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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Posts about Wild practice

Wild hits the road; updated Avalanche quotes

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 25, 2014 - 8:12 PM

UPDATE: Left wing Matt Cooke has decided not to appeal his 7-game suspension. He doesn't want any more distractions for the Wild in the playoffs. 

The Wild had a very optional practice this morning and flew to Denver, where it plays Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinals Saturday night at 8:30 p.m.

So, we know Game 6 at the X will be an elimination game Monday night. The only question is whether it will be Minnesota with its back against the wall or Colorado.

The road team hasn’t won a game in this series yet. If the Wild wants to advance to the second round, it will need to change that.

“Obviously the next game is going to be a big one,” coach Mike Yeo said. “The team that wins that is going to be a little more in the driver’s seat here, so they have two games at home and we’re going to have to win a game in their building. I would certainly like to make that be the next game.”

Yeo said it’s important the Wild doesn’t hang its hat on its two home victories.

“Our start next game will be very important. We’re not going to have our crowd there to build off,” Yeo said. “I’m confident with our group that it’ll be ready to dictate and play the same type of game.”

The Wild has outshot the Avs 143-94 in the series and 78-34 in St. Paul, but it has lost two games in Denver in two games that looked very different than the type of hockey played at home. The Wild needs to figure out a way to bottle up its defensive game and bring it to Denver.

Obviously, two big differences is Erik Haula will be centering the third line and Darcy Kuemper will be starting in goal. Kuemper leads the NHL with a 0.40 goals-against average and .979 save percentage and is one of five goalies in the expansion era (post 1967) that has given up one goal in his first two career playoff starts. The second, by the way, was Wild goalie coach Bob Mason in 1987 against my Islanders.

“We’re on the road, there’s matchups that we would like to get, and there’s going to be matchups that we won’t be able to get,” Yeo said.

Yeo repeated that he has no problem playing the lines centered by Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund or Haula against any line.

“Those guys at different points of the season have played against the best centermen in the league and have done the job,” Yeo said. “I really believe regardless of who we’re playing, we can have anybody go out in that situation if our team’s playing a certain way because we don’t play the game as a one-man unit.”

He said the Wild can’t assume the next game will start the same way as at home. It’s up to the Wild to “make it happen,” not expect that it’ll be able to pick up right where it left off.

“We have to expect a hard push from them,” Yeo said. “We’re still playing the team that won the division. I look every day and the NHL’s announcing award winners, and everyday there’s a Colorado Avalanche player that’s part of those nominees (So far -- O’Reilly, Lady Byng; MacKinnon, Calder; Varlamov, Vezina). It helps remind us that we’re playing a very skilled group.”

The Wild’s penalty kill will have to continue to be great. It is a league-best 14 for 15 (one empty-net goal on the PK) at 93.3 percent. This is against the league’s fifth-best power play in the regular season, and the Wild was the NHL’s 27th-ranked penalty kill.

Mike Rupp, who won’t play Saturday, and suspended Matt Cooke aren’t going on the trip. No word yet if Cooke has decided to appeal. I’ll update when there’s definitive word. Again, he can’t play during an appeals process anyway.

Follow our correspondent, Michael Kelly, on Twitter at @berge19. He said Matt Duchene skated today, but Patrick Roy said he’s not going to play Game 5.

Update:

Here are some quotes from the Avalanche side, supplied by Michael Kelly in Denver:

Patrick Roy, on what the Avs offense needs to do after a terrible outing in Minnesota: "We also played a little different. we didn't have the same jump, we didn't come with speed, we didn't get pucks deep and things like that. They made us look slow and kept us to the outside. They did a good job of doing those things to slow us down and certainly they can get their matchups right in their arena."

On getting experience for younger players: "It's the first playoffs for a lot of us. Maybe the first couple games in the Pepsi Center, you're playing with excitement and you're excited and you're just going out there and feeding off the crowd. Once you get on the road you realize they want this just as bad as we do. It's certainly not easy to win on the road. You have to kind of keep the same game as you do at home and play the same way and that's certainly not easy. They certainly make it tough on us and they keep us to the outside. We have to learn, to find a way. I think the positive for us is even though with how many shots we had, it's still a one-goal game and we're still in it right until the end. I guess that's a positive."

Paul Stastny on what the Avs learned in Minnesota: "No matter who you’re playing everyone wants to win the same way. You have to compete and you have to be hungry as you can. Just because a team’s down 2-0 doesn’t mean they’re going to sit back, they’re going to give it their all. Maybe that first game they came at us hard and the second game we feel a little better, but still we have to create more offensively. We need more puck possession. On the bright side, it’s 2-2. Last night it was a little disappointing but today we regrouped, forget about yesterday get it back to home ice and it’s a best of 3."

