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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Wild hands Predators fourth regulation home loss to jump back inside playoff bubble

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: February 27, 2015 - 12:00 AM

As impressive of a Wild win this season, let alone road win, as the Wild walked into Nashville, where the NHL-best Predators had lost three times in regulation in 30 games, and won 4-2. Wild's back over .500 on the road for the first time since being 1-0. The Wild, which was at one point 2-6 on the road, has now won six of its last eight on the road.

“That was definitely one of the best all-around team efforts of the year,” Kyle Brodziak said after scoring a goal, an assist, being plus-3, winning 8 of 12 in the faceoff circle and being rock-solid on two penalty kills, especially the one in the third period of a one-goal game.

“You could tell everybody was into it right from the get-go. We had a great mindset going into the game and everything played out the way we could hope for.”

Nino Niederreiter scored his 20th and 21st goals of the season, Erik Haula had a goal in his best game of the season and Devan Dubnyk, who has allowed 31 goals in 19 games, stopped 27 of 29 against one of his former teams during this yearlong odyssey that has landed him in Minnesota.

The Sean Bergenheim trade caused Mike Yeo to shake up all four lines and that fourth line turned out to be yahtzee.

Haula, Brodziak and Justin Fontaine spent all night in the offensive zone, got assignments against Nashville’s best players and drew a penalty on top of the two goals.

“Those guys deserve a ton of credit for the way they played the game,” Yeo said. “Those guys, every shift they were making a difference, every shift they were creating chances and doing things the right way. Solid at both ends of the ice. They didn’t have easy matchups either.”

Said Brodziak, “It was one of those nights where it just felt like things were clicking and things were happening positively for us. The makeup of our line, we have the capability to play a smart game but also create once we get some turnovers and opportunities.”

Defensively, the Wild was outstanding and they did this in an up-and-down game. The Wild’s back pressure constantly disrupted plays and anytime there was a risky play in front of the net, the puck was sent into safe passages in the corner, along the wall or chipped out.

Ryan Suter, booed every time he touched the puck, was fabulous, but so too were guys like Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser, who was plus-3.

Yeo said, “I thought the play of our defensemen was outstanding all night. To have any kind of success against that team, the way that they played, you’re going to need that. There were certain aspects of our game that we asked them to focus on to make sure that we’re sharp in. we got a full commitment to that. It’s a huge team win.”

The Wild moved back into 8th and obviously it very much looks like Nashville will finish 1st. So technically, even though the Wild has 21 games left, this very could be a first-round matchup preview.

“I think that any playoff series would be awful fun right now, but we’ve got a lot of work to do until then,” Yeo said. “It’s important we stay on track.”

Yeo loves the responses after the Predators twice tied the score and the reunited Niederreiter-Charlie Coyle-Jordan Schroeder combined to set up a beautiful winning goal for Niederreiter in the second.

Yeo said, “They had a real strong game all night long. They looked very comfortable playing together.”

On Niederreiter getting to 20, Yeo said, “We need a guy like that to come into a building, play confident, play big like he did tonight and we need him to finish.”

Yeo liked Bergenheim’s game. He had four shots but was minus-2, but both goals weren’t his fault. Thomas Vanek lost Mike Fisher on the first goal and lost a board battle on the second that turned into Craig Smith’s breakaway.

Check out the gamer on startribune.com/wild for some great quotes by Dubnyk and Niederreiter and Brodziak and Haula (big bounceback game after being benched Tuesday) on the game, too.

Onto Denver now. The Wild has Friday off, so barring news, no blog from me as I work on my article for Saturday’s paper and my Sunday Insider package. Gotta go. 6 a.m. flight through MSP.

Crazy 9 p.m. CT start to that Avalanche game. I'll be on KFAN at 11:35 a.m. Saturday and on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission.

Sean Bergenheim to make Wild debut as Minnesota looks to rebound in Nashville

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: February 26, 2015 - 1:57 PM

Wild and Nashville Predators tonight on NBC Sports Network. Dave Strader upstairs with us wretches, Brian Engblom between the benches.

Sean Bergenheim will make his Wild debut on a line with countryman Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek (more on this below), Devan Dubnyk will start his 19th consecutive game (more on this below) with Darcy Kuemper riding shotgun and Niklas Backstrom's former backup, Pekka Rinne, getting the nod for the Preds.

On an aside, I had an awful morning. For the first time in my coffee-drinking career, I spilled an entire cup of Starbucks!

