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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Wild veteran left Matt Cooke and GM Chuck Fletcher were in New York today for an in-person hearing stemming from Cooke’s knee-on-knee hit on Colorado’s Tyson Barrie on Monday.
Cooke faces a significant suspension, one that is expected to be announced later today (I'll blog later when ruling is out). Remember, Cooke can appeal any suspension to Commissioner Gary Bettman and any suspension six games or more to a neutral arbitrator. He cannot play during any appeals process.
So at the very minimum, we shouldn’t expect to see Cooke again in the first round. Want to hear my thoughts on Cooke and other interesting things? Last night, I did another edition of Denver Post Avs beat writer Adrian Dater’s Podcast, “Hockey Talk.” Fox 9’s Dawn Mitchell also joins! We talk about a number of interesting things, I think. Here’s the link!!! It’s about an hour. Last week’s one is also on iTunes. (free).
Good day from the X, the site of Game 4 Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. CT. The NHL has announced that Game 5 will be at 7:30 p.m. MT/8:30 p.m. CT on Saturday from the Pepsi Center in Denver.
With Cooke suspended, youngster Nino Niederreiter will take Cooke’s spot on the left side of the shutdown line with rookies Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine on Thursday. Haula, Fontaine and Cooke were largely credited for helping slow the Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Nathan MacKinnon line in Monday’s 1-0 OT win.
Fontaine and Haula were quick to say it was a team effort of five-man units, good gaps and large portions of the game played in the offensive zone. That must continue.
If you remember, in almost identical circumstances, the Wild returned to Minnesota to play Game 3 last year against the Blackhawks. In almost identical circumstances, the Wild needed an overtime win (Jason Zucker’s heroics off Matt Cullen’s setup) to beat Chicago in a game the Wild dominated. Sound familiar?
The Wild then came out in Game 4, started well, didn’t score, went 0 for 6 on the power play and lost 3-0 to the Blackhawks. That set the stage for a Game 5 blowout.
You know that Colorado will come out a desperate team in Game 4 because it knows a victory means it can close the series at home Saturday. The Wild must exceed that desperation Thursday to even up the series.
With Cooke coming out of the lineup, Kyle Brodziak enters back in the fray. Scratched in Game 3, Brodziak will center the fourth line with Dany Heatley and Cody McCormick.
Here’s some of coach Mike Yeo’s thoughts from today:
On putting Niederreiter on that third line: "Yeah, obviously like I said yesterday there's some things we discussed, different scenarios we could have tried. Probably looking at the way Haulzie and Fonzie played, trying to keep that intact. Adding a guy who can be strong on the puck, whose responsible defensively and can play a strong two-way game and that was important to us. Obviously a good challenge for three young kids."
Concerned about youth? “Listen, they're a big part of our team. We have confidence in those guys so we're not going to try to hide anybody out here. Obviously if we feel it's not working, I'm comfortable with any line. I'm comfortable with any of our centermen. If that's their assignment they'll take care of it and if we put somebody else on the task they'll have to take care of it too”
Evaluate Niederreiter’s year: “I think it's been very good. It would be easy to sit here and say he started off one way and finished another. It's the time of year where the hockey has improved and the pace of play has improved. What I really appreciate about him is we've been able to insert him into different roles. We've put him in a scoring role, we've put him in a checking role and he's always sort of adapted. To me, that's the sign of a good player. That's the sign of a guy who's going to have a good career. He's not pigeon-holed. For a player like that, big strong, physical guy he has skill. I feel really good about how he's developed and I think it's been a good first year for him here.”
Urgency needed Thursday: “Well, there better be. It’s not like we’re ahead in the series here. We’re down and I think we recognize that they’re going to come in with a real strong effort next game. i think that they recognize the importance of the next game, let’s not kid ourselves, and I think we should too. We would love the opportunity to go back to Colorado with some momentum, we’d love the opportunity to go back to Colorado and hopefully they’re feeling a bit of pressure. I think that game is going to be an important one.”
Last year proof of that?: “That’s part of it. Let’s not kid ourselves, we know it’s a swing game, for sure. I look closely at that game last year, we had a real good start and then the game kind of got away from us. I think what’s important is, we understand the result we want to have but there’s a way we have to do it and there’s a way we have to play the game. We have to make sure we’re ready for that.”
