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 pregame skate

Wild-Blues more than ready for Game 1 of the playoffs tonight

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 16, 2015 - 1:59 PM

Game 1, tonight, 8:30 p.m., Fox Sports North.

Good afternoon from Scottrade Center, where I’ll be bunkered until about 1 in the morning.

Let’s get this hashtag trending: #NoOvertime#NoOvertime#NoOvertime.

#BadDeadline

I’ll be doing a podcast with Jim Souhan at souhanunfiltered.com at 4 p.m. and will be on KFAN at 5:30 p.m.

I’ll also be on Fox Sports North around 7:35 p.m., roughly.

Sean Bergenheim gets the fourth-line left wing spot for Game 1. His 12 goals and 17 points in 23 playoff games is the reason, coach Mike Yeo said.

“Third time I get to play the playoffs. I’m very excited. These are the best games for a hockey player to play,” Bergenheim said. “I don’t really analyze [why I’ve been good in the playoffs]. I have to go out, as everybody on this team, and do my best. Previously, it’s worked for me. That’s what I’m going to try to do and more importantly it’s what we do as a team.”

Niklas Backstrom will back up Devan Dubnyk’s playoff debut tonight. Darcy Kuemper, ill yesterday, is flying to St. Louis today and should practice tomorrow.

Yeo was loose this morning. As the tech guy was giving instructions to the media before the press conference, the guy who looked strikingly like Yeo (I may add) was unaware Yeo was waiting at stage right. Finally, as everybody was chuckling and the guy not picking up on it, Yeo finally chimed in, “How do you fix your power play?”

“Well, finally,” Yeo said, referring to Game 1 finally being upon us.

Why Bergenheim over Ryan Carter? “Comes down to Bergenheim’s production in the playoffs. Before we acquired him, we watched a lot of video and we watched that playoffs when he was real instrumental in their team probably achieving more than anybody thought they would. And the way he was scoring the goals are ways we would need to score goals in this type of playoff series against this type of team. Part of it as well is just matchup-wise, what they’re going to face as a line, we need to make sure we have guys that can defend but we also want to make sure we have guys that are a threat. If they’re on the ice against skilled type players, you have to be ready to defend but there might be opportunities maybe where you can take advantage of something too.”

Matt Cooke a possibility for Game 2? “Possibility. I’ve given zero thought to Game 2 right now, so I’m not sure on that.”

Yeo on the officiating: I try not to come in with an expectation. That way you’re not really caught off guard too much. You meet with the supervisors. It’s a pretty safe presumption on our part as far as the gameplan that they’re going to have trying to establish a physical tone. We’ve got no problem with that. you hope that the stuff after the whistles are eliminated. I don’t think that’s good for the game. As long as everything’s clean, we’ve got no problem with that.

Matchups: The depth on both teams makes it a little bit different. You probably don’t have to chase your matchups quite as hard. We’ve got six D and four forward lines that we’re comfortable being on the ice with anybody. For us to try to hide guys or we lose guys or play guys too much because we’re trying to chase a matchup, that’s not going to happen tonight. So I can’t speak for how they’re going to play the matchup game, but we want to make sure we get everybody in the game early and obviously you evaluate how the games going along.

Good to be healthy: Huge key for sure. It’s great that we have depth, but important guys are healthy right now and getting a guy like Zuck back before the playoffs was really important. He had a couple games to find his game and get used to game speed again, and probably more important for us to see that he’s at that level so we have the confidence throwing him on that line and on the ice as much as we have. That’s always a huge factor. You want your best players available, and then as the playoffs go on, then injuries are always a part of it and how you overcome that, the depth and guys coming into the lineup at certain times, that’s always part of it.

Jake Allen?: I actually [coached] against him in the minors a little bit too when I was in Houston. As a team, we break down the other team’s goalies. Our goalie coach, Bob Mason, does a good job of that. we have a scout, we show video. When the game starts, I think you have to be careful. I always believe the quick shot is the best shot, especially against a team like this. If you take an extra second to try to make sure you’re shooting to one particular spot, then odds are you’re not going to get the shot off or it’s going to have to be the perfect shot to beat the goalie. We try not to have too much thought into it where we’re focusing more on them than ourselves, but with that said, he’s a good goalie. First off, he plays the much well, so that will challenge us as far as our puck placement, even our forecheck off of that. But he’s a battler in the net, good athleticism and good positioning.

