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.

Also find Russo on Facebook.

Email Michael to talk about hockey.

Posts about Wild game coverage

Wild outplay Colorado from start to finish, rewarded with shutout

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 22, 2014 - 12:40 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild returns to St. Paul reeling, down 2-0 to Colorado Avalanche

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 20, 2014 - 8:44 AM

The Wild may rue the day it coughed up Game 1. You only get so many kicks at the can when you outplay a better opponent, have them on the ropes and hand them the game.

Tonight’s Game 2 recipe against the Avs: good start by the Wild, massive defensive and neutral-zone breakdowns, another dominant night by Colorado’s first line and Darcy Kuemper’s first playoff appearance.

Ilya Bryzgalov was chased after allowing three goals on 14 shots through 31:59. Hardly all his fault. He was playing behind an exposed defense and coach Mike Yeo tried to change the momentum of the game. But Kuemper came in, stopped all 14 shots he saw and will almost certainly start Monday’s Game 3 after tonight’s 4-2 loss to the Avs.

Nathan MacKinnon, the 18-year-old star, scored his first career playoff goal and had three assists one game after having three assists in his playoff debut. He is the fourth player in NHL history with 3-plus points in each of his first two career playoff games (Odie Cleghorn, Newsy Lalonde, Bobby Smith).

MacKinnon’s seven points ties the NHL record for most points in the first two playoff games of an NHL career: Odie Cleghorn in 1918-19 and Barry Pederson with Boston in 1981-82. He is the second-youngest player to record four points in a playoff game at 18 years, 230 days…Pierre Turgeon was 18 years, 226 days when he had four points on April 10, 1988 vs. Boston. He is the third 18-year old in NHL history to record a four-point game in the postseason (Turgeon twice in 1988 and Trevor Linden in 1989).

“Obviously I still feel like a kid,” he said. “I’m only 18 still and I’m not trying to grow up too fast. I’m trying to enjoy this. I’m not the only young guy on the team.”

Paul Stastny, one game after scoring the tying goal with 13.4 seconds left and the OT winner, scored an empty-net goal and three assists and Gabriel Landeskog, the youngest captain in the NHL at age 21, scored two goals. So, 10 points by the top line.

MacKinnon and Stastny each have seven points in the series and Landeskog three goals – three giant reasons why the Wild flew home to Minnesota tonight down 2 games to none in this best-of-seven series. The Avalanche was a league-best 26-11-4 on the road this season. Teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-seven playoff series hold an all-time record of 287-45 (86.4%).

Charlie Coyle gave the Wild a 1-0 lead 4:18 in with his second goal of the series. But 2:02 later, MacKinnon scored his first career playoff goal after a tremendous flash of speed. He took Stastny’s pass at center-ice and erupted like few other NHLers can.

Jared Spurgeon, who had a poor night, and Nate Prosser were put on their heels in a gigantic way, and once MacKinnon did a crossover and cut to his right, Spurgeon got tangled, toppled over and MacKinnon let loose a howitzer past Bryzgalov’s blocker.

In the second period, Jonas Brodin committed an offensive-zone turnover and Mikko Koivu got caught flat-footed in the neutral zone. With Brodin and Ryan Suter backing up as MacKinnon flew, MacKinnon dropped a pass to Landeskog for the snipe over Bryzgalov’s glove.

Landeskog’s second goal also came after Koivu was caught standing still in the neutral zone. MacKinnon flew past both times.

MacKinnon flew into the Wild end and wheeled easily around Spurgeon to create a 3-on-1 down low. Paul Stastny made a behind-the back pass to Landeskog, who buried his third goal of the series into an open net.

“Our forwards have to stop skating backward in the neutral zone,” Zach Parise said. “We get flat-footed, you try to jump at them and they go right around us. We have to stop doing that.”

Mikko Koivu was caught flat-footed in the neutral zone on Landeskog's two goals and Ole'ed in the neutral zone on MacKinnon's goal. Parise was late on the backcheck on both of Landeskog's goals. 

The Avalanche barely had the puck and barely got a sniff of the offensive zone in the first 10 minutes, but that turned in the last half. The Avalanche began to pressure, force some icings, won some draws and Bryzgalov responded with a number of clutch saves late to keep the Wild in the game.

But things imploded in the second. Bryzgalov has now allowed 16 goals in four games.