Built up momentum in Game 3, does Cooke let air out of the balloon?: “It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen. We started the game really well, we built momentum and they started to come on as the game went on. I thought we were actually tight starting overtime. Getting that goal was big for us because it felt like that was the first sign of us starting to fear that maybe something was getting away from us. I think getting that goal was huge, for me momentum it’s always there, it’s always something that you feel but at the same time, it’s always something you have to establish and keep or establish. So, going into next game, I think both teams will recognize the importance of the start. I know they’re going to come out hard and obviously our guys are going to have to too. We’re going to have to be ready to, not only come out hard, but sharp. If they’re going to pressure harder, we have to move the puck a little bit better, if they;re going to play more physical, we’re going to have to be ready to take hits to make plays, whatever the case is, at the same time, we’re gotta make sure that we’re ready to dictate and not just sit there see what they’re going to bring.”
Brodziak, what do you want?: “You know, the same things that we always want from him. Obviously penalty killing will be important and sort of a defensive-minded presence on the ice but a guy who’s going to be play the game hard both ends of the ice and a guy who’s going to be strong on the puck. That’s really not a big change for him, and I’m confident he’ll come in and play well.”
Heatley, and how well he played: “I was real happy to see the way that he came in. I give real credit to him the way that he’s handled himself since being out. For a veteran guy like that and the success that he’s had, to not start in our lineup, he handled it with a great deal of professionalism. But more importantly he made sure that he was ready. The fact that he’s been around, that he understands that there’s going to be changes for injury or performance. He made sure that he was ready, and obviously if he keeps going the way he’s at, it’s a great thing for us and he’ll continue to get more opportunities.”
Who initiates physical play now without Cooke?: “I think that typically we’re not a team that one looks to one guy and sees how he’s playing and then we all react to it. We had the opportunity before Game 3 where I met with every player and just kind of figured out where they’re at mentally, and they sat there and told me what they were going to bring. We have an attitude as a group that we all play sort of the same way of how we play without the puck, how we play with the puck and again, whether that’s finishing a check or how you play in your own zone, or how that’s how you execute with the puck, we try to all be on the same page. So I would expect the same tomorrow.”
On Thursday, I'll be on KFAN at some time in the morning on P.A.'s show (9:55 a.m. subject to change), on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio Sirius 207 XM 211 at 3:20 p.m., on NHL Network's NHL Live (arena cam) at 5:35 p.m. and on KFAN with Barreiro at 5:55 p.m.
Joey Hishon, the 2010 first-round pick by the Avs, has been recalled and will make his NHL debut on Colorado's fourth line and the power play. Ryan Wilson replaced Barrie on the blue line.
Wild left wing Matt Cooke will likely not play again in this first-round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche.
The veteran left wing, who signed a three-year contract with the Wild last July, has been offered an in-person hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety after a knee-on-knee hit tonight that injured Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie.
That allows the NHL to issue a suspension that exceeds five games if it so wishes. Cooke can decline the invitation and have a phone hearing.
Barrie, the dynamic free-wheeler who led Colorado blue-liners with 13 goals in the regular season, is expected to miss four to six weeks with an injury to his left medial collateral ligament, Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said.
Cooke was assessed a two-minute minor for kneeing 2:02 into the second period of tonight's 1-0 overtime win over the Avs. Barrie, in pain, got up and said, "I'm done," according to TSN analyst Ray Ferraro, who was broadcasting between the benches.
The Wild killed off Cooke's penalty -- the first of three second-period minors -- before Mikael Granlund broke a scoreless tie in OT with his first career playoff goal.
“A knee on Tyson Barrie, without a doubt, that’s the play of the game,’’ Roy said after the game. “We lost our best offensive defenseman, and I think it could have been a five-minute major. Plus, I think that would have broken (the Wild’s) momentum.
“I’m sure the league will make the right call. We’re very confident they will make the right call.’’
Cooke was unavailable for comment. Cooke, who has suspended six times for a total of 25 games, has not been suspended since March 2011. He is not considered a repeat offender by NHL standards, but it's very clear with some of the kneeings this season and in this postseason, the Matt Cooke factor is in full effect.
Cooke has worked hard behind the scenes to "clean up his act" through video work and other means. Here's a feature I wrote on Cooke back in September. He has shown all season a tendency to err on the side of caution anytime there's a chance for a potential close call. He was having a terrific series to this point, and tonight he led the Wild with six of its 33 hits.
