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.
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A look at the Wild vs. St. Louis Blues series and here's today's story looking more in depth at the Blues and the challenge they present.
Here are the lines at today's Wild practice:
Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Chris Stewart
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Thomas Vanek-Charlie Coyle-Nino Niederreiter
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine
Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon
Jordan Leopold-Matt Dumba
Extra forwards: Sean Bergenheim, Ryan Carter, Erik Haula, Jordan Schroeder.
Extra defensemen: Christian Folin, Nate Prosser.
Extra goalie: Niklas Backstrom.
Injuries: D Keith Ballard (concussion), out.
Here are the Blues lines from today's practice:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-T.J. Oshie
Alex Steen-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Dmitrij Jaskin-David Backes-Patrik Berglund
Steve Ott-Marcel Goc-Ryan Reaves
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Zbynek Michalek
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Extra forwards: Olli Jokinen, Chris Porter, Ty Rattie.
Extra defensemen: Robert Bortuzzo, Chris Butler.
The Wild and Blues have clashed three times since March 14 and on Thursday open a playoff series against each other for the first time in history.
Wild’s all-time record vs. Blues: 25-19-12 (16-7-6 at Xcel Energy Center, 9-12-6 at Scottrade Center).
Wild’s record this season vs. Blues: 2-1-1, Wild outscored Blues 13-10.
Playoff appearances: Wild’s 6th in 14 years (3 in a row, 0 championships); Blues’ 39th in 47 seasons (0 championships).
Nov. 29 at Minnesota -- Blues 3, Wild 2 (shootout): Vladimir Tarasenko scored the game’s first goal, but Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu scored in the second before David Backes forced overtime with 5:33 left despite the Wild outshooting the Blues 27-12 through two periods. Tarasenko scored the lone shootout goal past Niklas Backstrom.
March 14 at St. Louis -- Wild 3, Blues 1: In a game the Wild was outshot 32-10 through two periods and 42-19 for the game, Devan Dubnyk made a season-high 41 saves to steal a win. He entered the game 0-7 in his career against the Blues with a 4.72 goals-against average and .843 save percentage. Thomas Vanek scored 46 seconds after Vanek in the second period before Nino Niederreiter and Kyle Brodziak scored 17 seconds apart in the third.
March 21 at Minnesota -- Wild 6, Blues 3: Six different players scored goals for the Wild with former Blue Chris Stewart, Vanek, Parise and Jonas Brodin building a 4-0 lead as Brian Elliott was chased from net. The Blues made it a game with Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz cutting the deficit in half, but Justin Fontaine and Koivu stopped the bleeding with goals.
April 11 at St. Louis -- Blues 4, Wild 2: In each team’s regular-season finale, the Wild rested Koivu, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon and the Blues rested Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. Tarasenko continued his outstanding season against the Wild with a goal and assist, Alex Steen had two assists and Jori Lehtera scored twice. Marco Scandella and Parise scored for the Wild.
Wild’s power play in 4 games: 3 for 15 (20 percent); Blues power play in 4 games: 3 for 10 (30 percent).
Wild’s penalty kill in 4 games: 7 for 10 (70 percent); Blues penalty kill in 4 games: 12 for 15 (80 percent).
Good evening from St. Louis, where I could probably just stay.
For the first time in history, the Wild and St. Louis Blues will face off in the playoffs and the Wild stays in this side of the bracket rather than crossing over. That means the Wild would face the winner of the Chicago-Nashville series in the second round if Minnesota advances.
The Blues have been bounced in the first round in two of the past three years despite home-ice each time.
The series will start Thursday. Here is the schedule:
The NHL released the first-round playoff schedule early Sunday morning:
Game 1 – Thursday at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Game 2 – Saturday at St. Louis, 2 p.m.(Ch. 11)
Game 3 – April 20 at the X, 7 p.m. (CNBC)
Game 4 – April 22 at the X, 8:30 p.m.(NBCSN)
Game 5 – April 24, at St. Louis, TBD (if necessary)
Game 6 – April 26, at the X, TBD (if necessary)
Game 7 – April 29, at St. Louis, TBD (if necessary)
No. 2 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 7 Minnesota Wild
The Blues are one of the biggest, deepest, most physical teams in the NHL.
