, in his first career playoff start, didn’t allow it to happen. He made 22 saves for the Wild’s first-ever playoff shutout.

For awhile, this game reminded me of that Toronto game in October where the Wild thoroughly dominated, Kuemper saw no action in his first start of the season and wound up getting pulled after allowing I think three goals on seven shots in like 32 minutes.

But Kuemper was a different goalie back then and all had nothing but one start in Iowa before being airlifted in to the pressure cooker that is Toronto.

“He’s in a different place now than that,” Yeo said. “The difference is when we put him into this game tonight, we knew he was ready.”

“That’s a very skilled team over there,” Yeo said of the Avs. “We know they’re going to get some chances, some shots, and to get that kind of goaltending tonight was huge.”

Granlund loved that the Wild didn’t emotionally cave tonight under the frustration of not scoring. It did take three penalties in the second, but the penalty kill was outstanding.

On Granlund, Yeo said, “The last couple of games, the result has caused a lot of talk about the skill of their players, and rightfully so. They’ve made plays. But we’ve got good players, too.”

On Granlund’s goal, Yeo said, “The goal he scored was an amazing play, but his all-around game was very much the way he’s played for us all year. He’s had a couple of other plays earlier it the game where he was able to beat a guy down low and he was very aggressive to the net, and eventually he got rewarded.”

On getting back up after getting targeted, Yeo said, “This is not a timid guy. From what I’ve seen, generally when teams try to get physical with him he elevates his game. This is a guy that’s used to being a target, to being the center of attention since h was a young kid. Guys like that quite often find times in big moments to make big plays.

“To me I look at that play and first off you’ve got a player who’s very skilled, but it’s a strength play. It’s wining a battle, it’s his ability to get separation. …”

I’ll probably write more about Granlund Tuesday for Wednesday. I got a lot of extra stuff after the game and few funny things from guys like Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville, who gave Granlund the puck before the OT winner.

Granlund’s reaction was awesome. For a guy with head issues, he hopped to his feet and headed for the glass to jump into.

“I was hugging on the bench,” Yeo said. “I didn’t see the celebration. Let’s not kid ourselves, this was a huge win for us. Not only to get the win, but the way we played our game, we know that next game’s going to be even bigger and a tougher test, and we’re going to have to be real good, but there’s no question that we needed this one tonight.”

On the crowd, Yeo said, “It was a fun game. I thought the crowd was rocking. I expect a lot of the same for Game. 4. The playoff hockey, there’s nothing like it – the intensity, the emotion.”

Tuesday, the Wild and, I’m assuming, the Avs are off. Yeo will be available in the afternoon. Abiding by league rules when there are two days between games, no Wild players are expected to be available.

I worked postgame to gather extras. So I’ll be back after Yeo’s availability. I doubt Cooke will be available (again, read the below blog). My guess is Yeo goes with a Nino Niederreiter-Haula-Fontaine line, or maybe Kyle Brodziak or Stephane Veilleux draws back in to play on that line.

That’s it. Read Team Strib on www.startribune.com/wild (Rachel, myself, Chip Scoggins, Jim Souhan, pics by Carlos Gonzalez and Jeff Wheeler and a video produced by Shari Gross).

Matt Cooke faces suspension, offered in-person hearing with NHL

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news Updated: April 21, 2014 - 11:41 PM

Wild left wing Matt Cooke will likely not play again in this first-round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche.

The veteran left wing, who signed a three-year contract with the Wild last July, has been offered an in-person hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety after a knee-on-knee hit tonight that injured Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie.

That allows the NHL to issue a suspension that exceeds five games if it so wishes. Cooke can decline the invitation and have a phone hearing.

Barrie, the dynamic free-wheeler who led Colorado blue-liners with 13 goals in the regular season, is expected to miss four to six weeks with an injury to his left medial collateral ligament, Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said.

Cooke was assessed a two-minute minor for kneeing 2:02 into the second period of tonight's 1-0 overtime win over the Avs. Barrie, in pain, got up and said, "I'm done," according to TSN analyst Ray Ferraro, who was broadcasting between the benches.

The Wild killed off Cooke's penalty -- the first of three second-period minors -- before Mikael Granlund broke a scoreless tie in OT with his first career playoff goal.

“A knee on Tyson Barrie, without a doubt, that’s the play of the game,’’ Roy said after the game. “We lost our best offensive defenseman, and I think it could have been a five-minute major. Plus, I think that would have broken (the Wild’s) momentum.

“I’m sure the league will make the right call. We’re very confident they will make the right call.’’

Cooke was unavailable for comment. Cooke, who has suspended six times for a total of 25 games, has not been suspended since March 2011. He is not considered a repeat offender by NHL standards, but it's very clear with some of the kneeings this season and in this postseason, the Matt Cooke factor is in full effect.

Cooke has worked hard behind the scenes to "clean up his act" through video work and other means. Here's a feature I wrote on Cooke back in September. He has shown all season a tendency to err on the side of caution anytime there's a chance for a potential close call. He was having a terrific series to this point, and tonight he led the Wild with six of its 33 hits.

The incident in question is below. (Barrie is a great guy, by the way. He used to be a member of the Coral Springs Coyotes at Incredible Ice when he was a kid. I covered his dad, Len Barrie, on the Florida Panthers, and after the season, I used to watch playoff hockey with Barrie, then-Panthers play-by-play guy Jeff Rimer and an 11-year-old kid named, ... Tyson Barrie. I interviewed Barrie for awhile Saturday and was actually planning on writing a story on him for Wednesday's paper. That story likely won't see the light of day now.

Darcy Kuemper starts Game 3 vs. Avalanche, and other Wild lineup changes

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: April 21, 2014 - 2:02 PM

Today from 12-12:30 p.m., Mike Rand and I will broadcast live from the X to get you ready for Game 3. Here’s the link to click:

http://www.startribune.com/video/175907151.html

I’ll also be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. and on Fox Sports North at 5:10 p.m. and during the first intermission tonight.

The Wild was in the driver’s seat, up 4-2 in Game 1 until with less than 13 minutes left, Kyle Brodziak burps up a puck to Ryan O’Reilly, Jamie McGinn scores and the rest of the night was pandemonium. The Wild, 5-10 all-time at home in the playoffs, went from potentially being up 1-0 in the series to now being in a 2-0 hole with Game 3 tonight (6 p.m.) at the X.

For the first time in his Wild career, Brodziak will be a healthy scratch tonight. Justin Fontaine and Dany Heatley draw in, Stephane Veilleux and Brodziak come out.

Darcy Kuemper will make his first career playoff start and fourth playoff appearance against Semyon Varlamov. It’s Kuemper’s first start since a concussion and first start since March 27 in St. Louis. Before the injury, the second-half savior won once in his final eight starts, allowing three or more goals in six of those games. He stopped all 14 shots he saw in relief of Ilya Bryzgalov in Game 2, but starting in the playoffs is a different mentality than just getting thrown in. He’s got all day to think and … not freak out.

No lineup changes for the Avs.

Coach Mike Yeo didn’t divulge the lines tonight and did no line rushes in the skate, but the one line we know is Matt Cooke-Erik Haula-Fontaine.

Good morning from the X.

Why’s Brodziak out? Yeo said, “You’re down 2-0 in a series, quite often that happens, you’re going to make some changes. That’s where we’re at.”

Why’s Brodziak out when you’ve been reluctant to pull him all season? “With the trade deadline and picking up [Cody McCormick] and then realizing he’s available in the center position, Haulzy, the way that he’s been able to show that he can move up, this is not just on Brodzy. It’s also about other guys.”

As you know, Yeo will rarely if ever criticize one of his players publicly, so, “Brodzy, did they tell you why you’re out?”

“I think it’s pretty obvious,” Brodziak said. “I haven’t been playing the best of my capability. It’s a pretty big game tonight, so that’s about it.”

That’s got to make it all the harder? “It’s tough. Obviously you want to be in and helping the team, especially in a big game like that. I just have to try to reestablish my game and find it for the chance I get back in there.”

That turnover was costly, right? How’d you get past it? “It was a tough play for sure. Obviously a mistake at a costly time. To be honest, I felt like I regrouped fairly well after that for the rest of the game. I know we were on for the last two goals, but they were kind of tough plays in front that’s part of the game. And stuff like that happens. But I felt emotionally like I was OK after that. Sometimes in the past maybe I could have just completely became unraveled. But I thought I held it together alright. But then last game wasn’t my best game and emotions probably got the best of me.”

On Heatley playing, he’s excited. Yeo wouldn’t say if Heatley’s on the second line or the fourth (Matt Moulson hasn’t played well, so it wouldn’t shock me if Heatley did get to that second line, but we’ll see tonight). Yeo said, “[Heatley’s] played well against these guys this year. Veteran presence, a guy who’s got a lot of experience in the playoffs. We’re adding a guy who … has more playoff points than anybody on our team. It’s not an incredibly difficult situation there.

“This is a guy that’s been just an unbelievable pro. He’s used this time, he’s worked, he’s had a great attitude for his teammates. I’m excited. I’m really hoping that he comes in and has a great game, obviously for our team. But the way that he’s handled this, I’m cheering for him too.”

Yeo on Cooke-Haula-Fontaine: “Their top line has done a lot of damage for them, but it’s not like their third or fourth lines are getting eaten up either. You need everybody. We’re going to need our top line going and be strong in their roles, we’re going to need our third and fourth lines going and be strong in their roles. That’s playoff hockey.”

On Fontaine, Yeo says, “he’s positionally sound, he’s surprisingly competitive, strong on the puck. As much as anything else, it’s his composure, it’s his ability to make plays on the wall.”

Fontaine is excited to make his NHL playoff debut.

On whether being at home will help him get better matchups, Yeo said, “Listen their top line is playing really well. And we’ve talked about this an awful lot and I get it. But I’m focused on our team and I’m confident with our guys against anybody. We’ve got some great players in our own right. They’re feeling good and it’s up to us to take that away from them.”

So Yeo said there could be personnel matchups, there might be situational matchups, but “I’ve got no problem throwing out a Mikko or a Granny at any time in any point of the game against those guys. I’m not going to let matchups dictate this game. I want our guys focused on ourselves. When we do that, we’re a tough team to play against.”

Yeo is going with the same D, meaning Jon Blum is scratched. When a reporter asked about why no Blum for Clayton Stoner, Yeo said Stoner has played well. “I have no problem with his game at all.”

The Moulson-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line hasn’t produced. We’ll see if Yeo tinkers with them tonight. He says they’ve had a “score every touch mentality. They’re getting the puck, and just ‘I’m going to turn this one particular play into a goal,’ which quite often means you’re not  moving your feet, you’re forcing plays, you’re making some high risk plays or hope plays, which leads to more backcheck.”

Yeo said he met with the team yesterday and each player individually, which is not uncommon, to get them “reset, refocused and reenergized.”

The Wild is hoping for a loud rink that can rival Pepsi Center, which was electric. The Wild’s home crowd is known as one of the quietest in the NHL.

“The excitement, I’m hoping the building is rocking and I think that it will be,” Yeo said. “You come into the building in the playoffs and there’s a different feel. There’s an electricity, there’s a vibe that everybody seems to be picking up on. So I think that’s going to be there. I think our crowd’s going to be great tonight.”

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