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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Posts about Wild game coverage

Vezina finalist, 36 saves to put Wild a win from advancing? Devan Dubnyk had a very good day

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 25, 2015 - 12:32 AM

Mike Yeo said as far as good days go, Devan Dubnyk had a great one.

One year after being in the minors with the Canadiens, the Wild goalie was named Vezina Trophy finalist earlier today. Hours later, he made 36 saves to rebound from the worst loss of his Wild career by leading Minnesota to a 4-1, Game 5 victory and put his team on the brink of advancing to the second round.

Game 6 will be Sunday at 2 p.m.

Dubnyk said he found earlier today from Yeo and he took some time to reflect on this incredible year.

“It was a year ago today I was on the C squad in Montreal,” Dubnyk said. “It’s been a long road and I got a good chance to talk to some important people in my life today that supported me through the whole run.”

How the heck did he put Wednesday’s 6-1 loss behind him, a game he was pulled after allowing six goals on 17 shots? How the heck did teammate after teammate say that Dubnyk’s positive attitude the past day was contagious and wore off on the group? How the heck did Yeo say the most impressive part of Dubnyk’s response was his eagerness to get back out there tonight and rebound?

“It’s easy,” Dubnyk said. “Everything we’ve been through, the belief that we have as a group in here of how good of a team we are, there was just no doubt from anybody in here that we were going to come in and have a better hockey game. I always go back to the conversation I had with [Coyotes captain] Shane Doan and him just reminding me that when you’re down or have a bad game, you need to remind yourself that that’s not the person you are, that’s not the player you are. You go back to when you have a 40-shot shutout, or 35 save, one-goal game, that’s who you are as a person and a player, you just have remember that.”

Dubnyk made 19 of his 36 saves in the third period, a period the Wild was in severe survival mode as the Blues pressured heartily.

In the first period, the Blues took the game’s first eight shots and took a 1-0 lead on Vladimir Tarasenko’s power-play goal, his sixth goal on nine shots at that point in the series.

In a series where there had been no tying goals or lead changes, it had to be harrowing.

“We talked about more than anything before the game, if they score first, we score first, our game can't change,” Yeo said. “I don't think we did that very well in Game 4, tonight that was a big factor for us, no one got down.”

Finally, at the 11:06 mark, Marco Scandella registered the Wild’s first shot of the game and it blew through Jake Allen’s glove for a tie game. By the end of one, the Blues had a 12-3 shot advantage but had to be nervous with a 1-1 game.

In the second, Dubnyk was awesome, robbing Alex Steen twice, including a desperation, rolling, throw-the-leg-up, pad save after Jared Spurgeon pressured Steen and made the patient skilled forward pause his shot.

Zach Parise called the save a game-changer.

“I don’t like being in that position very much,” Dubnyk said. “Some guys are good at doing that. I’m not Dominik Hasek, so I’m usually not feeling good in that spot. You just throw everything at him.”

“Obviously when you're on the bench your heart kind of sinks because you see the play develop and think it's in your net, think you're going to be trailing, all of a sudden you’re going the other way on a rush, it's a big lift for your group,” Yeo said.

Charlie Coyle, who scored the fourth goal tonight, raved about Dubnyk after the game and said the bench exploded with that save.

Not long after, Nino Niederreiter and Mikko Koivu scored on back-to-back shots 1:26 apart. Niederreiter’s goal became his third career game-winning goal, a Wild playoff record.

The Wild dominated the last eight minutes of the second, but in the third, it was all St. Louis and Dubnyk stopped 19 of 19 shots.

“I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t approaching it like I had to go get a shutout after last game,” he said. “I just wanted to get back to finding pucks and being set and feeling good about what I was doing.”

On Sunday, Dubnyk said, “It’s huge. We need to treat that game like that’s our Game 7. You don’t get very many opportunities to finish off a series and we’ve worked to put ourselves in that situations. But we’ve got to understand that coming back here in a Game 7’s going to be a tough situation. It’s a one game win or go home and we have an opportunity to avoid that situation, so we’ll do the best we can and feed off our crowd.”

Yeo said of Dubnyk, “We needed him to give us a chance to settle into the game a little bit. It seemed like we were a little bit jittery in terms of execution, missing some sticks, some passes that we could have executed a little better on, missing some nets in the offensive zone. He gave us that opportunity. We've beaten a lot of good teams, beaten them in different buildings, not every game the same. Got to find a way to play your game and do it well for 60 minutes.”

Yeo said “Game 6 is obviously going to be a great challenge. We have not won anything yet. I think we’re very aware that home ice has not been a huge advantage in this series. That's going to be a great challenge.”

The Wild is 12-1-2 now in games after Dubnyk losses. Allen gave up more than two goals for the first time in 13 starts.

