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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Friday’s practice was all about taking the good things from Thursday’s 5-4 Game 1 overtime loss to Colorado and repairing the bad things.
Since I’m a cynical beat writer, let’s focus on the bad things.
1. Managing the puck better
2. Being better in the defensive zone by pressuring more aggressively and cutting off the Avs’ cycle.
3. Being more physical.
4. Uh, managing the puck better.
On points 1 and 4, the only obvious lineup shuffle for Saturday’s Game 2 is third-line center Kyle Brodziak, who was minus-3, and fourth-line center Erik Haula switched spots in practice. Haula will start Saturday’s game between Matt Cooke and Nino Niederreiter, while Brodziak is expected to be between Stephane Veilleux and Cody McCormick.
The Wild could have put Thursday’s game away umpteen different ways – scoring on that power play up 4-2, Mikael Granlund shooting the puck on that one clear as day opportunity, if Erik Johnson didn’t race down Haula’s empty-net try, Jared Spurgeon getting the puck out before Paul Stastny’s tying goal, Jason Pominville’s shot not hitting the post in OT.
“The mistakes that we made were some big ones,” said Spurgeon.
Let’s be honest, though, it’s a game of mistakes but the Wild has Thursday’s game in its hip pocket if Brodziak doesn’t turn over the puck to Ryan O’Reilly before Jamie McGinn cut it to 4-3.
“The third goal was tough for sure,” Brodziak said. “I double-clutched myself and it ended up in the back of the net and was the turning point in the game. You just have to move on. It’s never fun when that happens. The most important thing for everybody and myself is how we respond, how we bounce back. That’s the focus for today.”
Haula scored his first career playoff goal Thursday and played well, but one big reason coach Mike Yeo will put him on the third line is his speed should match up better against Colorado’s speed than Brodziak (particularly Nathan MacKinnon; as I said before the series, I feel is the only Wild player that can track MacKinnon, maybe the fastest player in the NHL, stride for stride). MacKinnon, 18, became the second-youngest player in NHL history to have three points (all assists) in his playoff debut (Pierre Turgeon, 1988).
The Wild’s challenge?
Put this game before them?
“You’re going to face adversity in the playoffs,” Yeo said. “We want to get on a run here and any team that’s going to have any kind of success in the playoffs , you’re going to face adversity.”
Yeo said today’s practice was proof of a loose group.
“I think it would be a lot worse if we were dominated in the game, if we felt like we were badly outplayed. It’s frustrating that we let a game get away from us. But if we won that game, there are no guarantees either. It’s one game. There’s enough positives to take from that game where we should feel good about ourselves. The best part for me is that was a winnable game for us, but I know that we can be better.”
Yeo didn’t like the Wild’s response after Brodziak’s gaffe.
“We’re still leading,” he said. “We have to have a mentality that every play is the difference in a hockey game. I thought we got tight after that. Normally with a one-goal lead, we’re very confident, we’re very strong in our game.”
In the D zone, Yeo said, “I think we had too much respect for them, personally. I look at situations where we’re in D zone and we’re on our heels. Normally we’re on our toes, we’re jumping, we’re pressuring. We always talk about our structure, but it doesn’t mean anything if we’re giving time and space to great players. … I know we can pressure the puck harder, I know that we can take straight lines and go through guys harder,
“We can be more physical on them. There’s no question about that. I don’t believe we made things hard enough on them physical.”
Yeo said also that Jonas Brodin probably should be a little more aware so he’s not peeling himself off the glass every shift. OK, I’m saying that. Not him.
But Yeo said there are times the defensemen go back to retrieve pucks that it doesn’t benefit anybody to go back and get run. Sometimes you’re better off protecting the puck, protecting yourself and waiting for support.
Haula on playing the third line, “I’m just excited to play the game. I don’t worry about where I play. I’m just trying to bring the same kind of effort every night. Whatever the task, whatever the role, I’ll take that challenge. They have a lot of good players. It’s not one line.”
Parise said they worked on some tactical things that needed to be cleaned up today and “upping our intensity level and playing more playoff-style hockey. We did it OK, but not well enough.”