The incident in question is below. (Barrie is a great guy, by the way. He used to be a member of the Coral Springs Coyotes at Incredible Ice when he was a kid. I covered his dad, Len Barrie, on the Florida Panthers, and after the season, I used to watch playoff hockey with Barrie, then-Panthers play-by-play guy Jeff Rimer and an 11-year-old kid named, ... Tyson Barrie. I interviewed Barrie for awhile Saturday and was actually planning on writing a story on him for Wednesday's paper. That story likely won't see the light of day now.
UPDATED FROM PRACTICE:
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
Extra defensemen: Jon Blum, Keith Ballard.
Injuries: Kuemper (upper body), Ballard (groin) and G Josh Harding (MS) are day-to-day. LW Mike Rupp is suspended for Games 1-3. G Niklas Backstrom (abdominal surgery) and LW Jason Zucker (quad) are out.
The Wild practices at 10:30 a.m. today, so I'll be back later with a fresher, newer blog. But, here's some morning/afternoon reading AND listening for you.
Today's Star Tribune coverage (click the links):
Wild finishes strong after desert summit conducted by leaders Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter
A year later (thanks to Dustin Brown), Jason Pominville gives Wild an added playoff weapon
Very funny notebook lead thanks to good sport/good guy Mark Parrish. Six years later, Parrish is on Wild payroll no more + more Mikael Granlund/Erik Haula talk and the Wild changing its travel schedule so it can practice in the high altitude of Denver tomorrow.
NHL playoff capsules, by Kent Youngblood
And, my predictions (scrutinize away because I may have tossed in a crazy upset or two). As for my Wild prediction, I can 100 percent see the Wild winning this series, but I had to go with my head and eyes at least in the prediction department. I think it'll be a long, intense series, but it just seems to be Semyon Varlamov's year and these Colorado forwards are as deep as any team in the NHL (especially if the Avs get Matt Duchene back at some point). BUT, at some point, somebody's got to get to these Colorado defensemen. They're young and inexperienced and are bound to crack, especially with Tyson Barrie and Jan Hejda banged up. But, nobody's made it happen yet. Maybe the Wild can if its players get pucks deep and go to work on the forecheck. The Avs will try to make this an end-to-end series, a rush-for-rush series, and if the Wild get lured into that, I promise you, it won't be on the winning end).
LASTLY, this was a fun thing to do, but last night I did a podcast with the Denver Post's Adrian Dater. Here is the link to his site, and then you hit a subsequent link I think to get to iTunes (it's free). We break down the series, but also talk about Twitter, our industry, accountability as beat writers and some cool behind-the-scenes stories throughout the years. It's an hour or so, but if you get time, it's probably worth a listen.
Follow Adrian throughout the series on Twitter at @adater.
A reminder, I'll be doing a live chat on startribune.com Thursday (GAME DAY!!!) at 3 p.m. CT from the Pepsi Center in Denver.
LOCAL BROADCAST SCHEDULE ANNOUNCED FOR MINNESOTA WILD’S FIRST-ROUND SERIES VERSUS COLORADO AVALANCHE
SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild, along with FOX Sports North and FM 100.3 KFAN, today announced the local broadcast schedule for the First Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as the Wild takes on the Colorado Avalanche.
FOX Sports North will broadcast the first four games, including a full hour pre-game show, as well as a 30-minute post-game show. All four games will also be available on FOX Sports Wisconsin. The broadcast schedule for Games 5, 6 and 7 is still TBA.
KFAN will broadcast Wild Fanline following each playoff game. There will also be live, 90-minute pre-game shows for Game 1 (Sak’s Sports Bar in Vadnais Heights), Game 2 (Jimmy’s Food and Drink in Vadnais Heights) and Game 4 (Wild pre-game party, outside Gate 2 of Xcel Energy Center). Dan Barriero will be live from the Game 3 pre-game party from 3-6 p.m. Pre-game shows are to be determined for Games 5, 6 and 7. KFAN will also air a 30-minute “Wild Weekly” each Wednesday at 7 p.m. throughout the playoffs. Paul Allen will do his 9 to noon show in the Wild penalty box for Game 3.