Erik Johnson on fixing the offense: "As D, we haven’t been as clean in our exits from the D zone. We have to have more poise as a group. When we’re playing well and having success we’re getting the forwards the pucks in stride. We’ve been a little too stagnant, maybe a little too unsure to make the right play. We’re looking a little too long for the perfect play. As D we have do a better job of making our forwards’ lives a little bit easier in transition. When they get the puck with speed their so dangerous so as a group we have to be better with that.

"Clearly we were outplayed in Game 3; Game 4 was a little bit better. The only thing that’s disappointing is you look at how great Varly has played and you wish you could have popped a few more goals by Kuemper. As a group we’ve been resilient all year, we haven’t let anything let us down. That’s not going to change. We’ve had no fear all season long and there’s no reason for us to have it now."

Roy on the lack of scoring: "It’s not just shots on net, it’s scoring chances. You can finish a game with 50 shots on net but if you end up the night with six scoring chances are you better off? You’re sometimes counting on bad goals to win a game. Bad goals happen but they don’t happen every night. What we’re looking more from us is generate more scoring chances. It was like 14-8 puck poession. They spent 14 minutes in our end we spent eight in the other end. Clearly that’s not enough. Normally you’re around 11 or 12, it’s pretty balanced. It’s clear they dominated us.

"When we put our plan together for the playoffs it’s not to go 16-0. How many teams have done that? None? I’m surprised to hear that. I thought there were a hundred teams. The 2-2 doesn’t bother me one bit. It’s how we’re going to bounce back is what I want to see tomorrow."

Varlamov: "I don't want to talk about myself, how I play, how I'm feeling. I can tell about the team. Play solid hockey, right now playing very well. We just need to keep going, continue to fight. It's not going to be easy to beat Minnesota. We knew that before the series that it was going to be a tough series. Continue to play well and fight."

Niederreiter takes Cooke's spot on checking line; Cooke suspension length coming

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 23, 2014 - 4:14 PM

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.

Matt Cooke to appear at NHL headquarters Wednesday afternoon

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 22, 2014 - 3:48 PM

Wild veteran left wing Matt Cooke will have an in-person hearing Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. ET at NHL headquarters in New York for his knee-on-knee hit that injured Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie in Game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.

Barrie sustained an injury to his left medial collateral ligament and is expected to miss four to six weeks, Avs coach Patrick Roy said.

Cooke, who is unavailable for comment until later this week, faces a suspension that can exceed five games (criteria of in-person hearing). Any suspension can be appealed to Commissioner Gary Bettman after the fact. If Cooke is suspended six or more games, he has the right to appeal Bettman’s ruling to a neutral arbitrator.

Cooke, who was assessed a two-minute minor for kneeing, is expected to be represented by agent Pat Morris, an NHLPA representative and Wild GM Chuck Fletcher. The hearing will in front of former defenseman Stephane Quintal, who has taken Brendan Shanahan’s role on an interim basis since the discipline czar (so to speak) left for Toronto. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly is also part of the process.

Quintal and Roy, by the way, were teammates in Montreal briefly.

Since players don’t receive salaries in the playoffs, Cooke can only be fined, but he won’t lose salary that would come with a regular-season suspension.

It'll be interesting to see the eventual video explanation from the NHL because it's hard to see the difference between Cooke's knee and many in this NHL video showing the difference between suspension-worthy knees, non-suspension worthy knees and those worthy of just a fine. Chicago's Bryan Bickell had a similar knee against St. Louis' Vladimir Sobotka in Game 2 of that playoff series. But Bickell's name isn't Matt Cooke and Sobotka didn't suffer a serious injury.

Today was a day off for both teams, so subject to NHL media regulations for two days in between games, both the Wild and Avs made Mike Yeo and Roy available only.

At the very minimum, Cooke won’t play again in the first round. Yeo discussed this likelihood, how his suspension will affect the team and things did get testy when a Denver Post columnist tried to turn Yeo’s words upside down like the coach told Cooke to target Avs players.

From the start of this series, Yeo and Roy have made it clear that the gameplan is to finish checks on opposing top players. Before the series even started, Roy himself said the Avs had to make life difficult on players like Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund and to make sure that if they’re going to play big minutes, the minutes better be hard minutes.

Yeo’s reaction on the Cooke in-person hearing: “Yeah, obviously things you don’t want to have happen. I think we all want to play good, physical, intense hockey. At the same time, I know that they want to do the same to us. Neither side wants to see anyone get hurt. Obviously on our part, we don’t want to see one of our players get suspended. Obviously not going to be sitting here and saying we’re in a great mood about any of that.”

How does it affect lineup? “Today’s a day off for players and the rest of the coaches. Obviously I’ve already started to think about that, but we’ll have a chance to get together in the morning and discuss it further.”

