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 veteran left Matt Cooke and GM Chuck Fletcher were in New York today for an in-person hearing stemming from Cooke’s knee-on-knee hit on Colorado’s Tyson Barrie on Monday.
Cooke faces a significant suspension, one that is expected to be announced later today (I'll blog later when ruling is out). Remember, Cooke can appeal any suspension to Commissioner Gary Bettman and any suspension six games or more to a neutral arbitrator. He cannot play during any appeals process.
So at the very minimum, we shouldn’t expect to see Cooke again in the first round. Want to hear my thoughts on Cooke and other interesting things? Last night, I did another edition of Denver Post Avs beat writer Adrian Dater’s Podcast, “Hockey Talk.” Fox 9’s Dawn Mitchell also joins! We talk about a number of interesting things, I think. Here’s the link!!! It’s about an hour. Last week’s one is also on iTunes. (free).
Good day from the X, the site of Game 4 Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. CT. The NHL has announced that Game 5 will be at 7:30 p.m. MT/8:30 p.m. CT on Saturday from the Pepsi Center in Denver.
With Cooke suspended, youngster Nino Niederreiter will take Cooke’s spot on the left side of the shutdown line with rookies Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine on Thursday. Haula, Fontaine and Cooke were largely credited for helping slow the Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Nathan MacKinnon line in Monday’s 1-0 OT win.
Fontaine and Haula were quick to say it was a team effort of five-man units, good gaps and large portions of the game played in the offensive zone. That must continue.
If you remember, in almost identical circumstances, the Wild returned to Minnesota to play Game 3 last year against the Blackhawks. In almost identical circumstances, the Wild needed an overtime win (Jason Zucker’s heroics off Matt Cullen’s setup) to beat Chicago in a game the Wild dominated. Sound familiar?
The Wild then came out in Game 4, started well, didn’t score, went 0 for 6 on the power play and lost 3-0 to the Blackhawks. That set the stage for a Game 5 blowout.
You know that Colorado will come out a desperate team in Game 4 because it knows a victory means it can close the series at home Saturday. The Wild must exceed that desperation Thursday to even up the series.
With Cooke coming out of the lineup, Kyle Brodziak enters back in the fray. Scratched in Game 3, Brodziak will center the fourth line with Dany Heatley and Cody McCormick.
Here’s some of coach Mike Yeo’s thoughts from today:
On putting Niederreiter on that third line: "Yeah, obviously like I said yesterday there's some things we discussed, different scenarios we could have tried. Probably looking at the way Haulzie and Fonzie played, trying to keep that intact. Adding a guy who can be strong on the puck, whose responsible defensively and can play a strong two-way game and that was important to us. Obviously a good challenge for three young kids."
Concerned about youth? “Listen, they're a big part of our team. We have confidence in those guys so we're not going to try to hide anybody out here. Obviously if we feel it's not working, I'm comfortable with any line. I'm comfortable with any of our centermen. If that's their assignment they'll take care of it and if we put somebody else on the task they'll have to take care of it too”
Evaluate Niederreiter’s year: “I think it's been very good. It would be easy to sit here and say he started off one way and finished another. It's the time of year where the hockey has improved and the pace of play has improved. What I really appreciate about him is we've been able to insert him into different roles. We've put him in a scoring role, we've put him in a checking role and he's always sort of adapted. To me, that's the sign of a good player. That's the sign of a guy who's going to have a good career. He's not pigeon-holed. For a player like that, big strong, physical guy he has skill. I feel really good about how he's developed and I think it's been a good first year for him here.”
Urgency needed Thursday: “Well, there better be. It’s not like we’re ahead in the series here. We’re down and I think we recognize that they’re going to come in with a real strong effort next game. i think that they recognize the importance of the next game, let’s not kid ourselves, and I think we should too. We would love the opportunity to go back to Colorado with some momentum, we’d love the opportunity to go back to Colorado and hopefully they’re feeling a bit of pressure. I think that game is going to be an important one.”
Last year proof of that?: “That’s part of it. Let’s not kid ourselves, we know it’s a swing game, for sure. I look closely at that game last year, we had a real good start and then the game kind of got away from us. I think what’s important is, we understand the result we want to have but there’s a way we have to do it and there’s a way we have to play the game. We have to make sure we’re ready for that.”
Built up momentum in Game 3, does Cooke let air out of the balloon?: “It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen. We started the game really well, we built momentum and they started to come on as the game went on. I thought we were actually tight starting overtime. Getting that goal was big for us because it felt like that was the first sign of us starting to fear that maybe something was getting away from us. I think getting that goal was huge, for me momentum it’s always there, it’s always something that you feel but at the same time, it’s always something you have to establish and keep or establish. So, going into next game, I think both teams will recognize the importance of the start. I know they’re going to come out hard and obviously our guys are going to have to too. We’re going to have to be ready to, not only come out hard, but sharp. If they’re going to pressure harder, we have to move the puck a little bit better, if they;re going to play more physical, we’re going to have to be ready to take hits to make plays, whatever the case is, at the same time, we’re gotta make sure that we’re ready to dictate and not just sit there see what they’re going to bring.”