A limited number of single-game tickets remain for each of the three home games in the First Round, and can be purchased at the Xcel Energy Center Box Office and TicketMaster. The Wild will host a pre-game party outside Gate 2 of Xcel Energy Center for both Game 3 and Game 4. The Game 3 party will begin at 4 p.m., while the Game 4 party will start at 5 p.m.
Round 1 Stanley Cup Playoffs Local Broadcast Schedule (all times central)
Game 1 – Thur., 4/17, Minnesota at Colorado, 8:30 p.m. – FOX Sports North, FM 100.3 KFAN
Game 2 – Sat., 4/19, Minnesota at Colorado, 8:30 p.m. – FOX Sports North, FM 100.3 KFAN
Game 3 – Mon., 4/21, Colorado at Minnesota, 6:00 p.m. – FOX Sports North, FM 100.3 KFAN
Game 4 – Thur., 4/24, Colorado at Minnesota, 8:30 p.m. – FOX Sports North, FM 100.3 KFAN
Game 5 – Sat., 4/26, Minnesota at Colorado, TBA (if necessary) – TBA, FM 100.3 KFAN
Game 6 – Mon., 4/28, Colorado at Minnesota, TBA (if necessary) – TBA, FM 100.3 KFAN
Game 7 – Wed., 4/30, Minnesota at Colorado, TBA (if necessary) – TBA, FM 100.3 KFAN
Local TV announced soon, all times in Eastern Time
Date TIME (ET) #1 Colorado vs. #4 Minnesota Networks
Thursday, April 17 9:30 p.m. Minnesota at Colorado CNBC, TSN
Saturday, April 19 9:30 p.m. Minnesota at Colorado NBC Sports Network, TSN
Monday, April 21 7 p.m. Colorado at Minnesota NHL Network U.S., TSN
Thursday, April 24 9:30 p.m. Colorado at Minnesota CNBC, TSN2
*Saturday, April 26 TBD Minnesota at Colorado TSN
*Monday, April 28 TBD Colorado at Minnesota TSN
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD Minnesota at Colorado TSN
Date TIME (ET) #2 St. Louis vs. #3 Chicago Networks
Thursday, April 17 8 p.m. Chicago at St. Louis NBC Sports Network, CBC
Saturday, April 19 3 p.m. Chicago at St. Louis NBC, CBC
Monday, April 21 8:30 p.m. St. Louis at Chicago CNBC, CBC
Wednesday, April 23 9:30 p.m. St. Louis at Chicago NBC Sports Network, CBC
*Friday, April 25 8 p.m. Chicago at St. Louis NBC Sports Network, CBC
*Sunday, April 27 3 p.m. St. Louis at Chicago NBC, CBC
*Tuesday, April 29 TBD Chicago at St. Louis CBC
Date TIME (ET) #1 Anaheim vs. #4 Dallas Networks
Wednesday, April 16 10 p.m. Dallas at Anaheim NBC Sports Network, TSN
Friday, April 18 10 p.m. Dallas at Anaheim NBC Sports Network, TSN
Monday, April 21 9:30 p.m. Anaheim at Dallas NBC Sports Network, TSN
Wednesday, April 23 8 p.m. Anaheim at Dallas CNBC, TSN
*Friday, April 25 10:30 p.m. Dallas at Anaheim NBC Sports Network, TSN
*Sunday, April 27 TBD Anaheim at Dallas TSN
*Tuesday, April 29 TBD Dallas at Anaheim TSN
Date TIME (ET) #2 San Jose vs. #3 Los Angeles Networks
Thursday, April 17 10:30 p.m. Los Angeles at San Jose NBC Sports Network, CBC
Sunday, April 20 10 p.m. Los Angeles at San Jose NBC Sports Network, CBC
Tuesday, April 22 10 p.m. San Jose at Los Angeles NBC Sports Network, CBC
Thursday, April 24 10:30 p.m. San Jose at Los Angeles NBC Sports Network, CBC
*Saturday, April 26 TBD Los Angeles at San Jose NBC Sports Network, CBC
*Monday, April 28 TBD San Jose at Los Angeles CBC
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD Los Angeles at San Jose CBC
Date TIME (ET) #1 Boston vs. #4 Detroit Networks
Friday, April 18 7:30 p.m. Detroit at Boston NBC Sports Network, TSN
Sunday, April 20 3 p.m. Detroit at Boston NBC, TSN
Tuesday, April 22 7:30 p.m. Boston at Detroit NBC Sports Network, TSN
Thursday, April 24 8 p.m. Boston at Detroit NBC Sports Network, TSN
*Saturday, April 26 3 p.m. Detroit at Boston NBC, TSN
*Monday, April 28 TBD Boston at Detroit TSN
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD Detroit at Boston TSN
Date TIME (ET) #2 Tampa Bay vs. #3 Montreal Networks
Wednesday, April 16 7 p.m. Montreal at Tampa Bay CNBC, CBC, RDS
Friday, April 18 7 p.m. Montreal at Tampa Bay CNBC, CBC, RDS
Sunday, April 20 7 p.m. Tampa Bay at Montreal CBC, RDS, NBC Sports Network
Tuesday, April 22 7 p.m. Tampa Bay at Montreal CBC, RDS, NHL Network U.S.