There are likely three options if one assumes Yeo’s not fiddling with Zach Parise-Granlund-Jason Pominville (I’ll bet my life on that one) and Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle.

Cooke-Erik Haula-Justin Fontaine did an admirable job shutting down Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Nathan MacKinnon on Monday. They went from 13 combined points in Games 1 and 2 to no points and seven shots in Game 3.

Haula and Fontaine will obviously stay, so the options would be Nino Niederreiter, Stephane Veilleux or Kyle Brodziak.

Veilleux could probably slide in seamlessly because he’s a left wing and let’s be honest, that’s his role. But my guess is Niederreiter goes there. Niederreiter has played third line for parts of this season, has the size and Yeo has talked a lot the second half about Niederreiter’s solid defensive wherewithal. Also, Yeo has said a few times recently that Niederreiter is much better on the left side than the right.

If Niederreiter moves up, either Veilleux would slide into the fourth line or Brodziak would. If that were the case, McCormick would likely move to wing with Dany Heatley, who played well Monday.

Yeo on how much Cooke meant to this team- “He’s an important player to our team, there’s no question. There’s a reason he was brought here and physicality is only a very small part of it really. It’s his leadership. It’s his experience. It’s his role as a penalty killer and a checking forward. So, certainly it’s a loss to our lineup. We’ve been a team that has been able to overcome injuries at different points of the season and at different positions. When you look at some of the guys that we have that are either on a fourth line, or even out of the lineup for that matter, these are guys that have played not only third line but even higher, second or even first-line roles at different situations during the year. So we have guys that we know are capable of coming in and filling that void, and obviously that’s going to be an important thing for our team to get adjusted to quickly.”

Was this the risk in signing Cooke? Like I told you on last night's blog, I can provide countless examples every game where Cooke has shown he's a different player than yesteryear. He normally errs on the side of caution whenever somebody's in a vulnerable position, doesn't have the puck or has a chance to be blown up. The stats and his off-ice video work have shown he has reformed (no major penalties since 2011, and ...

But let’s be honest, it was obvious that if Cooke ever crossed the line, the league would take his history (six previous suspensions) into count. So, again, was this the risk in signing Cooke?

“I don’t really want to get into that,” Yeo said. “Obviously, listen, I had the experience of working with Cookie when I was in Pittsburgh and there was a history before he came to Pittsburgh. And he was a real important part of our team, a real good person on and off the ice and helped our team win a championship. So, for me, I was looking at what he did then. I looked at, Chuck obviously as well, looked at the way that he’s been able to change his game since a couple of the things that happened, and that was kind of our focus.”

Does Cooke represent the league well? Yeo: “I’m not going to get into that. Listen, you’re asking me to sit here and criticize my player. I’m not going to do that. I don’t want to get into a whole laundry list of things trying to defend him. This is a situation that happened in the game last night and I believe the league is going to handle this. They always do and they’ve obviously looked at it very carefully.”

Cooke’s absence pretty big on that third line? Yeo: “First off, like I said, he was part of that matchup line. But I do believe that we have other guys that are capable of filling that void. Again, this is a tough loss for us, but I know that’s a tough loss for them and I’m sure they’re not going to sit around and feel sorry for themselves. They’re going to try to find guys that can fill the void, and that’s been a team that’s been able to overcome injuries this year, and we’ve been a team that’s been able to overcome injuries, and that’s part of what the playoffs is about, dealing with different types of adversities that come your way. So that’s the challenge.

“These are things that we’ll discuss. I thought that Fontaine was a nice complement to that line so I don’t expect to make any changes there, and obviously part of the reason that Haulzy was there was his speed. So you can expect to see that line stay the same. But where we go from there, I’m not exactly sure yet, and certainly we have a few ideas, but we’ll hammer that out a little bit more in the morning.”

Do your skill guys need to be more on guard?

Yeo: “Well, this is playoffs. They’ve said it themselves that they’re trying to target certain guys, and likewise we’re trying to target certain guys as far as playing physical, but no one wants to see anybody get hurt. That’s not their intention to hurt us. That’s not our intention to hurt them. But this is a fast, physical game, and you look around the league at playoff hockey, it’s hard-hitting. So I think that players are always aware of that. I know that our guys are always aware that a Cody McLeod or a Patrick Bordeleau is trying to get them every time they’re on the ice, and they’re ready for that, and likewise we have to make sure that we’re ready to play a hard, physical game as well.”

Denver Post columnist: So you wanted Cooke to target specific guys? Yeo: “Don’t get into this, alright? I know where you want to spin this. But listen, I want our players when somebody is in front of them to finish their check. That’s hockey. So if you think that I’m saying, ‘Go take him out.’ No, you’re wrong. There’s a lot more respect in this game than that and we have a lot more respect for the game than that. So what we say to our guys is if you have an opportunity to finish your check, finish your check. And that’s the same thing that I’m sure that they’re saying there, too.