So, first off, before I illustrate how damaging that loss was to the lowly Edmonton Oilers the other night, here’s what the Wild is up against -- not only tonight, but three times in the final 22 games this season (to really put you in a good mood).

--The Predators are 26-3-1, including six consecutive wins, this season at rabid Bridgestone Arena and the other night in destroying the Colorado Avalanche tied an NHL record for the most wins by a team through its first 30 home games of one season (26, per the Elias Sports Bureau). So again, the Wild plays the first of three times the rest of the season in Smashville tonight, where the Preds have lost THREE times in regulation in 30 games.

--Renne, the 29th goaltender taken in the 2004 draft at 258 overall, leads the league with 35 victories and owns as 23-3-1 record at home with a 1.84 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

--The Preds are the best team in the NHL with a 41-13-7 record 89 points, a six-point lead in the race for the President’s Trophy.

--The Wild is 2-4-2 in its past eight in Nashville, including one regulation win in that eight-game stretch. In the past eight games here, the Wild is 3 for 22 on the power play.

-- Some other tidbits: The Wild’s penalty kill is 34 for 35 in the past 14 games (11-2-1). Former Predator Devan Dubnyk, who will start his 19th consecutive game tonight (one off Niklas Backstrom’s team record), has allowed 29 goals in 18 games. Jordan Schroeder has five points in his past five games. Jason Pominville has really dried up. The streaky scorer is known to go through droughts, but usually in those cases, he’s getting chances. Pominville has 11 shots and no points in the past six games since scoring goals in three straight games. That six-game pointless streak is his longest drought in parts of three seasons with the Wild.

That Oilers loss the other night was so damaging to the Wild in the standings. Not only did Winnipeg, Los Angeles and Vancouver all win that night, Calgary lost. So the Wild could have gone three points up on eighth.

Instead, the Flames rebounded last night with a win at awful New Jersey, so the Wild is back into ninth place – one point behind the Flames with a game in hand and one point ahead of the Sharks with a game in hand. The Wild’s four back of the seventh-place Jets with two games in hand.

So the Wild’s task tonight is to rebound from losing to the worst team in the Western Conference against the best team in the NHL inside in an arena where the Predators rarely lose.

As I said when the Wild got into the top-8, the final stretch of the season would still have lots of jockeying for position, probably a temporary spot inside that top-8 and a roller coaster of emotions the rest of the way.

Bergenheim was supposed to get into snowy Nashville last night, but there was bad weather both in Atlanta and here, so his Atlanta to Nashville connection was cancelled.

So he woke up at 5:30 and flew nonstop to Nashville from Ft. Lauderdale this morning. After the morning skate, he sat with assistant coach Darryl Sydor to go over every facet of the Wild’s systems for a half-hour.

 

 

So he may be playing on some adrenaline tonight on that Koivu line.

The lines tonight:

Bergenheim-Koivu-Vanek

Parise-Granlund-Pominville

Niederreiter-Coyle-Schroeder (reunited)

Haula-Brodziak-Fontaine

Stephane Veilleux is scratched.

On the line changes, coach Mike Yeo said, “Obviously when you have a change to your lineup like [trading for Bergenheim], it’s going to affect a lot of things. We tried to look at a lot of different scenarios and first off putting a couple lines together that have had chemistry in the past with Nino, Charlie, Schroeds and also Granny, Zach and Pommer.

“Thomas, his game lately, he’s involved in probably six to eight scoring chances every game, so we think where he’s at with Mikko and the way that Mikko’s been playing, that line has the ability to create. But we also think that they need somebody that’s going to be on the puck, that’s going to hound pucks, that’s going to forecheck, that’s going to go to the net, but also that’s going to be responsible at both ends of the ice. We’ll see how it works at.”

We will see. Not sure what I think of Vanek there. I’d put Schroeder, but I think they want to reunite that Nino-Coyle-Schroeder line that was real good in Vancouver (Schroeder to Nino for 2 goals) and Vanek can’t be on the fourth line. And we know by now, Fontaine can adjust from role to role.

Bergenheim hasn’t played since Feb. 12 in Minnesota, a healthy scratch by Florida since asking to be traded.

“He says he’s been trying to do his part in practice,” Yeo said. “Obviously games are a different situation, so we’ll be keeping an eye on that during the course of the game. But at some point we have to make sure we’re playing him in shape here, too, so we might as well throw him right into the fire.”