Remember, Avs coach Patrick Roy made clear before the series started that the Avs have “a lot of info” on Bryzgalov. Avs goalie coach Francois Allaire was Bryzgalov’s goalie coach once upon a time in Anaheim, and Avs backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere was the Ducks’ No. 1 at the time. First goal, blocker side. Second goal, upstairs again glove side.

Here’s the Bryzgalov Q and A postgame:

(What did you see from them and their top line) I don’t know what to say. What do you mean?

(Their top line scored 3 against you. What did you see from them?) They score goals on the rush ...

(Will you feel ready if they come back to you at some point?) All I can is practice and wait. I don’t know.

(You shared a quick moment with Kuemper in locker room. What did you tell him?) I just tell him great job.

(Concerned about your game?) What exactly do you mean?

(You’ve had some tough games here lately. Concern you at all) Not really. Not really.

Kuemper said, “Obviously for me to go in, something had to go wrong. Obviously we’d have to be down or a situation like that. But I was ready. That’s why I was back in the lineup because if they needed me, I was ready to go.”

(any rust?) “No, I’ve gotten a lot of practice time lately. The rust is gone and I feel on top of my game.”

(Just expect to start Monday) “Yeah, I’ll have to wait and hear but I hope so. This is playoff hockey. You want to play. I felt good so have to carry that over into the next game.”

Add about 15 seconds of pause before Bryz answered after each question and you'll imagine how fun that back and forth was. We may have seen the last of him. 

The Wild flipped struggling Spurgeon and Brodin on the first and second pairs. Brodin is so overmatched this season. His turnover led to the second goal and he's getting tossed around like a rag doll. MacKinnon springs away from him en route to Game 1 winner and just look at how he was outmuscled by MacKinnon on the empty-netter.

On Spurgeon, Yeo wouldn’t dissect him but said, “He’s a guy who’s bounced back continually. If he wasn’t at his best tonight, I’m confident he will be next game. That’s the kind of character he is, the kind of player he is. This is not about one guy. It’s about our team.”

 In the second period, Nino Niederreiter and Matt Moulson switched lines. In the third, Yeo reunited the Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line and a Moulson-Koivu-Coyle line.

But the Wild better figure out a way to slow the Avs down in the neutral zone, defend better, or this thing will end soon.

Koivu, Suter and Parise, whom Yeo talked to on the bench after the game (Yeo said the message was between the coach and his captains), all said they’re skating backwards too much, getting caught flat-footed, etc. The defensemen struggled, but Yeo said that’s because they’re making a lot of mistakes in front of them.

Yeo said it’s on the coaches to figure out a way to neutralize Colorado’s top line.

How does the Wild rebound?

“Part of it is being at home,” Yeo said. “Making things a little bit more uncomfortable for them. Part of it is being at home, getting matchups, we’ll be looking to get. And part of it is we still can be better in our game. We’ve been able to shut down really good players all year long. For me, I think you see we’re backing up a little bit too much as far as I’m concerned. I think we’re allowing them to build speed, so we’ve got to a better job with that.

“Part of it is being better in our system, being tighter in our system, being a little bit more in their face when they touch the puck. We’re giving time and space. We want to make sure we’re taking it away. Part of it is also angles. I think we got caught flat footed. That’s usually something we do a better job of.”

Again, how does the Wild rebound?

“You’ve got to get the next one,” Suter said. “That has to be the mindset. You can’t get frustrated. We didn’t play the way we were capable. They played well. They played really well. We can be better.”

Yeo said, “We should get excited about that opportunity to play in front of our fans. Our building is going to be rocking. They did what they were supposed to do. We’ve got to go take care of our business.”

Wild's building will be rocking all right. "SHOOOOOT!"  

Discouraging two games in Denver. Again a reminder how the Avs catapulted past the Wild from a young talent standpoint by stinking for a few years. They're doing this without Matt Duchene. I'm not sure how the Wild catches up. By signing another 30-something free agent? The Wild's certainly proved it's not big enough or fast enough or skilled enough. 

That's it. Very, very early flight so I can get back for availability. Talk to you Sunday.

Wild gives away Game 1 to the Colorado Avalanche

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 18, 2014 - 9:03 AM

REVISED

13.4 seconds!