Chris Stewart, who was having a tough night and series before the midway point of the second, made a great play to get away from Zbynek Michalek to set up the Niederreiter goal. Yeo made a move early in the game to flip Niederreiter and a clearly-banged-up Jason Zucker and put Niederreiter on the Koivu-Stewart line. It paid off bigtime.

Here's some cut and paste Ken Hitchcock:


Where fell apart after Minny's first goal?
I don't know that it fell apart. I think they were opportunistic. First period until they scored their goal, that was the best we've played in the whole series. Played great. We kind of flattened out a little bit when they scored the goal and had all those chances in the second and missed those four chances there. 


On Niederreiter goal:
We made a mistake on the second goal; we didn't get the puck deep. They got a faceoff and the d-man lost his stick. Jake didn't pick it up. That was kind of the turning point a little bit. 

On Koivu goal:
The third goal's a fluke goal; what are you going to do? 
But so many good things. We did so many good things today. We had a little bit of a lull. I didn't think we responded as hard as we could have maybe when they scored the first goal. That gave them a little bit of wind, but just did so many good things. You're disappointed for the guys. We'll rebound and get ready for the next game. If we bring a lot of the good things we did today into the next game, we've got a third game in a row to build on.

Opportunity to extend lead when 1-0:
We were playing so well. We just looked like it was a continuation of the last game, but I thought the air went out of the bag a little bit when they scored their first goal and we've got to probably look to respond a little bit different than that. We could have probably picked up Jake a little bit on that one. I thought we got a little bit flat.

WIld pack it in during third, not allow interior in period:
No, but it's our team. We kept coming. I don't know, what'd we have 19, 20 shots on goal? We get one early when we have all the chances, who knows. Game on, but it's natural to sit back a little bit. We were in their zone for most of the period.

Momentum changed entire series; reasons to believe going up there for Game 6:
 
I feel like we've played two games pretty well. We've got to play a third game to get it back here. We want to really bring it back for Game 7. We're going to have to play a really good game, but we've got two good games now we can build on. ... Look, we've got to score more. We've got to finish on these chances that we get. You can't three, four chances in the second period in a series where their goalie's playing really well; you can't get those chances and not finish them and expect to win and you're not going to win a lot of games scoring one goal. You're going to have to find ways to finish off those great opportunities because it was just us and the goalie three or four times there in the second period. Gotta find a way to finish those.
 

----

The Wild is now 4 for 11 on the power play this series. Tonight snapped five consecutive Game 5 losses.

That’s it for now. We know how the Wild usually play when it’s in a terrific position. We’ll see if it can avoid a letdown.

Talk to you after Saturday’s availability. Very early flight, so I have to get going.

Sunday's game time? Well, it depends ...

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 24, 2015 - 3:46 PM

I have gotten tons of questions about Sunday's Game 6 start time.

This is just my guess: If the Rangers eliminate the Penguins tonight, the Wild and Blues would likely be 2 p.m. on NBC. If the Penguins win tonight and Sens are eliminated, the Wild and Blues would likely be 7 p.m. BUT, if the Penguins and Senators win tonight, I would guess Wild and Blues would get the must-despised, Central time zone 8:30 (really 8:45) slot.

You want to know what coaches think of it? Ken Hitchcock ended his press conference and humorously walked out when I asked his opinion of them this morning.

"Don't even get me going on that one. It's way past my bedtime," Hitchcock said before dropping the mic.

Here's Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville when asked about the Game 4 of the Blackhawks-Predators series starting ay 8:45 p.m. and ending at 1:16 a.m. due to triple overtime: "I might not be able to answer that question. You should ask the fans who had to get up the next morning for work in Chicago the other night [after the 3OT game]. You look at the eastern, the other side, and the teams out west — basically the teams in our division are getting these 8:30 starts. It’s probably not easy on anybody, including you guys. It is what it is. I think players like 7, 7:30s and let’s go."

Remember, the past two postseasons, it's been the Wild and Blackhawks hit with the most 8:30 starts, which messes up with the routines of everyone, from fans to players to, ahem, the stinkin' media and our deadlines.

Wild wastes chance to take stranglehold on series, embarrassed at home by Blues

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 23, 2015 - 1:43 AM

The only thing typical about tonight’s 6-1 beatdown is that when the Wild has a chance to make things easy on itself, we all know what happens.

It doesn’t.

“It’s not on purpose, trust me. We’d love to make it easy,” Zach Parise said. “That’s the way these series’ go. I don’t think anyone came into this series expecting it to be easy at all. I mean, that’s a good team. We know we have to be a lot better and we can be a lot better.”

But tonight wasn’t typical. If you look back at the Wild’s last three months, the Wild hasn’t experienced anything like tonight’s loss. The most amazing part of the Wild’s three-plus months without losing consecutive games in regulation, the most amazing part of the Wild only losing by more than a goal in the regular season twice since Jan. 19 was the Wild was in each and every game.