Was yelling at the team in January a turning point beyond Dubnyk? No, I’m not going to say that at all. I think that it was just something that happens. We were going down the wrong path, and we had tried a few different things. Status quo. And we had to try something different. It was more of a reaction than anything. That was caught on tape that day accidentally. These type of things happen behind closed doors most of the time and reaction to that was part of what we’ve been doing, but just the lull that we were going into that practice with. We had stopped practice once. That wasn’t caught on tape. Quietly and collectively just said this is not good enough and it continued on, so I had to try a different approach.

Matt Dumba’s debut and balancing the fact he can be an impact but needing to lasso him in? I think it’s important for him how he approaches the morning skate. I had a conversation with him yesterday (to say) the game doesn’t change. There’s definitely more intensity and there’s definitely more emotion and that’s the big thing. As far as his game, he should have the same approach, the same preparation going into the game. His play without the puck I’ve been real pleased with. He has to make sure he has a strong focus on that. And then just as far as what I’d like to see – early in the game things happen quite quickly. Things happen on the road, the other teams crowd is going to be into it, they’re going to be pressuring hard. Things happen quickly, so your first decision is the right decision right now. That’s what I want to see. Don’t try to over complicate things. I hate to say make simple plays, but start the game that way, give yourself a chance to get settled into the game. But at the same time, he’s a guy that has impactful and the chance to make dynamic plays. Our execution from our defensemen is going to be a huge factor in this series as far as how they want to get in on the forecheck, how they play in the offensive zone. Any time we can break that and execute to get our game going the other direction, that’s going to be a big factor.

Dumba, by the way, I’ll be writing about tomorrow and I got great stuff today was partner and former Blue Jordan Leopold.

Central Division? Five teams last year, too. And the two teams that aren’t in it, were in it last year. It’s a tough division. But with that, and we’ve said this before, any team that gets in is well prepared. You’re playing all the best teams and you’re playing tough hockey every night, tough matchups. The intensity is always high and the level of play that you have to have both with and without the puck I think prepares you well.

You seem to do better when they score first? I think we have a better resiliency and part of it is we have more offense in our lineup. To be able to come back, for sure it’s an attitude. You have to be able to trust your game and stay with your game. But you also have to trust your goalie and know that he can make some saves for you so the other team is not extending the lead. But for sure we’ve got some skill. And I think there’s that confidence with the group knowing some guys are capable of going out and scoring goals and different guys are capable of going out and doing it is a big factor in that.

Chris Stewart? He’s something that we needed in terms of a big, physical presence. He’s a guy that is always willing to stick up for his teammates, he’s a guy that’s going to be strong along the boards and is tough to get the puck off of. On top of that, he’s a very underrated playmaker. We know that he can score goals, we know that he can be dangerous around the net. He’s got very deceptive speed and I’ve been real impressed with some of the subtle plays he’s made. He’s been a big factor in some key goals for us since he arrived. One thing that I’ve been real impressed with is quite often you get these guys (rental players) in a trade. And a guy like him doesn’t have a contract for next year, but I think he’s handled it the right way. He’s gone all in to our team. Obviously he’s got a lot to gain by performing well and having lots of points, but he went all in to the team first and I think he’s been getting rewarded for that.

Sense him getting pumped up? I had a good talk with him yesterday. Of course he’s pumped. He’d be pumped if we were playing anybody in the first round of the playoffs. But there’s some excitement going against a former team. The big thing we talked about is making sure you use that emotion, you use that energy. But you have to control it as well. He’s ready for it.

Stay away from emotions? That’s part of the challenge of playoff hockey – the emotions are so high. Whether it’s through the course of a game when the other team is pressing or you have some success, you have to keep your focus, stay level headed, stay on task. And likewise from game to game there’s going to be times when things go your way and you’re feeling really good and you have to make sure you manage that. And likewise if things don’t go your way, it’s how you come back to the rink the next day and get ready to be at your best. 