The Wild was 13.4 seconds away from being up 1-0 in this series against Colorado.

Instead, the Wild gave up the tying goal to Paul Stastny with 13.4 left, then another to Stastny in overtime to find itself trailing 1-0 in the series this morning.

Just a brutal loss when you consider the Wild rallied from a 1-0 deficit, recovered from giving up a tying goal in the second and carried a 4-2 lead into the third.

The Wild, as Zach Parise said, was in the driver’s seat. But then, after the Wild killed off a fourth Colorado power play, Jamie McGinn scored nine seconds later.

Why? Kyle Brodziak, under no pressure, coughed up the puck. Brodziak, a minus-3, was the player who had given the Wild a 4-2 lead, scoring 2:04 after Erik Haula scored the go-ahead goal in a well-played, three-goal period by the Wild. Brodziak's goal came off a great forecheck by Nino Niederreiter and Matt Cooke -- the type of forecheck that turned the game around in the second. Haula came off great speed and individual effort.

There were so many “little things” that cost the Wild. Turnovers galore, the biggest coming in the waning seconds when Jared Spurgeon failed to get the puck out. About 20 seconds later, Stastny tied it.

In overtime, Jason Pominville hit the pipe. Remember, in Game 1 last year in Chicago, Jason Zucker hit the post prior to the Blackhawks winning that game. Chicago went on to win the series in five games.

On Colorado’s winning goal, the Wild got pinned in the zone dead tired. Then, not only did they fail to clear a few times, it lost a few board battles. Gabriel Landeskog popped it up top, Tyson Barrie sped away from Pominville, Nathan MacKinnon wheeled away from Jonas Brodin. and after Cooke accidentally tripped up Max Talbot before he slid into Brodziak to take all three out,

I just watched this play again. Barrie skated in the slot after making the pass, undercut Cooke, knocks him to the ice, and then also bowls over Brodziak. No call by either ref on undeniable interference. This happens just as MacKinnon fed a wide-open Stastny for the winner through Ilya Bryzgalov’s wickets.

Ugly.

Ugly because the Wild had so much control of this contest and survived a first period in which Colorado did its best to set a physical tone, especially against Mikael Granlund and Brodin.

The Wild adjusted well in the second, got its forecheck going and seemed to take control.

Even in the third, I never thought the Wild was in prevent mode. It continued to attack. It had 11 shos in the period. But there’s no doubt after Brodziak’s cough-up, the Wild was on its heels, especially in the D zone.

The shame of this game is in the third period, you saw how fast and aggressive and absolutely skilled the Avs forwards were. It would have been gigantic if the Wild could have pulled out this victory.

Now, suddenly, there’s all this doubt. Yeo believes the Wild can pressure more aggressively defensively, and boy, the Wild better because the Avs, especially guys like MacKinnon (three assists in the 18-year-old's playoff debut) showed how much they can roast you with time and space.

Couple other notable things in the game:

-- Bryzgalov gave up five goals on 31 shots. He was hung out to dry at times, and Yeo said this can't be pinned on him. Of course, Yeo's got no other options in net, so he better stand up for his goalie and pray he gets back into the net feeling confident.

--Granlund passing up a shot in the third period after a terrific Pominville setup by forcing a pass with the net empty. Unacceptable.

-- The Wild’s inability to score an empty-net goal despite Patrick Roy making the gutsy move to pull Semyon Varlamov with 3:01 left down by one. Erik Haula came oh-so close when he flipped a puck from the defensive blue line the length of the ice. But Erik Johnson raced it down and pulled it back from within a few inches of a 5-3 Wild lead.

His momentum knocked the net off the moorings AFTER he saved it, so the Wild wouldn’t be awarded a goal there. Since he didn’t deliberately do it, there is no penalty or awarded goal when Cooke had a shot at an empty-net. The whistle had blown. Yes, Mikko Koivu got a delay of game penalty earlier in the game, but the refs ruled that one was deliberate.

The refs also put the faceoff in the neutral zone rather than inside much to the chagrin of the Wild. The belief is it’s because the defensemen just into the fray after Colorado went after Cooke for shooting the puck at Johnson.

The Wild was still upset it didn’t get an explanation on either decision, but again, it sounds like both were the right calls. And the faceoff position made no difference in the game’s outcome.

The Wild better regroup Friday in practice. Talk afterward. I'll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m.

