Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Posts about Wild game coverage

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.

Wild locks up top wildcard spot with shootout victory over Boston

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 9, 2014 - 8:58 AM

The Wild is playoff bound after tonight’s come-from-behind 4-3 shootout victory over the NHL-leading Boston Bruins.

This was an opponent that was 16-1-2 in its past 19.

Jason Pominville scored two goals and an assist, Ryan Suter scored the tying goal with 65 seconds left, Mikko Koivu, who had two assists, three takeaways and won 18 of 27 faceoffs, scored the shootout winner on his signature move and Ilya Bryzgalov, the only goalie to get a point in his first 10 starts in Wild history, improved to 7-0-3 with 24 saves and a spotless shootout.

The Wild clinched a playoff spot at 8:44 p.m. when Columbus beat Phoenix in overtime. There were 12 minutes left in the second intermission. The fans didn’t know until the P.A. announcer let everybody know at the start of the third period.

Wild players? They knew at that point because coach Mike Yeo told them. But Yeo made clear that the Wild didn’t want to back in, and a victory would secure the top wildcard spot (again, the Wild cannot pass L.A. because the top three teams in each division get the 1 through 6 seeds).

“We know we’re in the playoffs, down a goal, played the night before, [playing] against a team sitting here waiting for us, to see our guys go after it, good on them,” Yeo said.

As it turned out, the Wild had to win to get that spot because Dallas ended up beating Nashville in a shootout. If the Wild got zero points, the magic number for top wildcard spot still would have been two. If the Wild got one point, the magic number would have been one.

The Wild’s opponent? It’s clear as mud right now. It’ll be Anaheim, St. Louis, Colorado or San Jose.

St. Louis is at 111 points with three games left. Anaheim is at 110 with three games left. Colorado is at 109 with three games left. San Jose is at 107 with three games left

Read the gamer for all the details and some great quotes, but the gist of the locker room was last year the players were disappointed with their April tumble and the necessity to win the final game of the regular season to sneak into a playoff just merely because of a tiebreaker with Columbus.

This year, despite having a schedule that on paper was hellacious, the Wild has gone 5-0-1 in the past six games. In that stretch, the Wild beat Boston, L.A. and Pittsburgh and got a point against Chicago. Those four teams have won the last five Stanley Cups. Toss in the Detroit win March 22 and that’s the last six Stanley Cup winners.

“More importantly I feel good about where our game is at right now,” Yeo said. “We want to build our game right now. I was glad playing teams like Boston and Pittsburgh and L.A. and all these teams. Listen, if we want to have a chance of doing anything, we’re going to have to beat good teams and be at our best. We know what our game is, there’s confidence in it. I feel like we’re ready for the playoffs right now.”

Bruins coach Claude Julien said of the Wild, “The quicker you can clinch, the better it is. To me, I was really impressed with the effort, especially in the third period. Third game in four nights, and there’s some desperation there, and you want to clinch. You find that energy somewhere and I thought there was some pretty good energy in the third period.”

I had a funny back and forth with Suter in the locker room. If you read my blog last night, you saw that I mentioned how I asked Suter about the Wild’s 9 for 9 penalty kill in a four-game stretch after a 12 for 35 stretch in 13 games. He, in the middle of his quote, went into a funny tangent about his lack of goal scoring lately.

Tonight, the Wild’s PK was scored on twice on five chances, including the first two.

Suter said, “I was thinking about those comments you made yesterday about the PK. That’s how it works.”

I go, “I was thinking about your goal-scoring comments.”

Suter smiled, “It’s funny how it works, right?”

Suter talked about playing the right way to get into the playoffs as you can read in the gamer and said, “Hopefully we can keep this thing going here. Yeozie told us after the second that we’re in the playoffs, but for us, it was not about just being in it. It was about being in on our own terms.

“Going into these last little stretch of games, we were concerned. We had the toughest schedule out of the other teams, so for us to turn it on the way we have, it says a lot about the group. You don’t want to wait ‘til the last day like last year.”

Matt Moulson, on March 5, was on the 30th-place Buffalo. Now he’s playoff bound. He assisted on Pominville’s first-period tying goal.

“It’s exciting,” Moulson said. “You dream of lifting that Cup over your head. To get a chance at that, you never know how many chances you’re going to get. You have to take advantage of them. It’s an exciting time.”

The Wild now has two games left in the regular season, starting Thursday against St. Louis, which has lost four of six. Go on Twitter or check out the St. Louis papers for Ken Hitchcock’s pointed comments after tonight’s loss against Washington. The Blues were booed off the ice and Hitchcock said there’s not a lot of buy-in right now. Also, apparently David Backes sustained a lower-body injury.

It’ll be interesting now to see how Yeo works these next two games. There’s a day off Wednesday, so we won’t know for sure until Thursday.

Here’s what I would do. I’d rest some guys against St. Louis. I’d have John Curry make his Wild debut so Bryzgalov gets a rest. I’d give Christian Folin his NHL debut, maybe for Suter. I’d even consider giving Parise or Koivu an off night.