By the way, Stewart is real tight with Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan Reaves. Both were in his wedding. Really close with Vladimir Tarasenko, too. Tarasenko, whom I’ll be featuring soon in the playoffs, told me today Stewart really took him under his wing. You wouldn’t believe how good Tarasenko’s English is. The dynamic player is ready to go and said what he did during the regular season means nothing now (37 goals).

Ken Hitchcock said he’s ready, too. “Nah, I'd like to practice some more,” he said, sarcastically. “The players are really enjoying that. Let’s get playing. Find out what we got, make adjustments, move from there.”

Nervous at this time of year? Not in the playoffs. I do in the regular season because there's so much watching of others. Not now. You've got so much time to prepare. It's the fun part for us, sure it's agonizing for the players going over details, this is really the fun part for coaches. Then you have to adjust after today's game and make inroads on getting better whether you win or lose. I think the wakeup call for all of us was the road team won so many games last night. It shows you how even things are. You talk about home ice advantage, it turns on a dime and you have to make adjustments.

Special teams? I don't think you're going to get a lot of power play in this series. I don't think the power plays are really relevant. This series is going to be won 5 on 5. I think your penalty killing is going to get challenged. There's a lot of really competitive players that play on the power play so how you kill penalties is going to be really important and whether you can get penalty killing done at the right time in the right phase of the game. I think it's going to be really important. I think teams that are on the power play are going to have a really difficult time. So many good, good players – they use their top players to kill penalties, we use our top players to kill penalties. You've got a lot of good players out there, it's going to be hard scoring against that many committed players. If you have a tough time killing, you're going to have a tough time controlling the series because there's going to be that little advantage a team is looking for.

More prepared to handle ebbs and flows of series this year? I would say last year really unfair to even evaluate this team based on the lineup we tried to put in at start of series, which was not even close to the lineup all year with. I think our team deserves way more credit that criticisms for how they mustered it up and played through the things they did. We had a lot of players who spent two months in rebab playing one series. They came in banged up, got banged up worse. It was a tough go. I don't think you can evaluate that. For me, when a team says that they're ready, it's that they're ready to handle the ups and downs emotionally. Because there's an upheaval during the game, what you think is normal in league play is not normal. You're looking at a playoff game in Nashville, yesterday, in the first period of overtime, there are seven odd man rushes. You're just going to have to deal with that. It's the emotion that the players put in the. The games in first series have the most energy, have most bizarre plays at times. You're just going to have to feel through that. I think that's where we're better equipped. We've gone through these emotional … last year the series was four overtime games, two of them really long. We've gone through a lot of that so I think we're capable of handling that a little bit better than we were two or three years ago.

Not many penalties. Why? I don't think players are going to be cautious. I think both teams are built on structure and discipline. I think both teams recognize you don't want to let other teams best players on the ice. My feeling is, like any playoffs series, at the end of the day, you end up winning it 5 on 5. We spend all this time practicing on the power play and then we spend 50 of 60 minutes 5 on 5. I think that's where the series is going to be won.

The goaltending choice, Jake getting hot when he did, winning the games against Chicago impacted our decision a little bit, not saying made it easier, made it more defined. The pairs we have right now are natural. We're missing a pretty good player. We're missing a player that can add to the group, if we need to put Bortuzzo in, he's played very well for us. That's why, a month ago, when Shatty came back, why we practice him so much on the left side. We just felt that Bortuzzo was a lot better player than we thought we were getting, which was good for him and great for us. We needed to put things in place so if get to that it's not going to be a surprise. Shatty played a lot with Petro, he played the left side, did very well on it, we're prepared to make that change if we have to.

Making big changes in the postseason, like pulling a goalie? I think you deal with every game a separate entity. I don't you say anything is long term, not in this day and age. I think if you've got two goalies that you trust and one's not going well, you move in a different direction. You honor the start and then you deal with everything day by day. You look at the series last year between Minnesota and Chicago, players that weren't even in the series had a major impact halfway through. You have to gauge all that stuff. You can't look at anything longterm, you can't look at anything, where are we going to be at Game 3 or Game 4. You look at it every day individually and then you make decisions from there. You've got to put guys in you think can make a little bit of a difference because that's the little edge you're looking for every day. Once the next day starts, you have to look at things pretty critically.

