This is Michael Russo's 18th year covering the National Hockey League. He's covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005 following 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. Michael 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.
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.
Tonight at the raucous Madhouse on Madison, the Wild will play its first playoff game since 2008 and renew an old Norris rivalry with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Good morning from downtown Chicago, where I'm about to head to the United Center to watch the respective morning skates of the Hawks and Wild. I will update the blog afterward with news and notes.
The game starts at 7 p.m. and can be seen on Fox Sports North and heard on KFAN. Of course, I'll be tweeting away at www.twitter.com/russostrib, so give it a follow.
I will hold a live chat this afternoon at 3 p.m. CT on startribune.com.
Today's one of those days you want to buy a Star Tribune. Great teamwork to put together today's playoff preview in short order, especially by the unsung ladies and gents behind the scenes who don't get to travel and cover hockey games for free.
Great pics, you can see my predictions and a ton of good info, so find a paper please for complete coverage. But here are some links:
A profile on captain Mikko Koivu, who critics love to pick apart. But this feature gives you a little sense of his drive and determination and just how much he wants to win, and it was good of Koivu as always to give me a long sitdown interview last week. I know I always joke about Koivu's steely glare and surly personality and my working relationship with him, but truth is we mostly get along great and he is much more laid back this year (maybe it's because he has his first child on the way). Deep down, Koivu is a very funny dude and anytime you pull him from his working environment and sit down for a talk, he always gives you a fascinating look into his life and personality.
Wild notebook: Jason Pominville will play tonight, Cal Clutterbuck looks forward to "beating the Blackhawks;" Craig Leipold on the mend; Injured Dany Heatley is shooting and skating; Wild's coming back between Games 1-2; how to watch the Wild first round on TV; Wild will wear greens at home throughout the playoffs.
Chip Scoggins' column: Wild has met the minimum, so now it must show something
Rachel Blount's look into the Wild's decision to bring Marco Scandella up and immediately thrust him into the lineup.
A notebook from Blackhawks practice, from freelancer Bob Hurst, who will be helping us out from Chicago
Kent Youngblood's look at all the NHL playoff series
With the Wild's season on the brink and facing a potential must-win tonight at Colorado, the Wild is expected to recall former University of Denver star Jason Zucker and energy bug Stephane Veilleux for tonight's game.
It sounds like Jake Dowell and Carson McMillan will be returned to Houston.
Zucker, 21, has scored four goals and one assist in 19 games for the Wild this year. If Veilleux plays, and at this point, why not, it would be his season debut, 461st NHL game and 383rd for the Wild.
Jason Pominville, I don't believe, traveled to Denver.
Basically, it's simple tonight.
Win and the Wild's in.
Lose in regulation AND Columbus gets one point or two in a home finale against Chris Mason and the emotionally and physically beaten-up Nashville Predators and the Wild will have to deal with the painful aftermath following a remarkable April swoon. The Wild led the Northwest Division after beating Los Angeles in a March 30 shootout.
The Avs, 5-4 shootout winners at Phoenix last night, will be pumped and motivated to eliminate a Wild team that usually beats them on home ice (11-2-2 in the Wild's past 15 in Denver).
The Denver Post's Mike Chambers (@MChambersDP) tweeted last night some quotes from P.A. Parenteau and Matt Duchene:
Parenteau: Parenteau: "We're a proud bunch of guys and we're not going to give (MIN) an inch out there . . . That's what it's all about."
Duchene: "Obviously it's a big one for them. Hopefully the building will be full, and we can knock Minnesota out. That will be real nice. I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't. That's a division rival and team that's had our number for a while."
As I said, massive game. Niklas Backstrom, after being yanked with 1:22 left in the first period (three goals on five shots) of last night's 6-1 home embarrassment at the hands of Edmonton, will be back in net.
He is 10-2-1 in his past 13 at Colorado with a 2.10 goals against average and .935 save percentage. Backstrom is 21-3-4 with a 1.84 goals against average and a .933 save percentage in starts after being pulled (non-injury) in his career, including 17-1-2 with a 1.67 goals against average and a .940 save percentage since March 26, 2008.
The Wild needs Backstrom, who has been arguably overused beyond belief by the Wild, to step up bigtime. Otherwise, soak him in because this could be the last you see of Backstrom in a Wild uniform.
If you didn't read last night's postgame blog, please give it a read below.
Here is the notebook, which does have a Dany Heatley update that could soon be irrelevant.
The Wild is not having a morning skate with a 5:30 p.m. MT start. I have to run out of the Delta Sky Club now because I have a flight to catch, but I will be on Fox Sports North during the first intermission tonight.
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