*Thursday, April 24 7 p.m. Montreal at Tampa Bay CNBC, CBC, RDS
*Sunday, April 27 TBD Tampa Bay at Montreal CBC, RDS, NBC Sports Network
*Tuesday, April 29 TBD Montreal at Tampa Bay CBC, RDS
Date TIME (ET) #1 Pittsburgh vs. #4 Columbus Networks
Wednesday, April 16 7:30 p.m. Columbus at Pittsburgh NBC Sports Network, CBC
Saturday, April 19 7 p.m. Columbus at Pittsburgh NBC Sports Network, CBC
Monday, April 21 7 p.m. Pittsburgh at Columbus NBC Sports Network, CBC
Wednesday, April 23 7 p.m. Pittsburgh at Columbus NBC Sports Network, CBC
*Saturday, April 26 TBD Columbus at Pittsburgh CBC
*Monday, April 28 TBD Pittsburgh at Columbus CBC
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD Columbus at Pittsburgh CBC
Date TIME (ET) #2 NY Rangers vs. #3 Philadelphia Networks
Thursday, April 17 7 p.m. Philadelphia at NY Rangers CNBC, TSN
Sunday, April 20 Noon Philadelphia at NY Rangers NBC, TSN
Tuesday, April 22 8 p.m. NY Rangers at Philadelphia CNBC, TSN
Friday, April 25 7 p.m. NY Rangers at Philadelphia CNBC, TSN
*Sunday, April 27 Noon Philadelphia at NY Rangers NBC, TSN
*Tuesday, April 29 TBD NY Rangers at Philadelphia TSN
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD Philadelphia at NY Rangers TSN
* if necessary
TBD – To Be Determined
For the third time in franchise history, the Wild will face the Colorado Avalanche in the postseason.
The Avalanche won the Central Division this afternoon thanks to the plummeting St. Louis Blues’ home loss against the Detroit Red Wings.
The Wild-Avs series is expected to start in Denver on Thursday.
The Avs, who are 8-1-1 in their past 10 and play a meaningless game tonight at Anaheim, has gone from 29th place to a division championship in one year with Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy in his first year as coach.
The Wild went 1-3-1 against the Avalanche this season. Since March 5, 2006, the Wild is 32-14-6 against Colorado and 13-3-3 in its past 19 in Denver.
But the Avs are a different team. Semyon Varlamov, a potential Vezina winner, just broke Roy’s single-season record with 41 wins. Guaranteed Calder winner Nathan MacKinnon, 18, is already one of the most threatening players in the West. Gabriel Landeskog is a rock-solid two-way forward, as is Ryan O’Reilly.. Bloomington’s Erik Johnson has had a terrific season on the blue line.
The Avs average the fourth-most goals per game in the NHL (3.00), although they rank 14th defensively (2.63 goals against per game).
In 2003, the Wild rallied from 3-1 down to beat Colorado in the first round. Andrew Brunette scored the most famous goal in franchise history and sent Roy into retirement by scoring the series-clinching goal in overtime. In 2008, after the Wild won the Northwest Division, Jose Theodore and the Avs stoned the Wild in six games.
“They are completely different than what they were last year,” said Jason Pominville. “They only added a couple players here or there, but their coaching staff must have done a great job there. They’re just playing with really, really good confidence. They’ve got a lot of skill up front that can make you pay.”
Added Ryan Suter on playing in Denver, “It’s a tough place to play with the altitude. If you get caught out there, that really hurts you. We enjoy playing there though. It is a tough building to play with good atmosphere, but we’ve had success there.”
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