Led by former Minnesota State standout David Backes and budding star Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues can outhit you or outskill you. They’re three lines deep offensively and have one of the best blue lines in the NHL, led by Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester.
Where most consider them exposable is in goal with young Jake Allen or veteran Brian Elliott.
Records: 51-24-7; 46-28-8
Home: 27-12-2; 22-13-6
Away: 24-12-5; 24-15-2
*Season-series: 2-2; 2-1-1
Goals For: 239 (2.91, 5th in NHL); 227 (2.77, 13th)
Goals Against per game: 2.40 (5th); 2.42 (6th)
Goal differential: +47 (3rd); +30 (7th)
Shots per game: 30.9 (11th); 30.8 (T-12th)
Shots Against per game: 27.2 (2nd); 27.6 (4th)
Power play: 22.3 (4th); 15.8 (28th)
Penalty kill: 83.7 (8th); 86.3 (1st)
5-on-5 for: 160 (7th); 168 (5th)
5-on-5 against: 137 (10th); 145 (16th)
* Wild outscored the Blues 13-10
Goals: Blues – Vladimir Tarasenko 37, Jaden Schwartz 28, David Backes 26, Alex Steen 24; Wild -- Zach Parise 33, Nino Niederreiter 24, Thomas Vanek and Jason Zucker 21.
Assists: Blues – Steen 40, Alex Pietrangelo 39; Wild – Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter 36, Mikko Koivu 31.
Points: Blues – Tarasenko 73, Steen 64, Schwartz 63; Wild – Parise 62, Pominville 54, Vanek 52.
Power-play goals: Blues – Backes 10; Wild – Parise 11.
Penalty minutes: Blues – Ryan Reaves 116, Backes 104; Wild – Marco Scandella 56, Ryan Carter 55.
Time on ice: Blues Pietrangelo 25:24; Wild – Suter 29:03.
Blues: Jake Allen 22-7-4, 2.28 goals-against average, .913 save percentage, 4 shutouts.
Wild: Devan Dubnyk 36-14-4, 2.07 goals-against average, .929 save percentage, 6 shutouts.
Morning from St. Louis. Follow me on Twitter at @russostrib for Wild-Blues lineup information between 1:30-1:45 when we see the players and lines in warmups. As I guessed yesterday and in paper, it wouldn't shock me if players like Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu or Jared Spurgeon don't play. Wild lineup is so deep right now. Looks like Cooke, Carter, Haula, Schroeder and Bergenheim are fighting for one spot if you consider top two lines are set and 5 other forwards are likely locks to play Game 1: Coyle, Nino, Vanek, Brodziak and Fontaine.
Here is today's article on today's game and how it will only partially determine the Wild's first-round opponent. We won't know for sure until 10:30 p.m.
The Wild will either face the Blues, Predators or Ducks in the first round.
From the NHL:
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS
Entering the final day of the regular season, none of the eight matchups for the First Round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been completely settled (opponents and home-ice advantage).
Just five of the 16 postseason bracket slots have been locked. Three teams – the Canadiens, Rangers and Lightning – still have four potential opening-round opponents.
Two playoff spots (both in the Eastern Conference), the Atlantic Division title and the Western Conference crown also remain up for grabs.
In the regular-season trophy races, two players are tied in a historically close Art Ross Trophy race, while two goaltenders are tied in quest of the William M. Jennings Trophy.
Today’s clinching scenarios:
* The Senators would clinch a playoff berth if they get at least one point against the Flyers OR if the Penguins lose to the Sabres in regulation OR if the Bruins lose to the Lightning in any fashion.
* The Senators would clinch the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic Division if they defeat the Flyers in any fashion AND the Red Wings lose to the Hurricanes in regulation.
# # #
* The Penguins would clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Sabres in any fashion OR if they get one point against the Sabres AND either the Senators lose to the Flyers in regulation or the Bruins fail to defeat the Lightning in regulation or overtime OR if the Bruins lose to the Lightning in any fashion.
# # #
* The Bruins would clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Lightning in any fashion AND either the Senators or Penguins lose in regulation. If the Bruins defeat the Lightning in regulation or overtime, they would qualify with either a Senators regulation loss or Penguins loss in any fashion.
# # #
* The Canadiens would clinch the Atlantic Division title if they get at least one point against the Maple Leafs OR if the Lightning lose to the Bruins in any fashion.
# # #
* The Lightning would clinch the Atlantic Division title if they defeat the Bruins in any fashion AND the Canadiens lose to the Maple Leafs in regulation.
# # #
* The Red Wings would clinch the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic Division if they get at least one point against the Hurricanes OR if the Senators lose to the Flyers in any fashion.
# # #
* The Rangers, who are locked in as the top seed in both the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference, will face the No. 2 Wild Card team in the First Round – either the Red Wings, Senators, Penguins or Bruins.
# # #
* The Capitals would clinch the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division if they defeat the Rangers in any fashion OR if they get one point against the Rangers AND the Islanders fail to defeat the Blue Jackets in regulation or overtime OR if the Islanders lose to the Blue Jackets in any fashion.
# # #
* The Islanders would clinch the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division if they defeat the Blue Jackets in regulation or overtime AND the Capitals lose to the Rangers in any fashion OR if they defeat the Blue Jackets in a shootout AND the Capitals lose to the Rangers in regulation.
# # #
* The Ducks would clinch the top seed in the Western Conference if they defeat the Coyotes in regulation or overtime OR if they defeat the Coyotes in a shootout AND the Blues fail to defeat the Wild in regulation or overtime OR if they get one point against the Coyotes AND the Blues lose to the Wild in any fashion OR if the Blues lose to the Wild in regulation.
# # #
* The Blues would clinch the top seed in the Western Conference if they defeat the Wild in regulation or overtime AND the Ducks post a shootout win or a loss of any kind against the Coyotes OR if they defeat the Wild in a shootout AND the Ducks lose to the Coyotes in any fashion OR if they get one point against the Wild AND the Ducks lose to the Coyotes in regulation.
# # #
* The Predators, who are locked in as the No. 2 seed in the Central Division, will face the No. 3 seed in the division in the First Round – either the Blackhawks or the Wild.
# # #
* The Blackhawks would clinch the No. 3 seed in the Central Division if they get at least one point against the Avalanche OR if the Wild lose to the Blues in any fashion.
# # #
* The Wild would clinch the No. 3 seed in the Central Division if they defeat the Blues in any fashion AND the Blackhawks lose to the Avalanche in regulation.
# # #
* The Canucks would clinch the No. 2 seed in the Pacific Division if they get at least one point against the Oilers OR if the Flames lose to the Jets in any fashion.
# # #
* The Flames would clinch the No. 2 seed in the Pacific Division if they defeat the Jets in any fashion AND the Canucks lose to the Oilers in regulation.
# # #
* The Jets, who are locked in as the No. 2 Wild Card, will face the Western Conference’s top seed in the First Round – either the Ducks or the Blues.
Frankly, there has been no better comeback story in the NHL.
A year ago at this time, Devan Dubnyk was playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League. Today, he has become the toast of the NHL for turning the Wild’s season around an incredible run of success since being traded to Minnesota on Jan. 14.
The Wild workhorse goalie, who will start his 36th consecutive game tonight (35th in a row for the Wild) against the New York Rangers, has allowed two goals or fewer 26 times. He has allowed 57 goals in 34 starts, one fewer than the Wild allowed in the 14 games before he arrived. He is 26-6-1 with the Wild with a 1.70 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, which includes a crazy 14-1-1 road record with a 1.44 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.
Behind the scenes, it took a ton of work to resurrect his career and become this year’s feel-good NHL story.
If you didn’t read here, I wrote today about how Dubnyk has put himself in the conversation for the Hart and Vezina Trophies. In fact, Bovada has him as the fourth-best odds to win the Hart (15/1)
The Bill Masterton trophy is the award given annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. The Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has chosen Dubnyk as this year’s Wild nominee.
Last season, Dubnyk was basically run out of Edmonton. He was dealt to Nashville, played two admittedly poor games and was traded to Montreal after the Olympic break and immediately assigned to Hamilton.
During the playoffs, Dubnyk was so far buried on the depth chart, the Canadiens permitted him to leave the team and return to his wife and infant son in Edmonton so he could be a husband and a dad.
“It was crazy. It feels like last year was so long ago now,” Dubnyk said this morning after being informed of the honor by the two Wild beat writers. “The most important thing was getting that break in the summer, really getting a chance to reflect on last year, think about what happened, what could I have controlled and what couldn’t I have controlled?
“The most important thing for me is I wanted to take the mindset of realizing that if I would have played better, I wouldn’t have been in that situation, and not think that I didn’t get a fair shake or wasn’t treated fairly somewhere. The thing is if I would have played better hockey, I wouldn’t have ended up in Hamilton.”
Last summer, the NHL allowed a free-agent interview period for teams. That turned out to be perfect for Dubnyk.
His agent knows Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett well, and Coyotes goalie coach Sean Burke, like Wild goalie coach Bob Mason, always liked Dubnyk’s game from afar.
Burke and Dubnyk had a long phone conversation.
“To have them put full confidence kind of just allowed me to start from square one and feel good about what I had done and really try to forget about that period of time,” Dubnyk said.
Off the ice, Dubnyk said, “A lot of it was mental. I’ve always been comfortable as far as my summer program and conditioning. I think I got on the ice a little more early on. And then to have that opportunity to go to Vail and work with [former NHL goalie] Steve Valiquette [on a new head trajectory technique] was important for me and also going to Arizona early and talking to Burkie and starting that early.
“The reflecting part – during the season] you don’t have a chance to think about it. It’s not a lot of fun and you’re just kind of stuck in it. You go to the rink every day and it’s kind of the same old, same. You don’t have a chance to sit back, but once I was able to get away with it and get back with my family, it gives you the opportunity to really just look back on the entire situation and go through it and understand what it was that happened and what I could do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Now, he’s come to Minnesota and was immediately embraced by his teammates. It helped a ton that he showed such commitment by flying all night after the trade to start that first game in Buffalo when the Wild so needed something different. The next day, after that 7-0 win, a lot of teammates also took note that there he was at J.P. Parise’s funeral even though he had his entire life uprooted and his wife and son were still in Arizona.
This afternoon, I am filling in for Dan Barreiro on KFAN from 3-6:30 p.m. One of my guests is Zach Parise. I pre-taped the interview because the interview is running at 5:55 p.m. and he has a game tonight.
“I remember playing against him, scoring on him a couple times before he got here, I remember that,” Parise said, laughing. “Other than that, I didn’t know much about him at all. So I was surprised and happy we traded for him because I knew he was a big guy, and it’s just been a really good story.”
Parise also said how well he’s fit in, saying, “He’s a really easygoing guy, very easy to get along with. You’ve got a guy like [Niklas] Backstrom, you can’t talk to him on the day of a game. It’s like you don’t even exist.” He said, kiddingly, “I don’t know how he lives his life like that. So it’s kind of refreshing to have someone you can joke around with in the locker room before the game.”
Dubnyk said he is enjoying everything about being here.
“I’ve been trying to do that the whole way through,” Dubnyk said. “You want to stay level. You don’t want to get too high and think too much about it, but at the same time my approach from the get-go this year was to really try to enjoy and embrace every opportunity that I got. That continued when I got here, just taking those days in between games to just enjoy the wins and enjoy the feeling that we have here and what we’re doing because it is a special thing, and that’s made it that much more special. It’s not like I’m trying my best to pretend nothing’s going on here. It’s been fun and I’m enjoying it, so it’s just going to get more exciting from here on out.”
In 2013, Josh Harding won the Masterton Trophy.