Be back tonight after the game, and follow me on Twitter @russostrib for live game tweets.

Wild's top three goal scorers all sit tonight; Cooke returns; Yeo on lineup, starting Kuemper

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 9, 2015 - 2:25 PM

Oodles and oodles of news heading into tonight’s Wild-Nashville Predators game, and I’ll be on Fox Sports North tonight during the pregame show and first intermission to talk about much of it and let you know what I’m thinking in terms of my end of year awards voting.

The Wild, two days after clinching a playoff berth in Chicago, will be without its top-3 leading goal scorers tonight as it tries to tie the NHL record with a 12th consecutive road win.

Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter and Thomas Vanek, who have scored 77 of the Wild’s 221 goals (34.8 percent), won’t play. They all have nagging injuries, but the plan is for them to play in Saturday’s finale at St. Louis. Niederreiter has the foot injury, Vanek had the groin a month ago that he has been playing through and really struggled with his skating against the Blackhawks and Parise joked that he was “under the weather.”

“I guess it’s a good luxury to have, but at the same time you want to make sure you’re staying sharp and game ready,” Parise said. “I’m sure we’ll all be in the lineup Saturday.”

On what’s ailing him, Parise said, who has a team-leading 32 goals, said, “There’s been a lot of hard games lately. Everyone’s, I’m sure, got some bumps and bruises.”

“Maintenance day,” he said, smiling. “Of course I want to play. I was fully planning on playing, but in the long run, it’s probably better not to right now.”

Justin Fontaine and Sean Bergenheim weren’t supposed to play, but after line rushes, they were informed they would be playing and Parise and Niederreiter would sit. Niederreiter huddled on the ice after practice with coach Mike Yeo and athletic therapist Don Fuller, and it was decided he wouldn’t play.

He was very much visibly hurting in Chicago after being nailed by a Matt Dumba slapper late in Monday’s loss to Winnipeg.

“I just had to battle through,” Niederreiter said. “I had a couple good looks with Charlie and Schroeds. But when you’re not 100 percent, you go into battles differently and skating-wise, sometimes you change your skating and push more off your other leg.

“I could have played tonight, but they gave me the day off. As a player, you want to play. But we clinched the playoffs, so this is the safer side and I’ll be ready for St. Louis.”

Matt Cooke will return after missing 31 games with a sports hernia. He missed 22 games earlier this season with a hip injury. So he has only played 27 games.

He’s excited to play and “I’m just excited to get out there and help. I feel conditioning-wise I’m there. Game speed stuff, I don’t really have a choice, I’ve got to go out and play my game and get up to speed as quick as I can.”

Lines tonight:

Zucker-Koivu-Stewart

Bergenheim-Granlund-Pominville

Cooke-Coyle-Schroeder

Carter-Brodziak-Fontaine

Same defensemen, although Yeo made clear that Saturday’s lineup may look very much like the lineup they plan to start the playoffs with and Nate Prosser is expected back in.

However, he also said that the lineup they use in the playoffs could depend on the opponent. There are scenarios for the Wild to face St. Louis, Nashville, Anaheim or Chicago and “Certain players may be a better fit against certain opponents.”

Very interesting though tonight that Erik Haula doesn’t draw in, especially inside an arena where he had a great game in back in February. He is deep in the doghouse again, it appears.

Niklas Backstrom will back up Darcy Kuemper tonight.

Joked Yeo, “Devan Dubnyk is a healthy scratch tonight. I didn’t like that last goal in Chicago.”

In all seriousness, Yeo, in explaining why he won’t dress, said, “I think a night mentally completely off will be good for him.”

Why Kuemper tonight instead of Saturday? “To play Duby today, it would be three games in four days and I don’t think that makes a lot of sense right now [with a playoff berth clinched] and if we would play him today and not Saturday, that’s too long in between games.”

He means there that if he played today and not Saturday, that would be six or seven days without a game for Dubnyk depending on whether the Wild opens the playoffs Wednesday or Thursday.