Brodziak, what do you want?: “You know, the same things that we always want from him. Obviously penalty killing will be important and sort of a defensive-minded presence on the ice but a guy who’s going to be play the game hard both ends of the ice and a guy who’s going to be strong on the puck. That’s really not a big change for him, and I’m confident he’ll come in and play well.”
Heatley, and how well he played: “I was real happy to see the way that he came in. I give real credit to him the way that he’s handled himself since being out. For a veteran guy like that and the success that he’s had, to not start in our lineup, he handled it with a great deal of professionalism. But more importantly he made sure that he was ready. The fact that he’s been around, that he understands that there’s going to be changes for injury or performance. He made sure that he was ready, and obviously if he keeps going the way he’s at, it’s a great thing for us and he’ll continue to get more opportunities.”
Who initiates physical play now without Cooke?: “I think that typically we’re not a team that one looks to one guy and sees how he’s playing and then we all react to it. We had the opportunity before Game 3 where I met with every player and just kind of figured out where they’re at mentally, and they sat there and told me what they were going to bring. We have an attitude as a group that we all play sort of the same way of how we play without the puck, how we play with the puck and again, whether that’s finishing a check or how you play in your own zone, or how that’s how you execute with the puck, we try to all be on the same page. So I would expect the same tomorrow.”
On Thursday, I'll be on KFAN at some time in the morning on P.A.'s show (9:55 a.m. subject to change), on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio Sirius 207 XM 211 at 3:20 p.m., on NHL Network's NHL Live (arena cam) at 5:35 p.m. and on KFAN with Barreiro at 5:55 p.m.
Joey Hishon, the 2010 first-round pick by the Avs, has been recalled and will make his NHL debut on Colorado's fourth line and the power play. Ryan Wilson replaced Barrie on the blue line.
The Wild enjoyed its first trip to Raleigh in almost four years exactly. A little hoops, a nice dinner and two points.
It wasn’t the prettiest game of the Wild’s season, but the Wild played plenty of pretty games early in the season against L.A., Anaheim, Nashville and Toronto and didn’t grab the full two-point allotment.
So, as they say in the biz, they’ll take it.
3-2 shootout winners against Carolina. The Wild entered 0-3 in shootouts and 0 for 7 in shootout shooters this season. That blemish disappeared tonight when Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville scored career shootout goals No. 33, 31 and 19, respectively, to ruin Justin Peters’ night. The kid has given up eight shootout goals in 11 attempts in his career.
Parise said somebody (probably goalie coach Bob Mason) radioed from atop prior to the shootout that Peters bites on the fake. Parise deked and deked until Peters was faked out of his breezers.
The goals came after the Wild killed off a 67-second 4-on-3 disadvantage to end overtime. Boneheaded play by the Hurricanes as they much to the chagrin of their moaning fans working the puck astonishingly for 30 or 35 seconds on the delayed penalty.
“If it were me, I would have thrown it right on net and tried to get a whistle and get a 1:40 4-on-3,” Parise said. “We were all on the bench confused why they would do that.”
In regulation, Pominville scored a breakaway goal after he shrewdly read a blocked shot and took off in the neutral zone. Ryan Suter indeed blocked the shot and sprung Pominville for a breakaway goal, the 200th goal of his career. He now leads the team with 11 and has 7 in his last 7 games. He has 14 goals in his career vs. the Canes.
Josh Harding stopped 27 of 29 shots and was only beaten once in the shootout. He leads the NHL now with a 1.22 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.
Suter only (kidding) logged 35 minutes, 28 seconds. He was a horse. Yeo joked the Wild cut him a break tonight because he played 36:51 in Washington.
Yeo said playing Suter this much is not ideal, that he doesn’t want to play him 35 minutes every game, but if the game is on the ice, “who do you want on the ice? And if he’s not showing he’s tired and still can perform at a high level, when there’s two points hanging there for you, you want him on the ice.”
Marco Scandella was outstanding, assisting on Justin Fontaine’s tying goal in the second. Fontaine now has six goal, tied for third among rookies, and five in his past nine games. He also had a nasty gash around his right ear after the game from being clocked by a Suter clear.
Scandella was just solid as I said and Yeo said he hasn’t seen him play at this level.
In 12 games since he was scratched for three, Scandella is a plus-7 with only one minus-1 game included.
Sloppy game overall. Ice was awful. Carolina pressures well. Matt Dumba had a bunch of turnovers and only played 10 minutes. If Clayton Stoner can play Wednesday, he will likely sit again. But a lot of guys just seemed off tonight. Even Charlie Coyle played one of the poorest games I’ve seen him play.
Kyle Brodziak had a real good game with Fontaine and Matt Cooke. Brodziak had five shots and they were out there a lot against the Staaaaaaaals.
The Wild (10-4-4) has 24 points, tied for the most points in franchise history after 18 games (2006-07, a team I actually thought was better than the 2008 division winner).