In a league where even the best teams get blown out once in awhile, the Wild was competitive nightly for three consecutive months.

Tonight, not at all, from the goaltender on out. Parise said the Wild got cocky, started to think they were unbeatable after such a quality Game 3 win, and that's precisely what Mike Yeo worked the past few days to caution against. It's why he said the Wild didn't dominate and had to move on from the win, etc., and it's probably why Ken Hitchcock spent the past few days pumping the Wild's tires incessantly.

But after this one, the Blues coach took a new strategy as his team regained home ice and turned this 2-2 series into a best-of-three with Game 5 in St. Louis on Friday night at 8:30.

“We knew how we were going to play yesterday,” Hitchcock said covertly.

Why did you think that? “It's between us and the players,” Hitchcock said.

“It looks like we've joined the tournament now and we're dialed in,” Hitchcock said. “We've got home-ice back, we're dialed into our game, we're going to be hard to play against when we're dialed in this. Not fun to play against.”

Many folks wondered how the Blues would respond tonight. After all, after a couple playoff exits in a row and frustration after Monday’s loss and media already speculating that heads could roll if the Blues get eliminated, maybe this team would go quietly into the offseason if the Wild put the hammer down tonight.

Instead, now it’s the Wild which will have to find a way to respond by winning at least one game in St. Louis after its worst defeat since the 7-2 beating in Pittsburgh on Jan. 13 – the day before Devan Dubnyk arrived.

The Wild was, as Parise said, “brutal” tonight. Sluggish, soft, sloppy. And Dubnyk didn’t help for a change. As tough as two of the first-period goals, the backbreaker that sucked the life out of the arena was Paul Stastny’s goal to make it 4-1 less than two minutes after Jared Spurgeon got the crowd buzzing with a power-play goal 1:41 into the second period.

Amazingly, coach Mike Yeo didn’t pull Dubnyk there. Dubnyk was finally pulled after giving up his sixth goal on 17 shots with 3:10 left in the second. Yeo said in hindsight, it was the fifth goal (not third or fourth) that he wishes he pulled Dubnyk on. But he was trying to get him out of the period.

Here’s Yeo from his postgame, which I didn’t make it to due to deadline:

Where’d it go wrong? “How much time do you have? Obviously, our start was not good enough. And you combine that with the fact they had a great start, so they were on top of their game, and we were not even close to on top of ours. Once they got up a couple, we got even worse.”

Any hint that was coming? “No. But quite often, that's the case. That's the challenge. You win a game, and then you sit around for two days. You have to try to collect yourself and get ready for that next one. It's not always an easy thing to do, but likewise, when you lose a game, that's our challenge right now -- how we bounce back.”

Yeo said the Blues “were much better in terms of getting up ice. They were definitely stretching us out tonight, created a couple odd-man rushes because of that, but they were outstanding with the puck in the offensive zone and made it very difficult for us there.”

Yeo said he thinks Dubnyk will “react great. I'm very, very confident in that, knowing his personality, just knowing what he's been through No. 1 to get this opportunity and how he got our team here. So yeah, no concerns about that.”

Yeo attributed his struggles “to a team game that was not even close to good enough for us.”

Yeo said the fourth goal is not one you want to give up when you have a little bit of momentum, but “you can't give a team a 3-0 lead. And it didn't have the feel of the type of game that we were going to come back. We weren't on it from the start, and it got worse. Normally, we're a team that I think we start well but we stay with our game very strongly as far as whether we're ahead, whether we're behind, and tonight we broke that, that's for sure.”

Yeo said, “As difficult as it was and as frustrating and disappointing as that game is, we're going up against the team that won the division. That's a good team. It's obviously frustrating not to be up 3-1; we had that opportunity tonight. But it's a pretty darn good team we're playing there, and now it's best-of-3. We've got a pretty good team ourselves, and I think we should get excited for these next couple games.”

Yeo said, “It’s hard to look at this game and look at what's tactical, because there were so many parts of the game that we weren't even close to being on top of our game and not even within our game. But certainly we'll look at that. In terms of what we're going to show the guys, we're not going to punish anybody with this. We know that we need to be better. They were great tonight; there's no getting around that. They're a great team, and they played an unbelievable game tonight, so we've got to find a way to get better at ours.”

Vladimir Tarasenko scored twice and now has a league-leading five goals and is the first Blue since Doug Weight in 2003 to have multiple-goal games in the same series. Kevin Shattenkirk had three assists and now has a league-leading seven assists. David Backes and Patrik Berglund each had a goal and assist, Jay Bouwmeester was plus-4, Jake Allen made 17 saves and the Blues snapped a nine-game road losing streak.