On being more aggressive in the D zone, Parise said, “You’ve got to be careful with skilled guys. You don’t want to overcommit yourself. We can do a better job of stopping the cycle earlier and being a little more physical and pinning them rather than letting them cycle and cycle.”
Parise said life goes on after a loss like Thursday. “You think about it the rest of the night. You don’t have a choice. You’ve got to come in today with a clear mind ready to learn and ready to see how we can be better. Playoffs are never going to go the way you want them to go. The quicker you can move on, not only from losses but wins, too, the better off you’ll be.”
Mikko Koivu also said it was tough to sleep after Thursday’s game, but “it helps when you get out there and get a little sweat. We went through the things that happened last night and now we just have to learn from that and prepare ourselves for Game 2. We did a lot of good things, too. We can’t forget that. We have to be a little sharper.
“It’s not easy. That’ hockey. If it were easy, you’re in the wrong spot. Now it’s all about tomorrow. And we feel pretty good about ourselves and our game. We have to fix the little things.”
Ilya Bryzgalov has allowed 13 goals the past three games. The Wild’s not pinning last night on him, but he has got to be better, too.
Of the loss, Haula said, “Basically, it came down to inches,” referring to Johnson running down his empty-netter attempt and swiping it inches from the goal line.
“I tried to get some elevation so it wouldn’t go for icing and we can get a change. Suddenly, I’m looking and it might go in. Then it doesn’t’ go in, net’s off, scrum going on and I don’t know what the heck’s going on. I think the ref’s made a terrible call there.”
Yeo said the Wild also plans to talk to the series supervisor of officials (Don van Massenhoven) Saturday to try to get a ruling on a few things they were upset about, like Brodziak and Cooke being bowled over by Barrie before Stastny’s winner, why Koivu’s net off the moorings wasn’t a penalty vs. Johnson knocking the net off, why that faceoff was outside the zone as opposed to inside when Johnson started the whole thing and the scrum, in the Wild’s eyes, was at the top of the circle.
Regardless, the Wild gave this game away and it knows it.
“They got goals coming directly off our stick,” Yeo said. “We had the hockey game on our stick last game.”
A big storyline last night was Patrick Roy pulling Semyon Varlamov with 3:01 left. He has done this a few times this year and said today he did this a lot in junior, including in the second period.
Earlier this season, the Avs pulled off the same thing against New Jersey (tied game, won it in overtime). He tried same thing this season against Boston, although it didn’t work and neither team scored.
Roy said every morning skate for the past month the Avs have practiced 6-on-5’s.
He's done it a few times throughout the year, with some success. He pulled Varly with about 2:30 left in New Jersey on Feb. 4, down 1-0 and they tied it and won in OT. Not sure what the time of the goal was.
He pulled him against Boston down 2-0 with five minutes left but they didn't score. Neither did the Bruins.
“As a goalie I would love to see my coach doing that,” Roy said. “You want to see the team tying. It doesn’t matter if it happens at 3 minutes or 2 minutes or one minute. It’s just a feeling. I know one day it might bite us, but it’s a longterm thing. If you do it 10 times and you score four goals, it’s 40 percent. It’s pretty big. If you give up one goal, what the heck, let’s keep doing it. I think it gives us momentum, it also forces them to defend. We keep it in their end, they get tired. The longer it lasts the tougher it is for them to make the right plays.
“I never look at statistics. I think sometimes just go with a feeling. If guys have been on the ice for a long time we think it’s a good time. The matchup. I’m looking at this more than anything else. If you have the momentum I’m not afraid to do it early, even if it can backfire.”
By matchup, he means the guys on the ice. He said he considered it with four minutes last night because the Wild had Nate Prosser and Clayton Stoner (third pair) on the ice.
Johnson said he didn’t realize the net was empty until one of the officials told him (that was very nice by the official).
“I didn't realize it until O'Reilly said something when we were out there,” Stastny said. “I looked up and Factor said, 'We're pulling the goalie.' I thought ‘I better win this draw.’”