Wild turns page on regular season and looks toward playoffs vs. Colorado

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 13, 2014 - 11:46 PM

I’m going to do my best to look ahead to the playoffs because that’s exactly what the Wild did during tonight’s 7-3 regular-season ending loss to the Nashville Predators.

I’ve been warning on here and on the radio the last few days that I expected tonight’s game would be like a glorified exhibition game and that’s exactly what it was. Wild players were in do-not-get-hurt mode. They dodged checks, dodged blocking shots, and from that standpoint, mission accomplished, coach Mike Yeo said, because the team got out of it healthy.

May sound like an excuse, but it’s reality. Yeo said the Wild will reset, start from scratch after a 6-1-1 end to the season and really begin prepping Tuesday in practice.

The one highlight was Jason Pominville having his second 3-point night in three games and becoming the third Wild player in history to hit the 30-goal mark. He also hit the 60-point mark. Marian Gaborik and Brian Rolston scored at least 30 eight times with the Wild.

Rookie Erik Haula scored a goal and an assist for his first career multi-point game and had seven points in seven games since replacing Mikael Granlund as second-line center. The Wild has Monday off, and the expectation is Granlund will ramp it up with the rest of the team Tuesday and Wednesday and get into more battle drills as the Wild prepares for Game 1 of the playoffs Thursday in Denver.

If Granlund can play, Yeo made it clear that Granlund will reassume his No. 2 center spot.

“I think that Haulzy deserves an awful lot of credit for what he’s done, there’s no question,” Yeo said. “But when it comes to Granny, we’ll see how practice goes this week, but we are talking about a guy who led our team when Mikko [Koivu] went down playing against No. 1 D pairings and No. 1 centermen. You look at what he did in the Olympics playing against the best players in the world, … this is a pretty good player. So it’s great what Haulzy’s done, and we haven’t made any decisions yet, but we’re getting a pretty good player back if Granny’s able to come into our lineup.”

Said Haula: “[Granlund] deserves it. He’s had a great season. He’s played well with Pommer all year long. I jump in when he gets hurt. When he’s healthy he’s going to come back and take that spot on that line, I’m sure. I’m ok with that. Whatever the role, I’m ok with it.”

A reader brought up an idea on Twitter that somebody in the hockey industry mentioned to me in the press box tonight: It’s clear Yeo understandably wants to have a Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak shutdown line in the playoffs. Maybe an option is to put Haula on right wing at that line. This way he can take draws on his strong side instead of Brodziak at times and also it creates more of a scoring threat for that line and he would get more minutes than he would as fourth-line center. In addition, it seems like Cooke (by the way, he was in playoff form tonight getting under Shea Weber and Rich Clune’s skin) and Haula have had chemistry for a lot of the second half when they’re on the ice together, particularly shorthanded.

Then, you go with a fourth line of Cody McCormick centering Stephane Veilleux or Justin Fontaine and Nino Niederreiter. If there are times Yeo wants elevate Niederreiter’s role, he has got that option.

As for the Avs, Matt Duchene is still working his way back from a sprained MCL. Defenseman Jan Hejda injured his hand tonight and Tyson Barrie got hurt in San Jose. They’re day-to-day. Patrick Roy also announced tonight that John Mitchell has a concussion. That’s a big loss. He plays the Wild well and is their second-line center.

“This is a good team, a really good team,” Yeo said of the Avs. “Winning their division the way that they’ve gone from start to finish, this is a team that we have to have a lot of respect for. Skill level, very dynamic, very creative, so defensively it’s going to be a challenge for us. With that, they’re an in-your-face team and how we execute is going to be very important, too.”

The Wild can’t get into a run-and-gun game against them.

“We can’t play that type of style against them, there’s no question,” Yeo said. “It’s not one element. This is a very good hockey team and there’s not a lot of areas where you can look at them and say they’re really weak there. They’ve defended well this year, they’ve been very creative and skilled, especially with their forward group. And obviously they’ve had the goaltending, so we’re going to have to be ready to be sharp in all areas of our game.”

“I feel like against them, we have to keep the puck going forward,” said Zach Parise. “That’s where they struggle. When we didn’t do well against them, we tried to do a lot of cross-ice passes and they broke up a lot of plays in the neutral zone. When we did well against them in spurts, we just kept putting pucks behind them and making them turn. That’s when we got a lot of odd man rushes against them.”