The Blues’ fourth line, which had Steve Ott at his natural center position, got things started with a Ryan Reaves goal. Soon after, Parise fell in the neutral zone (one of several Wild players who slipped on banana peels tonight), Thomas Vanek, who has no goals in the series, and Charlie Coyle were late getting in the zone because of the confusion with Parise blowing a tire and Tarasenko redirected a Shattenkirk shot. Then, Dubnyk gave up a brutal one to Backes by not corralling Shattenkirk’s shot.

3-0 by the 10:06 mark

“We went from feeling awesome about ourselves, feeling like we can’t be beat after last game and then we get a little dose of reality tonight, a little slap in the face,” Parise said. “We have to be a lot better. We know that.”

Overconfident? Parise admitted they may have come in “a little cocky. We felt really good and rightfully so. We felt really good about how we played last game. I don’t know if we thought it was going to be an easy game or that they were going to pack it in. But that wasn’t the case at all. We expected them to have a good start and have a good push. I don’t think we reacted well when they got one. Not very good by us

It was sluggish at times. Just not great decisions with the puck through the neutral zone and they countered pretty quickly.”

On the Stastny fourth goal, Parise saidm, “That hurt. You get that power-play goal to start the second and give the crowd something to cheer about and then they come right back. It’s always so important after a goal for or against to follow it up. We tried to get ourselves back in the game there, but they got the fourth one. That hurt.”

Dubnyk said, “We know we’ve got better than that. I’ve got better than that. We all got better than that. We’ll get back at it in St. Louis.”

On if this is as bad as it gets for him, “I haven’t had to experience that here yet. Unfortunately done that before in my career (laughs). The thing about the playoffs, doesn’t matter if we lost that game 1-0, we’d be in the exact same position we are. We all know we can be better, I can be better and we will be.

“I have no question or worry we’ll be ready to go for next game.

“None of us expected this to be a sweep in our favor or a short series by any means. We knew it would be a battle and that’s what it’s turning out to be.”

The Blues said this is the game they need to carry into their building

“This is our game. It's not our best game. We can play a lot better than we played today,” Hitchcock said. “We've still got things we've got to work on, but this is our game. We're going to play this game and if it's good enough, we're going to put it out there, and if we win with it, great. If we don't win with it, so be it. But this is our game. We're going to play our game now. We're not going to chase it around the rink like we did the first three games. We're playing our game. We changed the way we used to be. We're playing it. This is the way it's going to be for the next little while. If they can match it, great on them.”

Think Hitch is confident?

Blues responded from a clinic by the Wild in Game 3. We’ll see if the Wild can do the same in hostile territory Friday.

The Wild has availability at the airport Thursday afternoon and then I will have to sprint to my flight, and then somehow write. So Rachel Blount may do the blogging Thursday.

Wild's discipline, speed, defensive effort leads to shutout, 2-1 series lead over Blues

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 20, 2015 - 11:59 PM

The Wild wasn’t kidding when it prepped its players before the series to know what to expect from Steve Ott and to just skate away laughing at him.

There was a lot of laughing at the Blues agitator again tonight.

One game after Jason Zucker and Jordan Schroeder laughed in his face, two games after Chris Stewart laughed in his face, Matt Dumba did the same tonight when Ott almost landed in the Wild bench after missing a check on Jonas Brodin and 19,165 fans laughed in his face when Ott had a chance to actually do something useful by scoring on a third-period breakaway and instead lost the puck.

So, of course, on his last shift, Ott assaults Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon to earn a second 10-minute misconduct in three games. He literally went out scratching and clawing, according to goalie Devan Dubnyk.

“We’ve got a lot of hockey to play, so I don’t want to comment yet,” Dubnyk said of Ott before humorously going on to comment. “That’s two games now – both wins – that he’s ended up with a 10-minute misconducts at the end of the game, so we know why he’s out there and that’s what he’s looking to do. Our guys are fully capable of protecting ourselves, and we’ll stick together and get out of the way of him. That’s what he’s out there to do. Lot of hockey to play, so we won’t comment on any of that.”

I asked why he raced out of the crease to referee Jean Hebert during the Ott-Spurgeon incident: “He’s scratching at Spurgy’s face,” Dubnyk said. “He’s on the ice with his glove in his face and I could see his fingers moving, he’s pulling at his mouth and his nose and eyes. I don’t want our guy to end up hurt with his eyes or whatever. And the ref was standing there, so I just told him to grab, to get his hand. I could see his hand scratching at his face, so I just don’t want Spurgy to get hurt and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what he was trying to do.”

So, as the Blues were showing their frustration during and late in a 3-0 Game 3 loss that put them behind 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, the Wild skated out with zero penalties for the first time ever in a home playoff game.

That had to also be frustrating for the Blues because not only did they lose their discipline, they were so on their heels tonight that they couldn’t draw a penalty. It felt like the Wild had the puck the entire night skating by flat-footed Blues players.

Vladimir Tarasenko, coming off a Game 2 hat trick, was minus-3 with no shots on goal as coach Mike Yeo’s intent tonight was to get Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville out against Alex Steen-Jori Lehtera-Tarasenko as much as he could.