Bergenheim doesn’t look out of shape. Yeo called him a big guy the other night and I took that to mean tall. He’s only 5-10. But Yeo meant was thick. The guy is jacked and looks to be very well-conditioned and definitely plays a hard game when it comes to battle and finishing checks. He also skates well.

Yeo said, “I don’t think it’s fair for us to expect or demand perfection right from the start. New system, new players. There will be a lot of changes, but he should be able to provide some energy for us.”

Bergenheim said, “It was an interesting 24 hours because I had to try to travel quite a bit (he first went from Chicago to Florida). But the mood is very, very good and I’m very excited to be here.

“I packed a few warm jackets and now I’m good to go.”

On not playing for so long and maybe having to play 18-20 minutes tonight, Bergenheim said, “I’m in good shape. I’ve been training hard. I don’t feel like I haven’t played in two weeks. I feel good. That’s all that matters.”

He’s got the Finnish Granlund-like blonde blow going. In fact, Bergenheim could be what Granlund will look like in 10 years.

Speaking of Finns, Haula played six minutes the other night and was responsible for the second goal largely with mistakes in the neutral zone and the D-zone. He saw his stick in half afterward.

“I talked to him about it, and he’s aware of it and he was not happy with himself on it,” Yeo said. “In that game, he was doing some good things, hit the post, another chance off the rush. But you look at the way our lines are constructed right now, we need him and we need that line to make sure that they’re extremely good defensively.

“He’s still a young kid who’s still trying to learn from that stuff.”

With Fontaine on the right, Brodziak moves to the middle because Yeo doesn’t want Brodziak to have to play his off wing. But there will be times on the left side in the D-zone Haula may take draws.

Dubnyk’s “This is Your Life” tour, which I stole from somebody on Twitter I think (can’t remember where I saw that), continues tonight in Nashville.

We’ve seen him play Arizona. We’ve seen him play Edmonton. We’ve written a ton about his experience playing in Montreal’s farm team in Nashville.

Well, what the heck happened in Nashville, where he played two games, allowing five goals on 29 shots in a 5-4 debut loss to Colorado and four goals on 31 shots in a 5-4 shootout loss in Calgary?

He never played again, was put on waivers and ultimately sent to Montreal.

“My confidence wasn’t overly high at the time of the trade [from Edmonton],” Dubnyk said. “I only got the opportunity to play two games. Unfortunately my first game, I didn’t do a very good job. I was pretty nervous. When I came to Nashville, I think I put way too much pressure on myself. You just can’t perform that way. I wasn’t very good my first game at all and second game was ok and then that was kind of it.

“Carter Hutton was lights out. He earned every start he got. When you watch a guy that’s as good a guy as he is, how hard he worked and how well he was playing, you just try to wait for your turn and unfortunately it didn’t come. Peks came back after the Olympic break and I was the odd man out.”

Expect a motivated Parise tonight. He had an unbelievably frustrating night of knee hockey.

He lost all three games he played last night at Matt Cullen’s Brentwood house.

Cullen’s three boys picked the teams. The teams switched every game. And Parise ended up on the losing team every single time, he said, laughing hysterically.

“But it was a blast. Just awesome. What a great family,” Parise said.

I may be doing my Sunday column this week on Cullen, who’s in the last year of his deal and looking to win his second Stanley Cup with his favorite coach, Peter Laviolette, as bench boss.

Talk later.

Sean Bergenheim excited about trade

Posted by: Rachel Blount under Wild trade news Updated: February 25, 2015 - 3:18 PM

It's not often that someone leaves Florida to come to Minnesota in February and proclaims "it will be nice to see some snow.'' The Wild's newly acquired forward, Sean Bergenheim, said in a conference call Wednesday that he won't be bothered by the cold, because he's from Finland. He also thinks those roots will help him adapt quickly to his new team, which is populated by friends from his home country including Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund.

Bergenheim, 31, traveled on Wednesday from Florida to Nashville, where he will join the Wild for Thursday's game against the Predators. He is looking to hit the reset button on a season that went sour in Florida. He has been a healthy scratch recently but said he is happy with how he's played when he's been in the lineup. Bergenheim had eight goals and 10 assists in 39 games for the Panthers, averaging 14 minutes, nine seconds of ice time per game.

Though he said he doesn't "have any issues'' with anyone in the Panthers organization, Bergenheim noted that he had not been a healthy scratch until he recently asked to be traded. He feels he has plenty to add to a Wild roster scrambling to make the playoffs.

"I think one of my strengths is I'm a pretty versatile player,'' said Bergenheim, who said he won't know until Thursday morning whether he will play against the Predators. "I feel I can help in different situations and play in different roles. I want to do whatever I can.

"I think there's something I can give to this team. I want to bring energy, I want to bring forechecking, I want to bring pressure in the offensive zone. I want to get the pucks to the net, get myself to the net, and hopefully score some goals for this team.''

Bergenheim said he talked Wednesday with Wild coach Mike Yeo, but he doesn't have a sense yet of what his role might be. He also is unfamiliar with his new team's systems; having spent his entire NHL career in the Eastern Conference, he hasn't seen much of the Wild.

Though midseason trades are tough, he said his friendships with Koivu and Granlund will help him adjust. Bergenheim knows Koivu well from their junior days, when they played together on Finland's national team and faced off against each other as well. He has trained with Granlund in the summer, and he also knows Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom.

Bergenheim is in the last year of his contract, but he said he doesn't feel any pressure. "I'm pretty happy with how I've played this season in the role I've been given,'' he said. "But I know also there's a lot more energy in me to play a better role. Whatever the role is, there's a lot of energy.

"Whether it's my last or first or second or third year of my contract, it doesn’t really matter. I just try to do the best I can every time I'm out there. Right now, I just want to play for the Wild, and I really want to play in the playoffs and have some fun there.''

About those playoffs: Bergenheim has a penchant for coming up big in postseason play, with 12 goals and five assists in 23 NHL playoff games for Tampa Bay and Florida.

Many of the Wild's top players took Wednesday morning off as the team held an optional practice at Ridder Arena, run by the assistant coaches, before heading to Nashville Wednesday afternoon.

RACHEL BLOUNT

Hulsizer in, Falcone out as Wild minority owner

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild management, Wild news Updated: February 25, 2015 - 12:25 PM

UPDATED

Matthew Hulsizer has become a minority owner of the Wild and minority owner Phil Falcone is out.

Hulsizer, a Chicagoan and former Amherst College hockey player, is CEO of PEAK6 Investments. Hulsizer has purchased 100 percent of Falcone's shares, which was down to less than 25 percent of the team after majority owner Craig Leipold purchased pieces of his stake over the past few years.

Hulsizer has been part of bids to buy the Coyotes and the Blues. He also kicked tires in Dallas and Carolina.

During a long comprehensive process that actually delayed this transfer for some time, Hulsizer got re-vetted by the NHL even though he has been vetted many times during his previous purchase attempts. Hulsizer met with the executive committee during the All-Star Game and was approved unanimously during a fax vote this week by the Board of Governors.

Leipold remains the team's majority owner.

As a result of this new agreement, there is no ability for any minority owner to obtain a majority stake in the team. That is different than the old agreement that did have a buy-sell clause. That meant there were mechanisms for Falcone to eventually become the majority owner by buying Leipold out or Leipold buying Falcone out.

That is no longer in this agreement with Hulsizer. Leipold said he's in for the long haul. "I'm planning to keep this for generations. This is becoming now a family investment."

"He is a hockey gooney," Leipold said, laughing, said of Hulsizer. "He's just a hockey guy. He loves hockey. He's a hockey fanatic. He watches all games at night. Now, he loves the Wild. For the last four months, during almost every game, I get texts from him and we kibbitz back and forth during the games. He's got a pretty good eye for talent and he's not shy to let me know what's going on with other players.

"He really believes in the analytical aspect of hockey. That comes from the business that he is in, in statistics and analytics of understanding stock markets and money funds and the value of international currencies. He's a numbers guy. He plays hockey today. He coaches his kids in hockey. He's going to be a fun guy to own the team with.

"Being a minority owner with a hockey team in a big hockey market, he's going to fit in real nicely. He loves the game. Let me tell you right now, he's made it very clear, he's only about winning. He's only about winning. That's what it's all about. That's why we hit it off so well. Listen, he doesn't ask about the financials of the team. He doesn't ask about the revenue and expenses. He asks one thing: How are we going to win?"

Leipold said, laughing, "That's the kind of guy I want, because frankly I do ask about revenue and I do ask about losses. It's only about winning. No question, he's a huge Wild fan right now. We both have one objective in mind and it's the same as Chuck Fletcher's and all of the players, and that's to win a Cup. That's the perfect partner."

Leipold said Hulsizer will probably make it to five games a year because he's not a fan of flying. "He drives over to Iowa to watch the American Hockey League games."

(Russo note: Hulsizer must be a glutton for punishment then. I kid, I kid, the Iowa Wild).

Falcone has had some well-documented troubles with the SEC, paying an $18 million fine two years ago.

"Phil was a really good partner," Leipold said. "Similar to Hulsizer, he was focused on winning the Cup as well. I like Phil. We spoke often. He had some personal reasons to exit the investment, and I respect that. But he's going to be a Wild fan forever and I've encouraged him to come back and watch games with me."

A quick hockey-related note: Forward Michael Keranen has been sent back to Iowa.  He was scratched four times without making his NHL debut. The Wild's had an optional today. Rachel Blount is covering and she'll be on the Sean Bergenheim conference call this afternoon and blog afterward.

I am doing another podcast with Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan at 2:30 p.m. before my flight to Nashville. You can listen live at souhanunfiltered.com.

Here's the team's official release on Hulsizer:

The Minnesota Wild today announced changes in the makeup of its board of directors and investment partnership structure. 

Matthew Hulsizer joins the board of directors as vice chairman and minority owner effective immediately. Hulsizer is co-founder and chief executive officer of PEAK6 Investments, L.P. based in Chicago.  He is a passionate hockey enthusiast, played hockey at Amherst College and continues to play and coach in the Chicago area. Hulsizer’s ownership stake was unanimously approved by the NHL Board of Governors. 

“I am very honored and excited to be a part of the Wild organization and to be partners with Craig [Leipold],” said Hulsizer. “As a life-long hockey player and fan, I have always dreamed of winning a Stanley Cup. Craig and I share a commitment to winning and we look forward to bringing the Stanley Cup to Minnesota.”

Also effective immediately, Philip Falcone, CEO and chairman of HC2 Holdings in New York, is vacating his minority ownership stake in the Wild after deciding to focus on other opportunities.

“It’s been a great seven years being part of the NHL and the Wild family,” said Falcone. “As a true Minnesotan, I’m as passionate about hockey and the Wild as I’ve ever been.  Unfortunately given my New York City residency and schedule, I haven’t been able to enjoy this asset and spend as much time involved in the organization as I would have liked, so I’ve decided to pursue a different path. I wish Craig and the team nothing but the best and hope they can bring the Stanley Cup to the State of Hockey.”

“On behalf of the Minnesota Wild and the State of Hockey, I would like to offer Philip our sincere thanks for his support of the Wild and hockey in general over the past seven years,” Leipold said. “With Philip’s support, we were able to return the franchise to the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two years. He has been a terrific owner and partner during his tenure with the organization.”   

With these investor changes, the Minnesota Wild board of director’s membership now includes Chairman Craig Leipold, Vice Chairman Matthew Hulsizer, Quinn Martin, Mark Pacchini and Jac Sperling.

After acquiring Sean Bergenheim, Wild suffers disappointing loss to West's worst

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: February 25, 2015 - 12:21 AM

Obviously, a very disappointing 2-1 loss by the Wild tonight to the Edmonton Oilers. Judging from my Twitter mentions, holy geez, did one loss make much of the Wild population forget about the 11-1-1 streak and leap off the bandwagon.

My goodness, the anger and nastiness and downright meanness and, well, what you’d expect on Twitter.

Bad loss for the Wild, no doubt, and it’s something coach Mike Yeo said afterward was “what we were afraid of.”

Jason Pominville, who has no points and 11 shots on goal in the past six games after scoring goals in three straight, said Yeo warned the team not to let down after getting into the top-8 and this could be a classic trap game after the Oilers said they were embarrassed by the Wild last Friday and were booed by their fans and even had one knucklehead throw HIS KID’S jersey onto the ice.

So the Oilers were bound to be motivated Tuesday, and Wild players didn’t help matters by playing as bad as we’ve seen them in some time, particularly at home, where they had won six in a row.

The Wild had one shot in the first 11 ½ minutes.

To the Oilers, a defensively-poor team (albeit much better defensively under quality coach Todd Nelson) that had four wins all season in 36 games against the West.

Benoit Pouliot, whom the Wild swung and missed on at fourth overall in 2005, scored twice, including 32 seconds after Jordan Schroeder set up Thomas Vanek for the tying goal.

The Wild recovered from the bad first period by controlling the final two periods, but the Wild aggravatingly couldn’t finish (Ben Scrivens stopped all 28 of Minnesota’s shots in the last two periods) or had shots blocked (24 in all, including 18 in the final 40 minutes).

The Wild came so close so many times to scoring, but either had it stopped by Scrivens, had it blocked or had pucks bounce off sticks or get shanked.