Most amazing about pulling the goalie with 3:01 left? The six guys on the ice were out there for the final three minutes of the game (obviously there were rests like TV timeouts and the scrum after Johnson’s save on Haula).
“But you know what, they’re standing still,” Roy said. “They had to move side to side because we were up and down. It’s like being on a power play. If you go on a power play you could be out there a minute or minute as a half. If you move the puck well it’s not as demanding than if you have to defend.”
You’ve got to love this guy. Roy does it his way.
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 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.
Happy Game Day everybody! Wild and Avs tonight at 8:30 p.m. CT.
I will be hosting a live Wild-Avalanche/NHL chat on startribune.com today at 3 p.m. CT. Please join. I'll also be on Fox Sports North during tonight's pregame show and first intermission.
I'll also be on KFAN today, Friday and Monday at 4:30 p.m. CT.
John Mitchell is indeed out tonight for Colorado, as are Matt Duchene and Cory Sarich.
John Curry will back up Ilya Bryzgalov. Darcy Kuemper is getting closer to backing up, but with only two practices under his belt, coach Mike Yeo said the Wild's not comfortable yet putting him in uniform.
I had a great chat this morning with Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Colorado's now backup who may be leaning toward retirement after this season. He talked about his days with Bryzgalov, who was Giguere's backup in Anaheim, and also looked back to the 2003 Western Conference Finals. I'll write some of that in Friday's paper.
"You never have a boring day with Bryz around," Giguere said.
Avs coach Patrick Roy reminded us that Avs goalie coach Francois Allaire was also Bryzgalov's goalie coach in Anaheim, so "we have a lot of info on him."
Wild fans will probably get an appreciation in this series about just how good Nathan MacKinnon will be, is already and how lightning fast he is.
Obviously, the Wild will want Ryan Suter out against MacKinnon, but I think Yeo will also feel very comfortable with his two most mobile defensemen, Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella, out there against him, too. I asked Yeo if the Wild may go with a coaching strategy of yesteryear and assign a player also to shadown MacKinnon (although the only one probably capable is speedy Erik Haula), but Yeo indicated it'll be a five-man unit thing.
"He’s a very dynamic player," Yeo said. "They have a number of them. We have to be careful that we’re not just keying on one guy, but this is a guy that you have to be incredibly impressed with his rookie season. His speed, the way he’s able to generate it so quickly – it doesn’t take much, there’s a loose puck and he’s jumping on it and his first couple strides are so explosive that you have to limit those opportunities. Once he does build that speed, then you have to make sure you’re containing it. We do feel good about the mobility of our defensive group. That’ll be a good challenge for them as far as them testing us with the one-on-one play."
MacKinnon was a playoff star in juniors, and he's ultra-confident. I'll write more about him later in the series. I gathered a lot of yarn on him today. I also chatted with Bloomington's Erik Johnson about his transformation into a No. 1 defenseman, and I'll write him later in the series.
On Semyon Varlamov, who won 41 games and will be a Vezina finalist, Yeo said, "We’ve done a scouting report. We’ve watched a lot of video. This is a great goalie. He’s very athletic, great side-to-side. The one thing I believe with any great goalie is the quicker you shoot the puck, the better off you are. He does a very good job of coming out and closing angles and making himself big in the net. The quicker you get the puck off your stick, the more net there is to shoot. We have to have a strong focus of making sure we’re putting a lot of traffic in front of him, making it difficult for him to come out and be aggressive on those shots."
Other little notes, Christian Folin returned to
BU Massachusetts-Lowell (had a brain cramp, sorry) to finish some schooling and pack up his life. He'll be back next week for practice with a handful of Iowa players who should be coming up Tuesday just to practice.
If you missed today's coverage, I suggest picking up a newspaper, but here are some links:
--Today's MUST READ: Ilya Bryzgalov can be goofy, eccentric, standoffish. But he's a fascinating person and goalie. Here's a decent look into his personality as the Wild's playoff hopes ride on his shoulders.
--The Wild notebook. Patrick Roy says the Avs must check Ryan Suter every chance they get. Also, Mikael Granlund set to make his playoff debut tonight.