I wrote an abbreviated advance on the series in Monday’s paper, so check that out on startribune.com/wild. Also, there’s the game story on Ilya Bryzgalov’s concerning game tonight. Yeo wasn’t concerned, saying, “You look at tonight, and we were brutal in front of him. It’s got to be a team effort. Bryz has done a fantastic job since he’s been here and his teammates have done a fantastic job in front of him to give him that opportunity. That’s the mentality we have to have. It’s got to be top to bottom because [the Avs] have too many weapons over there.”

That’s it for me.

Monday is off. I’ll be on KFAN in studio from 9-9:35 a.m., then I’ll start pounding the keyboard. Lots of playoff coverage coming up in the Star Tribune. I’ll also be on a Podcast tomorrow night at some point on the Denver Post’s site, I believe, with Avs beat writer Adrian Dater.

I’m planning a live online chat Thursday at 3 p.m. CT.

Wild knocks St. Louis off Central Division perch; Mike Rupp faces suspension for hit on T.J. Oshie

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 11, 2014 - 1:06 AM

So much to get to in this blog, it’s midnight, I’m all alone in this press box and I haven’t even started.

Here we go:

The Wild knocked St. Louis off its Central Division perch tonight with a 4-2 victory, snapping a 9-game winless streak against them and chasing slumping Ryan Miller (4 goals, 13 shots). Colorado won in Vancouver to take over the division lead. What’s that mean?

In 24 hours, the Wild’s first-round opponent has changed from Anaheim to St. Louis to now … Colorado, the team that knocked off the Wild in the 2008 playoffs when Minnesota won its first and only Northwest Division title.

The Wild has one game left Sunday against Nashville. It’ll be a chance for the Wild to hit the 100-point mark for the second time in franchise history.

The Wild will meet the West division winner with the second-best record next week in the first round of the playoffs.

Anaheim, which won the Pacific, has one more point than Colorado and St. Louis.

The Ducks play at L.A. on Saturday and Colorado on Sunday. The Avs play at San Jose on Friday and at Anaheim on Sunday. The Blues play at Dallas on Friday and against Detroit on Sunday.

So, there is a possibility that Sunday while the Wild plays Nashville, all eyes at Press Box Seat No. 45 will be on the Ducks-Avs because that may determine the Wild’s first-round opponent.

Tonight, and as always please read the John Curry-centric gamer and Mike Rupp-centric notebook, but the Wild was outshot 45-15 yet still beat the Blues thanks to Curry’s career-high 43 saves for his third career victory. This is a guy who hadn’t played since Jan. 11, 2010, and who entered with 72 career saves. Heck, this is a guy who gave up seven goals in his last Iowa start.

Kyle Brodziak – yes, Kyle Brodziak, scored two goals (seriously, I’m not kidding) and was plus-3. It was Brodziak’s 11th career 2-goal game, and it included his third-career shorthanded goal to answer Kevin Shattenkirk’s tying goal on a 5-on-3.

Nino Niederreiter scored a goal and assist. Matt Moulson scored a goal just after a power play expired off a sweet saucer pass from Dany Heatley. Matt Cooke was awesome tonight, had two assists and was plus-3. By the way, I had a great interview with him after the game about the Wild’s season and the feel going into the playoffs, and that will appear in Saturday’s paper. What Cooke was so good at conveying: Fans and media, used to watching a franchise that when it has made the playoffs since 2003 has lost in the first round, have been freaking out trying to figure out what’s the best first-round matchup for the Wild. I’ve been guilty of that especially. What Cooke said is basically who cares because no matter what, they’re going to play a great team and no matter what, to get to their eventual goal of wanting to win a Stanley Cup, they’ll have to play four great teams.

So the most important thing is how is the Wild’s game, how are they playing, and right now, not only is the Wild 6-0-1 in its past seven, it’s beating teams like L.A., Pittsburgh, Boston, St. Louis and coming back on Chicago. More from Cooke Saturday.

Jon Blum had his first point as a Wild and …

Christian Folin, whom I featured in Thursday’s paper (give a read if you didn’t), logged 19:26 in his NHL debut, assisted on Brodziak’s second goal early in the third period and was plus-3.