On if he’s worried that the Blues could crash the net and take liberties with Dubnyk if there’s a chance the Wild is their first-round opponent, Yeo said, “You can’t operate like that right now. You can’t make decisions based on fear. You’ve got to make decisions on what’s best for the group. … Obviously I don’t think that any team that we’re playing is going to want to have suspensions going into the start of the playoffs either.”

On Kuemper making his first start since Jan. 6, Yeo said, “He’s been working hard. There was a time there where there was an awful lot of pressure on both of our goalies and with that our team I don’t think was playing our best game in front of them. Our game in front of our goaltenders has been better and hopefully we give him a good chance to succeed tonight. My message to Darcy was plain and simple: none of us really know what to expect. He looks really good in practice and we’re all hopeful he can come in and play a great game. What I want to see is him not focused on the score, just going out there and battling on every shot right now and hopefully as the game’s going on getting stronger through his game.”

Yeo insists there are so many scenarios, he has spent very little time thinking about which opponent the Wild may get in the first round.

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said the same thing.

Kuemper said, “I’m definitely excited.”

He was told after the Chicago game that it was probable he’d start tonight, “so I had a few days to prepare here.”

There will be inevitable rust. He hasn’t played since Jan. 20 in the NHL or started since Jan. 6, so chillax if he struggles. But they want to give him a game in case he’s needed in the playoffs.

“You’ve just got to be excited and ready to compete and give yourself a chance to make saves,” Kuemper said.

Watching Dubnyk, Kuemper said, “I’ve learned tons. It’s been tough in the sense you want to be out there playing. The team’s been doing awesome and been on quite the run here. It’s a fun thing to be a part of even if I’m not playing.”

It would not shock me if this is the last we see of Backstrom in a Wild uniform tonight. I just don’t think alternating goalies in the playoffs will be Yeo’s plan, and as I have assumed for months, Backstrom will be moved this summer, whether it’s via trade or buyout.

I’ll have a funny Matt Cullen note in Friday’s paper, too, and check out my Sunday column this week on whom I plan to vote for with my awards balloting.

That’s it for now.

Darcy Kuemper to make first start since Jan. 6

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 9, 2015 - 9:35 AM

Morning from Nashville.

If you didn't read Chip Scoggins' awesome story on Chris Stewart today, check that out here.

Here's my story on how far the Wild has come since the Jan. 14 Devan Dubnyk trade.

In that story, I also reported that it was believed Dubnyk's run of 39 consecutive starts (38 for the Wild) would come to an end tonight and that Darcy Kuemper would make his first since Jan. 6 tonight against the Predators.

Coach Mike Yeo confirmed that this morning on KFAN.

Dubnyk's 39 straight starts was the most in the NHL since Evgeni Nabokov started 43 in a row for the San Jose Sharks in 2007-08.

In 38 starts for the Wild, Dubnyk is 27-8-2 (one no decision) with a 1.73 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.

Kuemper's lone action since getting hurt in practice Jan. 7 came Jan. 20 in Detroit when he played 38 minutes in relief of Dubnyk. Kuemper stopped 14 of 14 shots and the Wild rallied from a 4-1, third-period deficit before suffering a shootout loss.

He did take part in a two-week AHL conditioning stint from Jan. 27-Feb. 8, going 2-3 with a 3.22 goals-against average, .891 save percentage and one shutout with Iowa.

Kuemper is 13-12-2 this season with a 2.62 goals-against average, .904 save percentage and three shutouts. He got off to a solid start this year before his game started to take a turn for the worse in mid to late November.

I talked to Kuemper the other day about getting a start in one of the final games.

“It’ll be fun to definitely be back in there,” Kuemper said. “You obviously want to play. This last little bit hasn’t been easy, but I’m just doing my best to stay sharp in practice and be supportive of the team.

“I know what I can do. I feel I’m a better goalie now than I was at the start of the year with all this practice. I feel my game is in a pretty good place right now.”

Obviously, there will be inevitable rust. This won't be an easy game as the Wild looks to tie the NHL record set by the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings with a 12th consecutive road win.

Dubnyk is expected to start Saturday's season finale against St. Louis.

There was a lot of internal debate as to which game Kuemper should start. Part of the concern was putting Dubnyk in harm's way against the Blues, a rugged team that the Wild may face in the first round, and during a game where players may not want to go all out in order to avoid injury. Remember last year's rout by the Predators against Minnesota in the home finale?

Historically (coincidence or not), the Wild has gotten goalies hurt in St. Louis (Manny Fernandez, Josh Harding, Niklas Backstrom and Kuemper), including Kuemper last year when David Backes ran him twice.

But in the end, Yeo didn't want Dubnyk basically having eight or nine days between starts (Tuesday in Chicago to the start of the playoffs Wednesday or Thursday).

I'd suspect Matt Cooke returns tonight. He has missed 30 games with a sports hernia. It wouldn't shock me if Nino Niederreiter rests in his injured foot. More after the morning skates.

Jason Zucker expected to return tonight; Nino Niederreiter OK; Another win and in for the Wild

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 7, 2015 - 4:33 PM

Coach Mike Yeo kept us in the dark about the Wild’ lineup against the Chicago Blackhawks, but Nino Niederreiter has a bruised foot (not a break) and will play and there’s a very, very, very good possibility Jason Zucker returns from a broken collarbone unless he says he’s unable after warmups.

Zucker has missed 26 games since Feb. 9 and certainly looked like a guy prepping to play. The Wild has won a franchise-record 10 consecutive road games and is 6-2-4 in the second of back-to-backs this year (thanks to Devan Dubnyk).

My guess is Jordan Schroeder plays for Ryan Carter.

My guess is if Zucker returns, Erik Haula is out.

My guess is defenseman Jordan Leopold plays for Nate Prosser.

My guess is Matt Cooke’s return waits.

My guess is Dubnyk starts. smileyHe is 4-0-1 in the second of back-to-backs with a 1.17 goals-against average and .967 save percentage since being pulled Jan. 20 at Detroit. Dubnyk is 14-1-1 in 17 road starts with a 1.44 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.

The Wild would clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Blackhawks in regulation or overtime OR if they win in a shootout AND any of the following occurs:

  • the Flames fail to win in regulation or overtime;
  • the Jets lose in any fashion; or
  • the Kings lose in any fashion.

* The Wild also would clinch a playoff berth if they lose to the Blackhawks in overtime or a shootout AND any of the following occurs:

  • the Kings lose in regulation;
  • the Kings lose in overtime or a shootout AND the Jets lose in regulation;
  • both the Flames and Kings lose in any fashion; or
  • the Flames lose in any fashion AND the Jets lose in regulation.

* If the Wild lose to the Blackhawks in regulation, they would clinch a playoff berth if both the Flames and Kings lose in regulation.

Only in the NHL can you have clinching scenarios this complicated. The fun part is everybody plays tonight: L.A at Edmonton (Kings beat the Oilers 8-zip last week). Calgary vs. Arizona (Coyotes stink). Jets playing in St. Louis. Tough game for Winnipeg.

Plain, simple: If the Wild wins in regulation or overtime, and the Wild’s in.

Let’s see if it can take care of business … this time.

Yeo on Niederreiter: “I think he’s going to be fine. There’s no breaks. Just a bit of a bruise. I’m expecting him to play. There’s no damage there.”

On the lineup, Yeo said, “We’re contemplating a few [changes], but there’s nothing set in stone.”

On Zucker, “There is a possibility that he could be in.”

Yeo said Cooke is “getting close. We have lineup decisions to make for tonight. We’ve got a lot of guys at our disposal. Everybody brings something different to the table. Zuck, his speed and the season that he’s been having, we’re very hopeful that he can come in and get up to speed in a real hurry and has the ability to play in different roles.”

Cooke, Yeo said is a veteran guy, a big part of “our PK, real effective in his role especially this time of year.”

On being battle tested for this, Yeo said, “We’ve faced adversity before, whether it was at different points of this season, whether it was previous years. Certainly whenever you’re in a situation like this, you want to draw upon that. And thats where the value of leadership comes in, just kind of showing the way. It’s not about what you say, it’s about how you go out and perform. When you step over the boards, the message you’re sending to the group that we have there.”