--The Avs notebook by freelancer Michael Kelly (@berge19). Hotshot rookie Nathan MacKinnon is set to make his playoff debut, and Jan Hejda is ready to play.
--Chip Scoggins' column on how the Wild's got a shot against Colorado.
--My scouting report into the Wild and its projected lineup
--My scouting report into the Avalanche and its projected lineup
Also, below is a deeper look at the Wild-Avs series with some cool stats and tidbits
WILD VS. AVALANCHE
The series, the players, the history
Season series: Avalanche won 4-0-1, outscoring the Wild 15-10.
All-time series: Wild 37-32-10. The Avalanche has outscored Minnesota 218-198. Since March 5, 2006, the Wild is 32-14-6 against Colorado and 13-3-3 in its past 19 in Denver.
All-time playoff meetings: 1-1. 2003 Western Conference quarterfinals, Wild won 4-3, outscored by Colorado 17-16; 2008 Western Conference quarterfinals, Avalanche won 4-2, outscoring Minnesota 17-12.
Wild leading scorers vs. Avalanche this season: Zach Parise 2 goals, 5 points in 5 games; Dany Heatley 1 goal, 4 points in 5 games; Jason Pominville 1 goal, 4 points in 5 games; Mikael Granlund 1 goal, 3 points in 2 games.
Avalanche leading scorers vs. Wild this season: Gabriel Landeskog 3 goals, 6 points in 5 games; John Mitchell 1 goal, 6 points in 5 games; Nathan MacKinnon 3 goals, 5 points in 5 games; Max Talbot 3 goals, 4 points in 5 games; Ryan O’Reilly 3 goals, 4 points in 5 games.
Wild goaltending vs. Avalanche this season: Josh Harding 1-1-1 with a 1.58 goals-against average.
Avalanche goaltending vs. Wild this season: Semyon Varlamov 3-0-1 with a 2.16 goals-against average.
Wild leading scorers all-time vs. Avalanche: Mikko Koivu 15 goals, 38 points in 49 games; Dany Heatley 8 goals, 29 points in 29 games; Kyle Brodziak 7 goals, 21 points in 42 games; Ryan Suter 1 goal, 20 points in 38 games.
Wild goaltending all-time vs. Avalanche: Ilya Bryzgalov 7-4-4 with a 2.31 goals-against average; Darcy Kuemper 0-0 with a 6.66 goals-against average.
Avalanche leading scorers all-time vs. Wild: Paul Stastny 10 goals, 29 points in 46 games; Matt Duchene 5 goals, 15 points in 26 games; Gabriel Landeskog 6 goals, 14 points in 15 games.
Avalanche all-time goaltending vs. Wild: Semyon Varlamov 7-4-1 with a 2.13 goals-against average; Jean-Sebastien Giguere 11-12-5 with a 2.34 goals-against average.
Wild all-time playoff leading scorers: Dany Heatley 15 goals, 57 points in 66 games; Zach Parise 22 goals, 44 points in 66 games; Matt Cooke 13 goals, 33 points in 97 games; Jason Pominville 12 goals, 28 points in 47 games; Ryan Suter 4 goals, 13 points in 44 games.
Wild all-time playoff goaltending: Ilya Bryzgalov 17-19 with a 2.81 goals-against average and .908 save percentage; Kuemper 0-0 with a 3.29 goals-against average and .879 save percentage.
Avalanche all-time playoff leading scorers: Max Talbot 18 goals, 39 points in 77 games; Paul Stastny three goals, eight points in 15 games.
Avalanche all-time playoff goaltending: Semyon Varlamov 10-9 with a 2.49 goals-against average and .915 save percentage; Jean-Sebastien Giguere 33-17 with a 2.08 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.