I’d then probably play the team against Nashville just because you do want that last regular-season game to be a bit of a tune-up to make sure you don’t have some of your big guns going more than a week without playing.

Yeo said he’s discussing it behind the scenes. He did intimate that he does want to talk to some of the leaders to get their input.

“We’ll try to figure all that out. For me, I’m real happy with our team game right now. It’s more a matter individually what we need as far as making sure we’re ready to go.”

Parise said, “You get some time to sharpen up, fine tune some things, work on things we need to be better at. I don’t know who we’ll be playing yet, but we’ll prepare a little bit when we find out who.

“We knew the scenarios, but you don’t want to back in. You want to win yourself in. To do it against arguably the best team in the league, it feels good to win to get in.”

Pominville on the playoffs: “It’s what you play for. We’ve had ups and downs, we’ve had injuries, we’ve had goalies get hurt, we’ve had a lot of different guys in the lineup, but we did a good job of staying even-keeled and not getting frustrated when times were tough. It’s nice to be where we want to be.”

Funny line from Yeo on that waved off icing everybody was ticked at moments before Suter scored: “I would have drawn up a perfect play if they would have called an icing,” he joked.

Yeo on the crowd: “I thought the crowd was awesome. It was a fun night.”

That’s it for me. Day off Wednesday, meaning no blog unless there’s news.

"Il-ya, Il-ya, Il-ya" leads Wild to the brink of the playoffs

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 7, 2014 - 11:18 PM

For some reason the Wild hasn’t been successful in the front end of back-to-backs (3-9 before tonight’s 1-0 win at Winnipeg; eighth shutout by the Wild to tie a team record), so defenseman Ryan Suter said this was kind of a “trap game” tonight with the hard-working Jets out of the playoff hunt, the Wild so close to clinching a playoff spot and the Boston Bruins, the top team in the NHL, waiting for the Wild in Minnesota for Tuesday night’s game.

But the Wild grinded it out. Its execution wasn’t good all night long offensively, but man, the Wild worked hard and defended well. Players sure had to with as much time as they spent in their own zone.

“That was the definition of grinding it out,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We battled hard. Structure-wise, we were good. Penalty kill was huge (4 for 4). The play of our defensemen in particular, really impressed.”

You have to give Yeo and his staff credit (I know, I know, players win games and coaches lose games).

Obviously, the four goalies who have been No. 1 this season for the Wild (Nik Backstrom, Josh Harding, Darcy Kuemper and now Ilya Bryzgalov) deserve credit, but this could have blown up at any time along the way if not for the Wild’s impressive defensive structure and Yeo’s system.

The Wild’s goalies are rarely peppered and when the Wild most needed it, it has gotten back to a defensive structure that has allowed 26 or fewer shots in the past eight games.

“This team right now, we’re going good places,” said defenseman Jon Blum, who had his best game since his callup. “We’re focused on defense first and you can see that. Whenever they get that big chance, Bryz makes that big save for us. We’re feeding off that.”

“Bryz” tonight made 24 saves for his second consecutive shutout. He’ll start against Boston and carry a shutout streak of 142 minutes, 15 seconds into a game against a team that is 13-1-4 in its past 18 on the road and 16-1-2 in the past 19 overall.

The Wild’s magic number is one point. Its magic number for the top wildcard spot is two.

Tuesday’s clinching scenarios:

-- Wild win or overtime/shootout loss

--Phoenix loss of any kind

--Phoenix shootout win

To not make the playoffs, the Wild would have to go 0-3 and the Coyotes would have to go 4-0 (no shootout wins) and then make up what would seem to be an insurmountable goal differential tiebreaker (plus-2 for Minnesota, minus-12 for Phoenix).

Six or seven games ago, it looked like the Wild was on its way to being toast. Now it’s 4-0-1 in its past five and closed its regular-season road schedule with a 17-17-7 record (7-3-2 since the Olympic break). Remember, before the Olympic break, the Wild was one of the worst road teams in the NHL.

“We went into a lot of tough buildings and I give our guys credit for the way they battled on the road,” Yeo said.

“It’ crazy how fast it can turn around,” said Charlie Coyle, who scored the winning goal 65 seconds into the second period on an even-strength goal that was basically a power-play goal. “Things aren’t going your way and you lose a game, it feels like the end of the world and when you win you’re on top of the world. You have to stay even-keeled.”

Coyle has 10 points in the past nine games and five goals. Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu set up his goal, and the line now has eight goals and 21 points in five games and a period since Yeo reunited them in the third period of that loss in St. Louis.

“I tried to find the open ice there and let those guys make plays,” Coyle said.

Bryzgalov is 6-0-3 in 10 appearances and nine starts with a 1.67 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and three shutouts. He’s been great and had some good quotes you can read in the game story. Also, check out the stuff about the Jets fans (see below) taunting him. Funny stuff.

“Very calm in the net, making a lot of very tough saves look easy,” Yeo said of Bryz.

What Yeo liked most about tonight was the battle level and defensive structure. Suter and Jared Spurgeon were solid all night yet again. Jon Blum may have played his best game with the Wild.