Coach Mike Yeo was “pretty pleased” with Folin’s game, saying it says a lot about the kid that he was able to learn the Wild’s system and look good in it despite having very few practices since signing last week. Yeo said, “the kid’s got a bright future.”

My guess is he doesn’t play Sunday though. I think Yeo will play his full playoff lineup with Ilya Bryzgalov (7-0-3) in the net. The Wild has Friday off, but Yeo abundantly clear after the game that he wasn’t happy the way the Wild played tonight and that Saturday’s practice will be all about getting ready for the playoffs before “hitting it” next week.

On Curry, Yeo said, “Very pleased for him. That was a long road back for him, and just nice to see him get rewarded with a performance like that. He didn’t look nervous. He looked very calm and in control. I’m sure there were butterflies, but his play didn’t reflect it, that’s for sure.”

Curry said, “I just tried to take it shot by shot. I’ll be honest with you, I was so nervous for this game. Just a big stage for me. To have a good start, to get those first few saves, it’s gets you into a rhythm and you fall right into it.”

Again, please read the gamer because there’s a lot more from Curry in there, but he said he just turned off the phone the last day and a half and sat around his apartment.

“You just want the day of the game to come,” he said. “You’re sitting there watching TV, trying to pass the time, trying to stay relaxed and it’s nearly impossible.”

What’s so funny, this morning Yeo said that Curry wasn’t big, that technique wasn’t his strength. That didn’t seem like a scouting report that screamed confidence, but Yeo called him a gamer and a battler. That’s precisely what Curry demonstrated tonight.

Quite impressive.

Yeo on the game: “This is a funny game. Let’s not kid ourselves, they outplayed us tonight. I’m not saying we didn’t do some things well, but we spent the majority of the night in our defensive zone. You worry about a game like this after we clinch, after we know the spot that we’re in. You know that there’s going to be an exhale from your group. Bottom line, to be able to find a way to win in a game like this is great. At the same time, I don’t think we should be patting ourselves on the back too much here.”

Things turned nasty in the second period when the fourth line got trapped in the D-zone for an extended period. On a delayed penalty to Marco Scandella, Mike Rupp hit Blues stud T.J. Oshie in the chin with his left shoulder.

Oshie went down face-first and was in peril. He tried to get up and fell back down. He finally was able to be helped to the ice, but he skated to the bench looking dazed and with blood coming from the mouth. He didn’t return.

Rupp, playing his first game since Feb. 1, was assessed a match penalty for attempt to injure. He’s in trouble. It’s an automatic suspension pending review from the NHL and I do hear the NHL didn’t like the hit and felt the principle point of contact was to Oshie’s head, which is the chief criteria for an illegal check to the head.

Now, Rupp was probably not going to be in the Wild’s lineup to start the playoffs anyway, but he now faces a suspension in the regular-season finale and perhaps the start of the playoffs.

In the third period, with the Blues emotional, Yeo smartly sat Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter. Parise played 13:55, Koivu 14:19, Pominville 12:27 and Suter, the NHL’s ice-time leader, 11:19 – 18 minutes lower than his average.

Yeo said it was clear the Blues would target those guys. To start the second period, Ken Hitchcock started his fourth line. Yeo countered with his fourth. Despite jawing between Rupp and Ryan Reaves, nothing happened.

“I’m not going to put our top guys out there,” Yeo said. “Listen, we’ve played against this team enough times, we’ve gone into their building and often times we’ve done it without a ton of toughness and they’ve come at us. And so, I think it’s important that we show that we’re ready to be physical up against them if they’re going to try to play that game. It’s just about playing hard and we have to show that we can play in those type of games.

“That’s a great team over there. When they started to get very emotional about it, they ramped it up,” he sat his key guys.

Real funny moment postgame. Brodziak was getting heckled by teammates like Cooke and Koivu when the media hovered around him.

When Koivu said, “Uh-Oh,” Brodziak said to his stallmate, “Move over Koivu. It’s my turn.”

OK, that’s it for me. I’ll update the blog with there’s news with Rupp.

I have an insanely busy day tomorrow because I have to write my Sunday Insider (my picks for league awards), write my Saturday story (Cooke heavy) and a big piece for Sunday’s cover that I think you all should read, too.

Exciting times as the Wild looks like it’s heading into the postseason on a high.

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT