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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We will get Mike Yeo in 15 minutes, but I am hearing the Wild will have a new fourth line this afternoon.
Zenon Konopka won't play and Stephane Veilleux will be inserted. The goal is clearly speed, energy and big hits.
Veilleux, called up twice in the past few weeks but scratched in both games, has played 460 regular-season games in the NHL and 11 playoff games for the Wild.
More after we talk to Yeo
Sadly, the Houston Aeros' season and their existence came to a painful end last night in Grand Rapids as the Griffins beat them 7-0.
The Aeros relocate to Des Moines, Iowa, next year. You've got to feel for their fans and those that work around the team and cover the team. For some coverage, see the great Heather Galindo's Twitter account at @hockeygalindo and @3rdIntermission.
Aeros play-by-play man Joe O'Donnell (@aero_joe) tweeted after the game: Aeros fall 7-0...the season is over, and depressingly, the franchise is as well... #thankyoufans #thankyouAeros AND That was, without question, one of the hardest things I've ever done in 8 years as a broadcaster.......
With the Aeros eliminated, the Wild can technically recall the entire team (current NHL contracts) to Minnesota if it so chooses.
As of now, most players are heading back to Houston to pack up, but I am hearing that three players have arrived or on their way to Minnesota.
Stephane Veilleux arrived last night and Mikael Granlund and Jake Dowell are on their way here now.
So I'd anticipate we may have some lineup changes today. No, before you email and tweet me incessantly, Justin Fontaine was not one of those brought up for some reason.
As of now, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is available at noon, but he said yesterday that Dave Bolland and Ray Emery are out.
As of now, there is no pregame access to Mike Yeo. I will let you know if that changes, but you may need to wait until warmups for the lineup.
I will post another blog with the lineup before the game. Enjoy the first home playoff game in five years today folks.
We have a ton of coverage for you in today's Star Tribune and on startribune.com/wild, but here is a fun read from Chip Scoggins on the 2003 team that rode to the Western Conference Finals.
Remember, the Wild will host a pregame party from 12-1:30 p.m. along the sidewalk between Gates 1 and 3 of Xcel Energy Center.
Niklas Backstrom, who did not accompany the team to Chicago, flew commercial to Chicago last night and was on the ice sharing the cage with Darcy Kuemper this morning.
Josh Harding had one to himself and will get the start for Game 2 tonight at United Center. Darcy Kuemper will back up.
Yeo would only say the plan was for Backstrom to always fly to Chicago. Regardless, he'll be in street clothes tonight and will accompany the team back to Minnesota after the game.
Backstrom took shots this morning and still looked to me like he was having some issues. But the fact he was on the ice so soon is obviously a good sign. I haven't talked yet with Backstrom. I can only imagine how disappointed he has to be. You wait all year for the playoffs and minutes before Game 1, you get hurt? Ugh. If you know Backstrom, it has to be an awful feeling.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville on Harding and Backstrom: "One's a lefty; one's a righty."
It'll be interesting to see how Harding plays tonight. Completely different mentality when you're a last-second emergency substitution to knowing for three days you're probably starting Game 2. Today's a long day, too, with the odd 8:30 puck drop, so that's a lot of time to think.
Clayton Stoner and Jason Pominville are out tonight and didn't make the trip to Chicago. 6-foot-5 blue-liner Justin Falk will play for Stoner.
"He actually has played some good hockey," coach Mike Yeo said of Falk. "It's nice to insert him into a place where we feel we can give him a good chance to succeed, too. You'll see him out there more against more of their third and fourth lines -- bigger lines, a little bit more physical. That's the type of game that he should be playing. ... With his size, we're looking for him to bring a physical element to the game, too."
David Bolland and Ray Emery are again out for the Blackhawks.
Tonight feels like Game 1 all over again with two off-days oddly in between. Jonathan Toews expects a better playoff pace at the beginning of the game. The Blackhawks have been talking over and over again about a better start tonight, so the Wild will need to weather the storm or better yet look to dictate this pace.
I'd expect a much more physical game than Game 1, one more emblematic of the playoff games we've seen around the league thus far.
"I hope so," Yeo said. "I think that serves us well. I think we're comfortable playing in those type of games. Against a team like that, if we can get engaged in a game like that, then I think that it helps us. That said, we have to make sure we're doing it the right way, doing it within the structure of our game."
More on this, Yeo said, "I know that our guys are emotionally engaged in this and I think it will increase as the series goes on. I'm not comparing us to any of the other series' that's going on."
On the 8:30 start, Yeo said, "It makes it a longer day. That's about it. But these players are professionals."
I will be on KFAN at 4:35 p.m. with Dan Barreiro.
I will be on the Fox Sports North "Wild Live" pregame show at around 7:40 p.m. tonight.
Goaltender Niklas Backstrom, right wing Jason Pominville and defenseman Clayton Stoner all missed practice today for the Wild.
Coach Mike Yeo said all are day-to-day. Pominville definitely won't play in Game 2. While Yeo said Backstrom and Stoner will travel to Chicago with the team, we obviously saw what Backstrom looked like when he left the ice during warmups in Game 1 and Stoner only played eight minutes the other night -- two shifts in the first period after getting hit hard by Chicago's Andrew Shaw.
So I'd suspect Josh Harding starts in goal and Stoner is doubtful to say the least.
Justin Falk took Stoner's spot on the Tom Gilbert pair. Only change to the power-play units is Charlie Coyle replaces Tom Gilbert on the No. 2 unit and Pierre-Marc Bouchard plays the point.
INNESOTA WILD ANNOUNCE PLANS FOR PRE-GAME PARTY
THIS SUNDAY, MAY 5 BEFORE GAME 3
SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League (NHL) announced plans for a pre-game party between 12-1:30 p.m. Sunday, prior to the team’s 2 p.m. faceoff against Chicago in Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The party will take place along the sidewalk between Gates 1 and 3 of Xcel Energy Center.
The party will include live music, food and drink, including a beer garden, an appearance by the FOX Sports North Girls, as well as face painting and a Hockey Lodge tent with new playoff merchandise. Fans can meet former Wild Captain Wes Walz and find out about the Minnesota Wild Hockey School summer camp. There will also be autographs from former Minnesota North Stars Don Beaupre, Jack Carlson, Brad Maxwell and Tim Young. In addition, KFAN 100.3 FM will broadcast live from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
The Wild encourage all fans who will be attending the home games to download the official Wild app for iPhone and Android to be a part of the special in-arena pre-game show. To download the app, search for ‘MN Wild NHL’ in the App Store or the Google Play Store.
The Wild will face the Blackhawks on Sunday at 2 p.m. in a nationally televised game on NBC. Game 2 is Friday night in Chicago at 8:30 p.m. on FS North (locally) and NBC Sports Network (nationally).
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