“All night our execution wasn’t very good. We know that,” Yeo said. “But you can win games where you’re not completely at your best” when you defend well and you’re structured and work hard.

The Wild’s penalty kill was 4 for 4 and is now 9 for 9 in the past four games after giving up 12 goals on 35 chances in the previous 13 games.

“That’s how it works,” Suter said. “You give up a couple cheesy ones and it turns around. It’s funny how the game works. It’s just like scoring goals. You don’t score goals all year and you get a hat trick. I mean, who would have thought (referring to his hattie back in January against Washington that helped turn the season around). That’s how the game is. Now I can’t buy one.

“Uh, uh, PK, back on point. Hopefully now we’re going up.”

This doesn’t read as funny as Suter sounded. He just went on a little tangent and then, … back to the penalty kill.

“Come playoff time, it’s got to be good,” Matt Cooke said of the PK. “Our whole game has to be good. We know we have right the system, we know we have the right components in this room. We have three games left to build.”

That’s it for me. Early flight home. Doubtful Wild has a skate in the morning, but if it does, I’ll blog afterward. Otherwise, talk to you pregame.

Check out the gamer, John Curry feature and Nino Niederreiter notebook in the paper Tuesday.

Wild shuts out Pittsburgh, moves closer to second straight playoff berth

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 5, 2014 - 11:30 PM

Big 4-0 win by the Wild over the Penguins tonight on many fronts.

As always, please read the gamer and notebook for all the details and my Sunday Insider on the Parise father-son trip that just took place.

First, it further strengthens the team’s hold on the top wildcard spot and strengthens its grasp on a second straight postseason. Wild’s got four games left and is now five up on Dallas (one less game) and six up on Phoenix. Magic number is three. It’s a little more complicated than this, but if the Wild gets one more regulation/overtime win, Phoenix would have to win out in regulation/overtime to even get it to a very complicated tiebreaker system. Basically, win two games and they don't have to worry about Phoenix.

Second, the Wild proved it can play well on home ice again. Who knew? In front of the largest home crowd in Wild history (19,409), the Wild jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead and was outstanding defensively the rest of the way to win for the second time in seven home games.

The Wild has played better on the road than at home since the Olympics, but the players avoided the first-game-back-from-a-long-road-trip blues and as Zach Parise said were excited to play here again and reestablish home dominance.

The Wild plays its final road game Monday in Winnipeg. A win would allow the Wild to finish the regular season .500 on the road (16-17-7 now, and for all you Patrick Reusse’s out there, .500 in the NHL is point percentage, and 17-17-7 is 41 of 82 possible points, so .500!!!! whether you agree with it or not).

The Wild then returns home to close the season against Boston, St. Louis and suddenly-hot Nashville.

Jim Souhan was out here and wrote a column on rookie Erik Haula, the seventh-round gem that continues to impress with Mikael Granlund out of the lineup. He scored his first career winning goal tonight (and did his first career postgame arena cam on NHL Network) and has a three-game point streak since Granlund’s injury.

He was good tonight. Great on the PK and beat out an icing. Haula, who scored the tying goal in a shootout loss two nights earlier in Chicago, got things started with impressive hustle and speed en route to his fifth goal. He scored a 200-foot goal by weaving the puck in the D-zone, handing it to linemate Jason Pominville and then blowing by defenseman Robert Bortuzzo to run down Moulson’s chip-in.

Cody McCormick, the forgotten soul in the Matt Moulson deal and scratched in five of the past seven games, scored a goal and assist. His goal came when he stayed out late for a shift and kept Mikko Koivu on the bench. Charlie Coyle (two assists) fought through a big hit on the wall to get the puck up to Parise, who set up the goal.

“I stayed on a little extra when I saw the offensive chance,” McCormick said, laughing.

Coach Mike Yeo used McCormick at center tonight and I think that’ll likely continue. He was physical, strong in his own zone and obviously had two points.

Stephane Veilleux continued his strong play with a goal, Koivu continued his surging play with a goal (13 points in 10 games) and Parise had two assists to hit the 500-point milestone. Ryan Suter was awesome (plus-3, two shots, three hits, two blocked shots), as was his defense partner, Jared Spurgeon, who was plus-3. Ilya Bryzgalov made 20 saves for his 33rd career shutout. He is now 5-0-3 with the Wild with a 1.87 goals-against average and could be looking at back-to-back, road/home starts at Winnipeg and at home vs. Boston with Darcy Kuemper hurt. He had a couple awesome saves, one you'll be seeing over and over to rob James Neal.

Terrific job tonight by the Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine line. They got the task of going up against Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Beau Bennett for much of the game. The line combined for four shots and a minus-2, and Crosby, the NHL’s leading scorer and likely Hart winner, went shotless for the second time this season and 23rd time in his career.

Brodziak also won 8 of 12 faceoffs, while Crosby lost 12 of 17.

So big win. Now onto Winnipeg. Wild practices here in the late morning and then fly to Winnipeg. I’ll come to you after practice at some point before or during my flight.

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