No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 7 Minnesota Wild
Records: 52-22-8; 43-27-12
Home: 26-11-4; 26-10-5
Away: 26-11-4; 17-17-7
Season-series: 4-0-1; 1-3-1
Goals For: 245 (2.99, 4th in NHL); 199 (2.43, 24th)
Goals Against: 216 (2.63, 14th); 198 (2.42, 7th)
Shots For: 29.5 (20th); 26.6 (29th)
Shots Against 32.7 (25th); 27.7 (5th)
Power play: 19.8 (5th); 17.9 (16th)
Penalty kill: 80.7 (24th); 78.8 (27th)
Goals: Colorado – Ryan O’Reilly 28, Gabriel Landeskog 26; Wild – Jason Pominville 30, Zach Parise 29
Assists: Colorado – *Matt Duchene 47, Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon 39; Wild – Mikko Koivu 43, Ryan Suter 35
Points: Duchene 70, Landeskog 65; Wild – Pominville 60, Parise 56
Power-play goals: Colorado – O’Reilly 9; Wild -- Parise 14
Time on ice: Colorado – Erik Johnson 23:00; Wild – Suter 29:24
Colorado: Semyon Varlamov – 41-14-6, 2.41 goals-against average, .927 save percentage, 2 shutouts
Wild: Ilya Bryzgalov – 7-1-3, 2.12 goals-against average, 911 save percentage, 3 shutouts
* Duchene has a sprained knee and may miss the start of the series; Mitchell is questionable with a concussion; Alex Tanguay, out for the series, isn’t included.
Finally, Game 1 is right around the corner between the Wild and Colorado Avalanche.
“The season ends, the playoffs begin, and it’s just a new feeling when you come to the rink,” coach Mike Yeo said today after the Wild skated at Magness Arena on the University of Denver campus. “We all feel it. We’re excited it’s upon us.”
Good early evening from beautiful Denver, where the weather’s nicer than Minnesota.
A reminder, I plan to hold a live Wild-Avs/NHL chat on startribune.com/wild at 3 p.m. CT Thursday. Please join in. Your employers and teachers give you permission (actually, to be safe, you better confirm that).
Wild second-line center Mikael Granlund will return to the lineup Thursday night and make his NHL playoff debut. The former Finnish Elite League champ with HIFK said it’s going to feel amazing.
The rest of the lineup is identical to what the lines and D pairs were on yesterday’s blog. Darcy Kuemper practiced for a second consecutive day, but Yeo said the Wild won’t decide until Thursday if Kuemper or John Curry will back up Ilya Bryzgalov.
The scratches will be Dany Heatley, Justin Fontaine, suspended Mike Rupp and John Blum. Keith Ballard practiced for a second day in a row and he’ll miss the game with a groin injury. Josh Harding is said to be fine, but since he’s not ready to play, he didn’t travel.
For Colorado, banged-up defenseman Jan Hejda practiced today and is expected to play.
I wrote a big, interesting story on Bryzgalov in Thursday’s Star Tribune, so definitely give that a read. I’ll also be doing a notebook on minute-muncher Ryan Suter, whom Patrick Roy said will be targeted in the series for physicality. That’s not something unexpected and in fact Yeo said the Avs’ defensemen, especially their banged-up ones (Tyson Barrie and Hejda), should expect the same from the Wild.
More on that in the paper.
From our stringer Michael Kelly (@berge19 on Twitter), he attended Avalanche Executive VP Joe Sakic’s presser today, and he passed along some comments:
(experience a factor in playoffs?) It depends on what type of team you have and also expectations. This is a team that expects a lot from themselves. We have some guys who are going to learn on the fly when it comes to first-time playoff experience, but I'm a big believer that if you play the right way and don't cheat out there, then you can have success. You can get that experience while winning. That's the best way to get that experience. The way the teamhas reacted all year, expecting more and playing with that consistency, is going to do them well in the playoffs.
(what does it take to win?) At the end of the day, it's a grind and the team that outlasts the rest of them is going to win. You're going to have adverse times in the playoffs. The biggest thing is stick to what you know, stick to your game plan, stay resilient, battle for one another. As long as you stay on that same path, whether it's going great or you had a terrible game the night before, you got to wake up the next morning and there's a new game coming up and it's probably a game that's more important than the previous game. Stay even keel and forgetting what happened the night before and just getting ready and focus on the next one.