The Wild’s all-time nominees are Harding (2013-14, 2012-13), Clayton Stoner (2011-12), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (2010-11), Guillaume Latendresse (2009-10), Kurtis Foster (2008-09), Aaron Voros (2007-08), Marian Gaborik (2006-07), Wes Walz (2005-06, 2000-01), Alexandre Daigle (2003-04), Dwayne Roloson (2002-03) and Richard Park (2001-02).
As I mentioned, I am filling in for Barreiro today.
Besides Parise, my guests include Super Troopers/Beerfest, etc. actor/comedian/writer/director Erik Stolhanske, Edmonton Journal hockey writer Jim Matheson, Rangers play-by-play guy Kenny Albert, Minnesota United coach Manny Lagos and the Wild’s Kevin Falness will be in with me as well.
I’ll also be on Fox Sports North tonight to talk about the Wild, Dustin Byfuglien, Dubnyk and the Wild’s upcoming schedule and potential playoff opponents if the Wild makes it.
Lineup the same as has been reported all week.
Coach Mike Yeo said today that Matt Cooke’s conditioning after so much time off still needs to improve, so the first “realistic goal” for Cooke to return is likely next Tuesday in Chicago.
The Rangers are awesome on the road. The Metro leaders are a road win for its 26th to break a team record. They are fast and good, so the Wild will have to beware the first 10 minutes tonight to make sure the inevitable rust from four days off doesn’t kill them.
Yeo is worried about an emotional letdown after two big wins and just wants the Wild to get back to that desperation level it was playing with every night.
Also, after four days of hearing how good they are and after four days of so much talk that they’re already in the playoffs, Yeo wants to make sure his players remember they’re not yet.
Yeo met with the six potential fourth-liners down the stretch, tonight’s fourth line of Ryan Carter, Kyle Brodziak and Jordan Schroeder and scratched Erik Haula and Sean Bergenheim and the injured Cooke to explain that they all have arguments as to why should play down the stretch, but if they’re not, it is incumbent on them to have good attitudes, support the rest of the team, not create problems and work hard.
He doesn’t foresee problems but wanted to get ahead of it and explain the situation.
“It’s healthy for a team to have competition,” Schroeder said. “It pushes guys. But at the same time you don’t want guys being upset and negative around the locker room. You want guys to be upbeat and positive and trying to help and support each other.
“Good teams have depth. It’s difficult for everyone from the coaches on down to make decisions when guys are playing so well and the team’s playing so well. So if you’re in, play your butt off and try to stay in the lineup. But things can change night to night.”
For the second time since coming to the Wild on Jan. 14, Devan Dubnyk was named the NHL's First Star of the Week after winning back-to-back, back-to-backs last week. In February, he was named First Star once, Third Star once and the February First Star of the Month. It's the first time a Wild player has gotten four honors in a season.
Last week, Dubnyk went 4-0 with a 1.22 goals-against average and .962 save percentage to lead the Wild (44-25-7, 95 points) to four consecutive victories, including their franchise-record 10th straight on the road. He opened the week with 35 saves in a 2-1 triumph over the Toronto Maple Leafs March 23. Dubnyk followed that performance by stopping 37 shots – and all three attempts he faced in the shootout – in a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders March 24. He capped the week with victories on consecutive days, making 23 saves in a 4-2 triumph over the Calgary Flames March 27 and 31 stops in a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings March 28. The 28-year-old Regina, Sask., native has won a career-high 35 games while ranking second in the NHL with a 2.05 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in 53 appearances this season. That includes a 26-6-1 record with a 1.70 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and five shutouts since joining the Wild Jan. 15.
When Dubnyk came to the Wild, Minnesota and Edmonton were tied for the worst save percentages in the NHL (.889). The Wild's .940 save percentage since (which included 14 saves on 14 shots by Darcy Kuemper in relief Jan. 20 in Detroit) has the Wild up to a tie for 11th with a .912 save percentage.
Defenseman Christian Folin got his game with Iowa yesterday and was recalled back up. Folin has been scratched in five straight games and nine of the past 11.
Rachel Blount is covering today's optional practice as I write an enterprise piece on the NHL's Situation Room for tomorrow's newspaper. Should be a fun read.
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