As I tweeted in the first period, the Granlund line was so-so close to breaking through after a couple tough games in St. Louis. The line finally did in the second when Pominville and Parise scored 2:05 apart. Nino Niederreiter added an empty-netter and Dubnyk only had to make 17 saves for the third playoff shutout in Wild history.

Now, the Wild plays Game 4 on Wednesday ahead 2-1 in a series for the first time ever at home.

“We were a lot better with the puck tonight in the offensive zone, holding onto it a little longer, making some plays,” Parise said. “We were better off the rush, attacking the middle of the ice. Teams look fast when you can do that. I thought we were tough to play against.”

On the Pominville goal after Granlund flew by Tarasenko and lost the puck on a nice Carl Gunnarsson poke-check, Parise said, “It was a little bit of a broken play. It was smart of him not to do a fly by past the post and stay there. I think everyone got a little puck focused and I saw him by himself.”

On his goal, Parise said, “I tried to pull it through Bouwmeester’s feet about four times with no success. Finally, I just tried to shoot it and caught up him upstairs.

On the 17-shot defensive performance, Parise said, “It feels good. I thought our forwards did a good job coming back and pushing them into our D and our D got up and had some good gaps. Once we do that we can get back on the counterattack. That was a big part of the reason we had the puck a lot.”

On his line: “It feels good. I wasn’t too excited about the way our first two games went in St. Louis. I thought we could do a lot better. Fortunately tonight we scored. That’s the big difference. We had more puck time, more zone time, better rushes -- just better plays. And I know the three of us wanted to have a better performance than we had in St. Louis.”

On the defensive performance, Dubnyk said, “I’ve seen that a few times actually this last half of the year. I’ve seen some pretty incredible performances here at home by us, and that ranks right up there with it. There just weren’t any mistakes. It was just line after line supporting each other, making good plays and being there for each other.”

On the home crowd: “Certainly didn’t disappoint. It was crazy toward the end of the second period there. You can’t hear anything, you can’t hear whistles, you can’t hear the pucks hitting sticks. You’re moving around deaf. We fed off of it.”

On the Wild’s speed: “That’s when we’re at our best. That’s the strength of our team. We play like that, I don’t think there’s one team that can avoid turning the puck over because we’re there. Every time a pass is made, our guy’s there. We’re reading off each other, we’re all moving our feet. We’re right there, so it forces turnovers and we try to capitalize after that. that was impressive. Every single line, every pairing was on top of the puck.”

Charlie Coyle, who played another strong game and took some punches in the second by David Backes, said, “You can tell they got frustrated with stuff after the whistle and tried to get into that, and us just walking away. Continue to play hard, play with speed and be physical, and yeah, you can tell it frustrated them.”

“We’re here to play hockey. We’re not here to fight and do all that. That stuff after the whistle doesn’t win you games. So, we’re just focused on playing our game and playing it smart. They want that stuff after the whistle and big hits and all that. We just stay grounded, stay level-headed, keep our emotions in check and just, like I said, play hockey.”

On Ott, Coyle said, “Just let him be a non-factor out there, that’s all. That’s his game and that’s what he’s got to do. We don’t focus on that. We don’t pay attention to it. He doesn’t do much out there.”

Mike Yeo said, “We knew we were going to have to be on top of things tonight and we were ready to start the right way. We talked about being ready for whatever follows. I thought our guys did a good job – we had a pretty decent start – of just staying with it, not getting frustrated. Obviously that first goal is huge.”

On the after whistle extracurricular stuff by the Blues, Yeo said, “We prepped for this, we expect it and I think our guys have done a good job of handling it so far, but we have a long way to go here.”

On the team effort, “We need everybody. That’s a very good hockey team, a very talented hockey team, four lines deep, and six d deep. If we have one particular line going that’s not going to be enough. Tonight was a good team game and we were playing the right way and somebody different is going to have a chance to have their name in the headlines the next day a little bit more than some others.”

On the Wild’s speed, “Well, we were excited to get in front of our crowd, that’s for sure. We were expecting our crowd to be a lot like they were, and our guys feed off that. We talked about that last year, and we knew that we were going to have some pretty good energy, as far as how we wanted to play in front of them, giving them reasons to be loud. But that’s got to be our game. That’s got to be the way that we’re playing. We’re built around speed. Our game’s built around speed. It’s not just a personnel thing. So we have to be playing fast.”

On taking no penalties, Yeo said, “We needed that. We knew that. As far as keeping our sticks on the ice, as far as moving our feet, we played the game the way that we needed to as far as staying out of the box, but I also think a big factor was how we played with the puck. That was very important, just as far as spending a little bit more time with the puck, spending a little bit more time in the offensive zone. That was crucial. We have to have that mindset. They’ve got a very good power play, and you don’t want to give those skill guys a chance.

On the quality Bergenheim-Brodziak-Fontaine line, Yeo said, “I thought they did a good job again. It’s a good team win. If you want to keep asking me about players, I’ll keep telling you I think everybody did a good job. I’m not trying to be a jerk about that, but again I thought the guys within their role were strong. I thought we were four lines deep. I thought all the ‘D’ did a good job tonight. But for sure, we need that line to bring us good energy and they had a couple really good shifts that got the crowd going and that’s what we’re looking for from those guys.

“As I said this morning, our guys are all in for each other right now. We know that we’re playing a good hockey team, but we are a very motivated group and we have pretty decent confidence that we’ve been working for a long time here. So again, we feel good about this game and now we’ll just get ready for the next one.”

Here’s some Pominville:

“We fed off the energy the crowd gave us. We knew it was going to be good, and it was even better than what I expected. I thought every line was going. We controlled play for the most part and we made some good plays. And our D did a really good job tonight with their gap and made it tough on them. That led to us having the puck more.

“We were able to play with the puck more, we were able to make more plays and more zone time. That gives us momentum and obviously gets the crowd into it.

We played a pretty solid game overall. We’re obviously happy with it, and we’ll enjoy it tonight and put it behind us and get back to work.

“I wasn’t sure if it was going to get through or not, but he made a good play. He froze the goalie, and I was able to kind of settle it down and put it in. So it was nice to get that one for sure.”

On his line, “I think for our line to be successful, we’ve got to be moving. We’re not the three biggest guys physically, but we can move well, and we can make plays when we need to, and our forecheck game has been pretty good. I thought tonight we were moving and we were making plays. It makes it tough to defend when you’re always moving and making plays when you have the puck. So it was nice to get rewarded the way we did for sure. “

Here’s some Blues stuff from our media quote loop:

Barret Jackman

Tonight we helped them beat us. We didn’t stick to our game plan, we weren’t going to the net like we did in Game 2. We weren’t getting puck s through and we were trying to get a little bit too cute from the top of the circles out. We’ve got to get pucks deep and get them to the net. We had a lot of problems doing that tonight.

We weren’t putting pucks deep. With this team you have to get the puck in behind the D-men. They like to have a tight gap and feed their transition, and we were feeding right into it. We were trying to make plays in front of them instead of putting pucks behind them and that just fed to their offense and let them get the momentum in the first period.

(Allen) We let him down, some back door plays. He made some big stops for us but when you put a big goose egg up on the board, it’s hard to win.

(Game 4) Come to play, come to execute what the game plan is. If we put in a solid effort then we have a chance to win. If we’re kind of all over the place like we were tonight that team’s going to beat us every night.

David Backes

It was reminiscent of Game 1 I think, where they skated a lot and wanted to assert their game and we let them by sitting on our heels and playing passive. We let them come at us, come at us, come at us and the Granlund line scored two goals for them. They’re dynamite on the rush, they’ve shown that all series and they made us pay tonight.

We’ve got to get to our game. I thought it was a lot better in the third again, but you can’t play 15-20 minutes against this team and expect to win games. We need a full 60-minute effort like we had in Game 2. We have another chance on Wednesday to play a 60-minute game with 20 guys on the ice and get a job done.

We have to learn our lesson, put this behind us and remember it’s a battle out there, it’s a war and it’s going to take a great effort every night against this team.

Cute and on our heels. I think if we’re on our toes and more assertive and more aggressive, trying to put our game out there instead of trying to see what they’re going to bring with their crowd and energy, then trying to react to that. Then it’s too late and they’ve already carried the play for 10-15 minutes at that point, gotten a couple power plays.

We don’t draw a single penalty tonight and for good reason, because we’re not on our toes, we’re not carrying the play in their zone and making them take penalties. All those things add up to 3-0 against.

Their team speed, when you let them have time and space to make plays and zip the puck around, it’s dangerous and they’ve shown that the whole second half of the year.

They got to show their speed and skill and abilities tonight and we were playing catch-up all night really after the first period with only four shots.

Jake Allen

I just think play for 60 minutes. We did that in the second game and we came out on top. We didn’t the first game, we didn’t tonight. Their team is going to be there from start to finish. They battle, every single line, so we need to realize that now and we can’t let the ball slip any more.

That’s the way they play. They’re one of the best teams in the league since Christmas. They had a slow start to the year but since then they’ve probably been one of the top one or two teams in the league.

We’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ve dug ourselves a hole, but now it’s time to get out.

(Parise goal) That went off our D-man’s stick. He shot it on the ice and it hit our D-man’s stick so fast it went top corner. He didn’t mean to shoot there.

My job is to keep the puck out of the night and give the guys a chance. I felt good out there again tonight and I’ll keep battling the next game.

That’s it for me. I’ll talk to you after Tuesday’s practices.

No margin for error, not capitalizing in this Wild-Blues series

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 18, 2015 - 9:06 PM

“Two really good teams going at it right now. It’s really good hockey. It’s hard, very demanding of the players. Really good hockey. It's going to hopefully continue to be that type of series.” – Blues coach Ken Hitchcock after Saturday’s 4-1 win over Minnesota to send the series back to Minnesota tied at 1-1.

This is shaping up to be a heck of a series. Game 3 is Monday night at 7 at Xcel Energy Center.

4-1 final. The game was not indicative of the score.

Despite the Blues jumping out to a 2-0 lead, the Wild was right in this game until the 58-minute mark and would ultimately be victimized by almost amazing bad puck luck.

The Wild didn’t cower to a Blues team that tried to set a physical tone early. In fact, the hits were even at 36-36.

The chances were even, too, if not favoring the Wild.

But Jake Allen was great with 24 saves and the Wild somehow had three pucks that were stopped right in front of or right on the goal line. The first, a Ryan Suter dump-in, hit a stanchion or a camera hole, took a left hand turn and completely caught Allen off guard. He saw it at the very last second and it somehow didn’t go in.

“We have some weird glass here,” said Allen, a quote that may make Wild fans choke on their breakfast because Wild fans especially know funky glass. “I didn't really see it until it hit my pad, so I was lucky on that part.”

Later, Jason Zucker centered himself and whistled one just wide off a 2-on-1. The puck landed on Mikko Koivu’s stick to the right of the goal with the net open. He shot, the puck got by a sliding T.J. Oshie and a sprawling Allen made the save and Jaden Schwartz swatted it out of harm’s way.

In the third, after a Thomas Vanek pass across the blue line, Charlie Coyle dangled between defenders and into the slot. His shot hit the crossbar, caromed off Allen’s buttocks and slithered to the goal line before David Backes pulled it right from on top. All of these plays happened with the Wild either down 2-0 or down 2-1.

“I'll go talk to him, buy him a beer for that one,” Allen said.

Schroeder also just missed on a glorious chance in the third.

Vladimir Tarasenko, whom I planned to feature in Monday’s paper coincidentally, got the hat trick after not getting a shot in Game 1. The last went into an empty net for the first hat trick against the Wild in playoff history and the 13th in Blues history and the first since Mike Sillinger (“Silly”) in 2004.

The backbreaker came with 1:58 left though after Marco Scandella got caught at the red line trying to corral a loose puck. It went to Jordan Schroeder, he gave it to Patrik Berglund and he was off.

“It was a goal-scorer's goal,” Hitchcock said. “If you're going to have an odd-man rush, he's going to shoot, which is good for us.”

Coach Mike Yeo was not overreacting at all after the loss.

The Wild played an even game with the Blues and came up on the short end. But it just shows how small the margin of defeat will be in this series.

“You don’t want too happy when you lose a game, and we definitely aren’t,” Yeo said. “But the outcome of the game was a little bit frustrating probably because we only generated the one goal and I don’t think that we played a one-goal game. A few pucks that got to the goal line that didn’t go over the goal line, a few empty nets or a few opportunities that we just didn’t capitalize on.”

On the mood going back to Minnesota: “You lose a game, and it’s frustrating, it’s disappointing. I thought we did a pretty good job. We knew we were going to face their best game. They were able to get a lead on us, but the way our guys stayed with it, the way we battled and gave ourselves a chance to tie it up, we didn’t. We’ll find a way to get better. That’s one thing I’m confident with our group. We’ll continue to push the pace, we’ll continue to get faster and stronger in our game and as we do that, then hopefully the results will follow.

“Listen, we would have loved to have won both games in here, but what it comes down to, I think we can take some confidence out of the fact that we won the one game and played pretty strong in the second game and even to battle back against a team that is tough to generate offense against, that’s a pretty good sign. But going back home doesn’t guarantee anything either. They’re a good team. We have a lot of respect for them, so we know we’ll have to be at our best.”

Ryan Reaves tried to throw his weight around. Steve Ott was a menace all game by smack-talking, taunting, cross-checking and slashing. Devan Dubnyk got him back at one point by slashing him two or three times in the leg.

“Just one good one,” Dubnyk said. “The first one was a poke. The second one was good. But it was fair game. He crashed into me a couple of times before that, a few times after that. They just gave a goalie interference call at the other end. I don’t mind getting involved like that sometimes. It gets the heart rate going a little bit when you’re not seeing too many pucks.

“I’m sure the whole building heard him scream. He was trying to let everybody know that it hurt him.”

Ott came back to the net after the slashes and tripped up Dubnyk. The refs just called Zach Parise for a dubious goalie interference penalty a few minutes before, but the refs didn’t call this one, probably because they knew they let Dubnyk get away with the chopjob on Ott’s knee.

Ott on all the run-ins with Wild players today (he cross-checked Mikko Koivu in the back of the neck, slashed Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke, pet Jason Zucker on the helmet and trash-talked Jordan Schroeder (Schroeder just laughed at him), Ott said, “This is playoff time. They're doing the same thing out there. They're trying to compete as hard as (us) and we're trying to match effort for effort out there, and hopefully like tonight, you get out on top of a game. The goal scorers do their job and your role players do their role and it continues throughout the lineup.”

On taunting Zucker, Ott said, “You guys watch that stuff more than me. I think it's just reactionary. Sometimes my brain is shut off.”

On Backes calling him a pesky mosquito, Ott said, “Hopefully I just keep ticking, that's the only thing. It's a role guys. Everybody has a role out there and you try to play extremely hard. For myself personally, the only time I get offense is usually from being physical and our line with [Ryan Reaves and Marcel Goc], we want to be hard to play against. ... We had a solid night. But that was every line. Every guy had something solid throughout our lineup. That's what you need is that whole team effort in games like this.”

If you didn’t see Saturday’s paper, I wrote more about Ott from Chris Stewart’s perspective. Remember, the Wild talked to Ott about a contract last summer, by the way.

The Wild now heads home, where by the way, it has been very mediocre in my opinion all year.

But last year in the playoffs, the Wild went 5-1 at home and the fans were awesome and loud.

“I’m excited to get back home,” Yeo said. “I know that our crowd in the playoffs, it’s something special. Our guys feed off that. The energy in the building is outstanding.”

By the way, there was a last-second, fourth-line wrinkle when Justin Fontaine, who missed Friday’s practice, showed up to Scottrade Center sick.

Because the Wild wanted a right-shot on the right wing, Schroeder made his playoff debut. That caused the Wild to scratch left wing Sean Bergenheim, who played well in Thursday’s Game 1 win, because Yeo explained the Wild needed a penalty killer with Fontaine out.

Cooke, who missed Game 1 with abdominal soreness, played his 104th career playoff game. Kyle Brodziak centered the two.

What else?

Scandella scored his second career playoff goal. He had two goals in his last two games of the regular season after going goalless since Dec. 29. Scandella had 11 goals this year.

Dubnyk on the offense: “Not a lot of luck down there today. We definitely could have had three or four goals. The guys played well. That’s just the way goes sometimes. I thought we did a good job generating chances. It’s just unfortunate that some didn’t go in the net, but if we keep playing like that, we’ll be fine.”

Dubnyk on the physical game: “It was a little different than the first game. I’m sure it’ll continue to become more and more that way as the series goes on. We know how to play that way and how to handle it and use our speed, and we’ll keep doing a good job of that.”

Dubnyk on Tarasenko’s second goal where Dubnyk left his post to cheat expecting a cross-crease pass: “That’s just a mistake by me. It’s not a good goal. I came off my post on a guy like to shoot, who’s got a pretty good shot and he made me pay for it. That’s a mistake by me that cost me a goal against. Make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

On the mood: “We’re fine.”

Coyle on his missed chance: “So many chances on our part. We have to bury those. That’s what it came down to. They buried theirs. We were right there with them. It wasn’t like they took over at any point. We played a solid game. just those chances we have to bury.”

Did you see how close it was? “I actually didn’t see it. I knew it hit a bar. I didn’t know if it was inside or not. Good play by them to keep it out. Like I said, we’ve got to bury those.”

Coyle on the game: “They played a great game. they came out like they wanted to, but we were right there. They came out physical, and we matched it if not better. We’re in a good position. It’s a tied series right now, going back home. We’ll take that.”

Zach Parise said, “We played a good game, we got a lot of good chances, we just didn’t put them in. That was the difference.

“I thought we played two good games here. Down 2-0 in the first period, you can find yourself in a hole. But again, we had great chances not only to make it 2-1 but to tie it up. We just couldn’t get that equalizer. But we had a lot of good chances.”

On the mood, Parise said, “I thought we played two good games. You find yourself down 2-0 here early, but we got ourselves back in the game. It was just a couple that we couldn’t capitalize and put in the net. Overall we’d love to be going home 2-0 but it’s 1-1. There’s a lot of things we can feel good about. Of course there are areas for improvement, but there’s a lot of things that we’ve been doing pretty well.

“It’s always a good atmosphere in our building in the postseason. Really looking forward to that.”

Big game Monday.

When teams are tied 1-1 in a best-of-seven series, the Game 3 winner goes on to win the series 67.3 percent of the time (189-92), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Wild didn’t lose two games in the regular season under Dubnyk.

Big win for St. Louis. Down 2-0, the Blues have won one of 19 series and have been swept 10 times.

Early flight in the morning. Talk to you after practice. I'll be very interested to see if Zucker is OK. He was ailing during the game and after as a result of taking an Alex Pietrangelo shot to the left thumb. Not good. 

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