Yeo mixed up his first two lines to create a spark and it definitely led to pressure. But no goals.

Some guys like Coyle at least worked hard. But despite so many battles and chances with the puck in front of the net, he ended up with one assist and two shots. Just no production like everyone else.

Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin were all minus-2. Vanek scored a goal but exasperated the crowd a couple times by passing up shots or a feeble attempt on a breakaway with a chance to tie.

The power play also failed twice in the third with a chance to tie.

“Some guys were able to find their game, some guys couldn’t recover,” Yeo said. “The last couple periods, we had good pressure. We had good zone time, but we didn’t finish. We put ourselves in a hole that we shouldn’t have been in.”

Erik Haula, who hit the post on a first-period shorthanded breakaway, only played six minutes tonight and one shift in the third. My guess is he’s in the doghouse again, although to be honest, because I was writing the Sean Bergenheim story for the first two periods, I missed many of shifts. But second goal, largely his fault and he showed his frustration bigtime after.

But perhaps Kyle Brodziak moves to the middle in Nashville and Haula comes out for Bergenheim.

Bergenheim was flying from Chicago to Florida on Wednesday, then onto Nashville, where he’ll meet the team and maybe debut Thursday. He’ll wear No. 23.

Yeo, whom I don’t think knows a ton about Bergenheim because he called him a “big body,” said he’s a “playoff-type hockey player” (which he absolutely has been) who plays the game responsibly and hounds puck on the forecheck. Maybe Yeo just thinks he’s a big body because he is indeed a straight-line, forechecking, go-to-the-net speedster.

Rachel Blount is covering Wednesday’s practice and will also be on the Bergenheim conference call, so she’ll blog afterward and you can follow her on Twitter at @blountstrib.

As I wrote in my Sunday column, the two forwards I knew it inquired about was Bergenheim and Antoine Vermette. It would still love to get Vermette, but right now I’m told the price is way more than GM Chuck Fletcher is willing to pay. But Vermette is a guy with skill who can play the third line and win draws (he’s seventh in the league) on one of the more average faceoff teams in the NHL beyond Mikko Koivu. Although, like last year, Mikael Granlund is improving as the season goes along in that department.

But Bergenheim makes sense because the price came down from a second and a third and he is the classic depth rental guy Fletcher had been hinting at the past few days. Similarly, before Monday, look for Fletcher to acquire a depth defenseman.

You can read more on Bergenheim on the below blog, but Koivu has played with him in the world championships.

“Good speed. His work ethic, he’s an honest player,” Koivu said. “Had lots of success in this league earlier on good teams. He has some playoff experience. He’s been on winning teams, and that’s always an important thing. Good two-way player. He can help in a lot of areas.”

Parise didn’t buy that this was a classic letdown game. He just said the Wild had a bad first period.

“We’re going to lose. We’re going to lose before the season ends,” he said. “Unfortunately tonight was a game that one not good period cost us the game. That’s the reality. Their goalie was good. But, we’ll be fine.”

Vanek felt the Wild deserved better because it outplayed Edmonton in the final two periods, which the Oilers agreed with wholeheartedly after the game.

“End of the year you hope those games even out that you earn the other of one of those games,” Vanek said. “At the stage, where we’re at in the standings, it’s a tough to two points to lose.

“Once they got the lead, they sat back. We made enough good plays to get around those five guys there in the middle and [Scrivens] made some great saves.

“As much as this one hurts and it’s frustrating, we’ve got good character in here. We’ll forget about this one and have a good day of practice and just get ready. This is a team that doesn’t take anyone lightly even though we lost to one of the worst teams in the league. We played hard, we played well, had chances. Could have been 5-, 6-1. But we lost 2-1.”

The Wild, still clinging to eighth but four back of Winnipeg (which beat Dallas) now heads to Nashville and Denver. The Preds are the NHL’s best team and have lost three games in regulation all year. The Wild doesn’t have a lot of success in that arena either (2-4-2 in its past eight there).

“Big road trip ahead of us,” Koivu said. “You can’t think about this too long. We’ve got to learn from it. But we’ve got to face the best team in the league in their building, so we have to put everything we have on that one.”

Rachel’s on Wednesday as I travel. I’ll be next with you Thursday from Nashville.

I’ll also be doing another live podcast with columnist Jim Souhan at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at souhanunfiltered.com. I’ll be coming from the Alive&Social Network studio, Jim from spring training in Ft. Myers.

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