Asked though if he loses sleep that the Wild never does anything the easy way, Yeo said, “That’s kind of been our MO (smiling). That’s OK. Nothing good comes easy. But there really is no easy way. We played a very desperate, very good hockey team last night. We lost a hockey game, that happens. When we wake up this morning, there’s still a bitter taste in our mouth. Bottom line is, we’re still in a better position than most teams. We have three hard games coming up, but we’ve been a real good team over this last little stretch. We just have to make sure we’re ready each game to assert ourselves.”

Zucker said he has taken some contact from teammates in full equipment, but he said let’s be honest, “Full equipment isn’t really full equipment. You don’t know how it really feels until it happens in a game.”

Zucker said if he plays, “I’ll be ready. But I haven’t heard anything yet. It’s always a little bit different. Obviously none of your teammates want to crush you in practice or anything like that, but as far as what I’ve been doing, it’s been feeling good.”

On being out so long and how rusty he thinks he’ll be with the league so playoff-ready, Zucker said, “You never know. This is a hard time of year to be playing. It’s definitely a fun time to be playing, as well. I’ve obviously been out awhile, but I just want to get back in there.

“The process takes awhile, but once you get to this point and you’re almost playing again, it’s definitely fun. I know for myself, it’s just wanting to get back out there and help the team.”

Niederreiter said of the Matt Dumba blast that hit him, “I was just trying to get out of the way and hope it went in the net. But then it hit my foot. It was a great shot and we want the D to shoot the puck and sometimes you get hit.

“I was very happy that nothing major happened.”
 

Brad Richards is out for the Blackhawks with an upper-body injury. Patrick "Stanchion" Kane is still out with the broken collarbone. Bryan Bickell playing, so 1-0 Hawks already. wink

Talk later.

Revised Wild clinching scenarios as Mikko Koivu returns to Minnesota lineup

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 6, 2015 - 12:41 PM

The NHL has clarified this morning that if the Wild win in regulation OR overtime tonight against the Winnipeg Jets (not just regulation) in tonight's home regular-season finale, it will clinch a playoff spot regardless of the Kings outcome at Vancouver. Originally, it was thought if the Wild won in overtime, the Kings would have to lose in regulation.

Winning in regulation or overtime tonight gets the Wild to 98 points and 41 ROW (regulation and overtime wins). Because Winnipeg plays Calgary one more time, there is no way both those teams could finish BETTER than 98 points and 41 ROW.

There is a scenario in which Winnipeg finishes with more than 98 points (99) AND Calgary ties the Wild with 98 points and 41 ROW, but the Wild would win the head-to-head tiebreaker with Calgary.

If the Wild wins in a shootout tonight, the Wild would have 98 points and 40 ROW and theoretically both Winnipeg and Calgary could finish ahead of the Wild. So a shootout win only gets the Wild a playoff spot tonight IF the Kings lose to the Canucks in any fashion.

Obviously, in a league where there are three-point games, loser points and non-shootout win tiebreakers, clinching scenarios get very complicated.

Mikko Koivu says he is definitely back tonight. He said his injury occurred in an off-ice accident and it was just too dangerous for him to play the other night. He said the docs did a great job and he is good to go. He said this time of year, it was obviously very tough to miss the Red Wings game.

Jordan Schroeder will be scratched tonight. Ryan Carter gets back in. Since coach Mike Yeo said yesterday he wanted to give Erik Haula a chance to respond from a bad game against the Red Wings, this was the predictable decision just because of Carter's size and physicality against the big, physical, very aggressive Jets plays into his identity as a player.

Matt Cooke says he's ready to return. Yeo said tomorrow's lineup at Chicago is up in the air and will be determined after tonight's game.

Assistant coach Darby Hendrickson said the next step for Jason Zucker is to start getting into battles with players wearing pads. If he's to play Thursday in Nashville, that would need to happen tomorrow in Chicago because the Wild isn't practicing Wednesday.

Yeo said he's confident Zucker will be able to return "very soon."

Huge game tonight, and probably a nailbiter.

Ten of the 11 meetings between the Wild and Jets have been one-goal games, and the other one by two had an empty-netter. The Wild is 6-2-3 against the Jets and 3-0-2 at home against the Jets.

The Jets have won seven of their past 10 overall.

Devan Dubnyk vs. Ondrej Pavelec. No Toby Enstrom for the Jets, or suspended Dustin Byfuglien.

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