Parise’s 33 shootout goals are tied for first in NHL history (9 years) and Koivu’s 31 are tied for fifth (but second-most).
The Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Pominville line has been the Wild’s offensive engine during its hot streak. The trio has 10 goals and 22 points in the past seven games.
That’s it for me. Wild is off Sunday, which means no blog unless there’s news. I didn’t see it, but Jason Zucker got a five and game for his second checking to the head penalty of the season. So he could see his second suspension on the horizon.
Rachel is covering for me Monday. I’ll be back with you Tuesday, although I plan a story on Niklas Backstrom in Monday’s paper.
Whenever you have a good, young player it’s tough to make a deal. But if we didn’t get Cal in return, it’s not something we would have considered. We got a quality player that’ll be inserted into our lineup to help our team win.
(Problems with Nino?) I’m not going to speak from (Niederreiter’s) perspective, but for us, no.
You’ve got to give up something to get something, and that’s what we did.
I had some foresight that I might be traded ahead of the draft, so it wasn’t a total shock. It’s a good situation for me and I’m excited.
I’ve known John (Tavares) since he came into the OHL as a fresh-faced, 14-year-old. We go back a ways. And he’s obviously a great player. It bodes well for the franchise going forward.
It’s tough to leave (Minnesota) for sure. It would have been a whole lot tougher if it were a midseason thing -- the summer is a little different, you have a little more time to let it sink in.
Sunday's 2 p.m. CT NHL draft is fast approaching (NBC Sports Network from 2-7 p.m.; NHL Network after 7 p.m.), and the Wild continues to shop Cal Clutterbuck and Tom Gilbert, especially.
Typically, deals like this come down on the draft floor or just before the draft because the Wild is looking for either a first-round pick in the Clutterbuck deal (teams are hesitant to give up firsts right now because this draft is so deep) or a second so it could potentially use two seconds to try to move into the first round.
And often times when picks are involved, the teams involved want to make certain first the player they want to take is still sitting there. For instance, in 2006 when the Wild acquired Pavol Demitra for a first and Patrick O'Sullivan, the L.A. Kings didn't agree to the deal until they were certain Trevor Lewis would still be there.
As you saw in today's story, it is looking increasingly likely that Clutterbuck will be traded this weekend. He has value, he is a restricted free agent and the Wild's cap space is limited. The Wild is looking for a second and prospect, but perhaps the price can go up if there's a bidding war for Clutterbuck.
I do hear that GM Chuck Fletcher would prefer to trade Clutterbuck to the East. As I reported the other day, Fletcher had lunch Thursday with Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis. Boston may make sense, too. In the West, as I reported last week, I hear Edmonton has shown significant interest. But I'd be lying if I said I know all the teams involved.
Again, Gilbert's future is almost certainly elsewhere. If he's not traded, the Wild will likely buy him out and create an extra $4 million of cap space. It'll also be interesting to see if the Wild moves guys like Devin Setoguchi or Kyle Brodziak or Torrey Mitchell. It's listening to offers at least.
As I've reported, with Jake Dowell likely going to be the fourth-line center next season and Mike Rupp also in the fold, Zenon Konopka is also on the block. Fletcher said recently that the Wild have a few guys who play the same role.
I've gotten lots of emails and tweets asking if the Wild's going after this guy and this guy and this guy and, uh, Vinny Lecavalier, in free agency. Again, unless the Wild frees up cap space, the answer to virtually everything right now is, "No." If space is freed, then we'll see then. Remember, if Clutterbuck is traded for a non-roster player and pick, that doesn't add to the Wild's roughly $3.6 million in cap space.
That cap space doesn't include unsigned restricted guys Clutterbuck, Jared Spurgeon and Justin Falk or unrestricted center Matt Cullen.
In other Wild news:
Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin, who finished fourth in the Calder Trophy race, was named to the All-Rookie team Saturday. He became the first Wild player in history to be honored with an All-NHL nomination.
The Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League (NHL) announced plans for a pre-game party from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, prior to the team’s 8:30 p.m. faceoff against Chicago in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The party will take place along the sidewalk between Gates 1 and 3 of Xcel Energy Center.
“Minnesota is the State of Hockey, and Saint Paul proudly serves as its capitol as we celebrate the return of Stanley Cup Playoff hockey and an invigorating Wild win on Sunday,” Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said. “With the later start of Tuesday 's game, we encourage fans to come and be a part of the playoff atmosphere. Festivities will include the Wild pre-game events at Xcel Energy Center as well as all the activity at the other downtown establishments.”
The party will include live music by Five Man Advantage, food and drink, including a beer garden, a Hockey Lodge tent with new playoff merchandise, along with a Beard-A-Thon tent. Fans can register to win one of two pair of tickets to Game 4 at the Beard-A-Thon tent. In addition, KFAN 100.3 FM will broadcast live from 3-8 p.m.
The Wild encourages all fans to get downtown early and visit the pre-game party and other downtown St. Paul establishments. Xcel Energy Center gates will open at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Game 4 will be broadcast on FOX Sports North locally, and NBC Sports Network nationally, in addition to CBC throughout Canada.
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