(what does he expect in playoffs?) You don't know how different players will handle it, but this is going to be a great experience for them. You can gain that experience and win hockey games at the same time. We know we have a tough opponent in Minnesota. just like us, they played unbelievable hockey down the stretch and they're playing their best hockey at the right time as well. It's going to be a great series.
MINNESOTA WILD TO HOST PRE-GAME PARTIES OUTSIDE GATE 2 OF
XCEL ENERGY CENTER PRIOR TO GAMES 3 AND 4
SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild will hold a pre-game party outside Gate 2 of Xcel Energy Center prior to Games 3 and 4 on Monday, April 21, and Thursday, April 24.
The pre-game party for Game 3 will begin at 4 p.m., with gametime at 6 p.m. For Game 4, the festitivies will run from 5-8 p.m., leading up to the 8:30 p.m. gametime. All fans at each game will receive a Wild playoff towel. In addition, 2003 Game 6 playoff hero Richard Park will be doing Let’s Play Hockey prior to Game 3, and Jim Dowd will do Let’s Play Hockey for Game 4.
Game 3 Pre-Game Party (4-5:30 p.m.)
Music from Five Man Advantage
Live broadcast from 100.3 FM KFAN’s Dan Barriero (3-6 p.m.)
Appearance by FOX Sports North Girls
Hockey Lodge booth (beginning at noon)
$3 beer specials courtesy of Budweiser
NHL Alumni autographs (Players TBD, 4:30-5:30 p.m.)
Game 4 Pre-Game Party (5-8 p.m.)
Live Music (DJ)
100.3 FM KFAN Live Broadcast (6:30-8 p.m.)
Appearance by FOX Sports North Girls
Hockey Lodge booth (beginning at noon)
$3 beer specials courtesy of Budweiser
NHL Alumni autographs (Players TBD, 6-7:30 p.m.)
The Wild, which hops on a charter Wednesday morning aimed for Denver, held an up-tempo practice here at the X on Tuesday in preparation for Game 1 of its first-round series with the Avalanche on Thursday.
If you’re on Twitter (and all the cool people are), you can follow our stringer, Michael Kelly, at @berge19, throughout the first round for Avs practice and game updates in Denver. For real-time Wild news, follow me at @russostrib.
Wild center Mikael Granlund had another real good practice today, said he felt “real good” afterward and coach Mike Yeo wasn’t playing it coy afterward.
“Obviously we want to get him in the lineup,” Yeo said.
So barring a setback at Wednesday’s practice in Denver, Granlund will return to the lineup. Kyle Brodziak is also good to go for Thursday, while injured goalie Darcy Kuemper and defenseman Keith Ballard also practiced. Ballard won’t be ready by Thursday, and since this was Kuemper’s first practice with the big group, John Curry may back up Ilya Bryzgalov on Thursday. But we’ll see.
“We’re all hopeful that that’s never called upon,” Yeo said of using his backup, before letting out a laugh. “Crazier things have happened. We saw Game 1 last year (Niklas Backstrom getting hurt in warmups).”
Josh Harding practiced with the group before the main Wild group today.
So far, so good regarding unforeseen injuries. As I was reminded on Twitter, between Backstrom’s injury in warmups last year and Nick Schultz’s appendicitis right before Game 1 of the 2008 Avs series, the Wild should be ready for anything.
Wild lines in practice today:
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Matt Moulson-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Nino Niederreiter
Stephane Veilleux-Erik Haula-Cody McCormick
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella-Jonas Brodin
Clayton Stoner-Nate Prosser
Extra forwards: Dany Heatley, Justin Fontaine, Jake Dowell, Mike Rupp (suspended)
Extra defensemen: Jon Blum, Keith Ballard.
Avs lines from their practice today in Denver:
Ryan O’Reilly-Nathan MacKinnon-P.A. Parenteau
Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Jamie McGinn
Max Talbot-Marc-Andre Cliché-Cody McLeod
Patrick Bordeleau-Brad Malone-Paul Carey
Nick Holden-Erik Johnson
Tyson Barrie-Nate Guenin
Andre Benoit-Stefan Elliott
Coach Patrick Roy (still weird to write that) said he expects Jan Hejda to play Game 1, so if so, he’d slide likely back onto the Johnson pair and Elliott would likely come out of the lineup. Holden would likely go to Barrie’s pair and Guenin to Benoit’s pair.
Coach Roy (still weird to write that) indicated Duchene won’t be ready to play early in the series and that third-line center John Mitchell (concussion) is feeling better and should return at some point in the series. Alex Tanguay is done for the year.
These are significant injuries for Colorado. For a change, the Wild pretty much enters the playoffs with all its pieces.
(So far, no rumors of another Peter Forsberg comeback and Joe Sakic is still wearing a suit).
By the way, five of the six defensemen for Colorado listed above will be making their playoff debuts (four if Hejda plays). Hejda and Benoit have combined for eight playoff games. Seven of Colorado’s 12 forwards listed above have never played a playoff game.
So, this is one area where the Wild may have the intangible edge.
“I think it’ll help a lot,” Suter said. “Whenever you do something, the more you do it, the more comfortable you feel, just like driving your car or riding a bike. The more you do it, the better you get at it.”
As you can see above, Heatley, who has more playoff points than any Wild player (57 in 66 games), enters as an anticipated scratch.
Also, I got the lines dead-on the other day. Fontaine enters as the 13th forward. Remember, if he doesn’t play three games in the playoffs, he can become an unrestricted free agent as opposed to a restricted free agent. But, most essential is Yeo goes with the lineup he feels he has the best chance to win with, and he’s clearly picked for now the 12 forwards.
That fourth line will be used to bring momentum, that third line will be used to not only shut down, but also to help dictate from the physicality department.
Stoner’s back in for the same reason. Blum has played well, but so far, Prosser stays in on that right side of the third pair.
OK, I better get writing for the paper. Lots of preview stuff will be in the paper the next few days, and obviously, please check out Tuesday’s paper. Also, coming Thursday, a real good look at Ilya Bryzgalov. I’ve gathered a lot of good yarn. Now I just need to write it well. So,
with WISH me luck. (see what I mean)
Talk to you after practice Wednesday from Denver.
MINNESOTA WILD TO HOLD SHAVEOFF, PRESENTED BY
BIC FLEX 4 SHAVER, THIS WEDNESDAY, APRIL 16, TO KICK OFF
SAINT PAUL, Minn. – In celebration of the great tradition of the playoff beard, the Minnesota Wild is kicking off the Minnesota Wild Beard‑a‑Thon® to benefit the Minnesota Wild Foundation and build excitement for the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs. This Wednesday, April 16, celebrities and one lucky Wild fan will gather at Xcel Energy Center to clean off the stubble on some notable local faces and raise money for a great cause. Fans of Wild hockey and facial hair are invited to drop by for a free lunch, a chance to win playoff tickets and revel in the shaving merriment. Fans who make a donation of $10 or more will receive an official Minnesota Wild “Fear the Beard” t-shirt (quantities limited). The Shaveoff is presented by Bic Flex 4 Shaver.
One lucky fan will also win an autographed Wild jersey and the chance to join the celebrities for a shave as part of the “Shaveoff Sweepstakes.” To enter, fans tweet a photo showing their Wild playoff spirit to @mnwild, using the hashtag #itsplayoffseason. The contest runs now through 4:59 p.m. on Tuesday, April 15. Official Rules are available at http://www.wild.com/shaveoff.
Minnesota Wild Beard-a-thon®
11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Wednesday, April 16
Gate 1 – Xcel Energy Center
199 W. Kellogg Blvd. – Saint Paul, MN 55102
- Wes Walz, Minnesota Wild
- Dave Schwartz, KARE 11
- Chris Hawkey, KFAN 100.3
- Paul Fletcher, Cities 97
- Donate $10 or more to receive an official Minnesota Wild “Fear the Beard” t-shirt (quantities limited)
- Free lunch (hot dog, chips, soda) for the first 250 fans
- Register-to-win tickets for the first Wild home playoff game
- Watch celebrities get clean shaven by the barbers from St. Paul’s legendary Heimie's Haberdashery
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