What’s Cooke been like in the locker room? Yeo: "I would say that he’s been great for us. I’m not sure that he’s got a charging or a major or boarding penalty this year, I’m not sure. But more importantly he’s been an important leader to our group. We’ve got a lot of young kids on this team, and I think he’s done a real good job helping these kids become pros and helping these guys ride the ups and downs of the season. Certainly, in playoff time, if you look at the adversity that we faced in Game 1 and how things went in Game 2,  he was a guy that helped us regroup and get reset and refocused for this past game."

The unfortunate part of today is it was mostly a follow on the Cooke-Barrie incident, not Mikael Granlund’s overtime thrilling goal or Darcy Kuemper’s shutout. Kuemper will obviously start Game 4. Ryan Wilson will replace Barrie in Colorado’s lineup. More on that in Wednesday’s Star Tribune.

From Elias: Mikael Granlund's first NHL playoff goal earned the Wild a 1-0 overtime victory in Game 3 of its series against the Avalanche. Granlund is only the fifth NHL player in the last 75 years to score his first career playoff goal in a 1-0 overtime game. The others were Andrei Zyuzin (1998), Ruslan Fedotenko (2002), Niko Dimitrakos (2004) and Ryan O'Reilly (2010).

From Elias: Darcy Kuemper, making the first playoff start of his NHL career, recorded 22 saves in his 1-0 overtime victory against the Avalanche on Monday night. Kuemper is only the second goaltender in NHL history to post a 1-0 overtime win in his first postseason start. The first was the Red Wings' Normie Smith, whose first playoff start came in what is still the longest playoff game in NHL history, Detroit's 1-0 victory over the Montreal Maroons on March 24, 1936, which Smith won when Mud Bruneteau scored at the 16:30 mark of the sixth overtime period.

Here is a transcript of Roy from today (courtesy of colleague Rachel Blount):


--Regarding the Wild playing so well at home last night:
This conference is so good. Looking at one stat today, 0-11 on the road. Is that a surprise? No. This is how this conference is. You have to work hard to be part of the playoffs. You had to win big games. It was not an easy ride to be part of the playoffs. Every team had to be good at home, every team had to win big games along the way, every team had to bring their game to another level. That’s what (the Wild) did yesterday. They had great urgency. All the series right now are 2-1 for the team who started at home except for San Jose who plays the third game tonight.

--On the Granlund goal:
He made a super play on that goal. We don’t try to be overphysical with him. We didn’t get beat by a bad goal. We got beat by an outstanding play. He made a terrific play in the corner and even better to the front of the net. We have 2 guys in front of the net. He went through these guys. He deserves credit for that, for the quality of his play.

--Regarding the power play, particularly in Barrie's absence:
I'm not saying were gonna change a lot of things, but there's options. PA could go back to the point. The player we called up today, Joey Hishon, he's been playing really well on the power play in the minors, he's a guy that could also step in on the power play.

I think we're gonna simplify our power play. That's the first thing. We need to put more pucks on net, that’s the thing we haven’t done. We have to put pucks on net, have a bit more screen and we'll see what happens. This is how Suter scored his goal in Game 1, a wrister that deflected on us and went in the back of the net. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be pretty. It's put pucks on net and compete in front of the net. I thought yesterday our 5 on 5 game, this is what we didn’t do as well. We didn’t go to the net as much, working on rebounds and putting some shots on net. Our shots just didn’t get through and we're gonna have to do that.

Minny's playing well on the penalty killing. They're doing a good job putting some pressure on us. You see they're sending their two D into the corner, putting a lot of pressure on us. For some reason right now we just couldn’t find the opening, and create some scoring chances, and when we do have some chances, their goalies I thought made some good saves. Sometimes, it's just one power play and then things start clicking and that puts pressure on the other team. Jamie had a real good chance in the second period, if you score on that one after the Cooke penalty, I think that could have made them more on their heels. And that’s what were gonna have to do. For some reason when we’re skating, they're getting on their heels. Yesterday we didn’t skate as well and they responded well.

 --Ryan Wilson will take Barrie's spot in the lineup.
He's capable of being physical, finishing his checks. He's strong in front of the net, competing to protect the front of net. Obviously this is not the year he wanted to have. He's struggled with an injury. It’s a good opportunity for him now to take advantage of it.

--He wants to see how Hishon handles the pace of practice tomorrow. If he's satisfied that Hishon can make good decisions on the power play under pressure, he could play.
 

Wild likely to make changes, but Mike Yeo not tipping hand yet

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 20, 2014 - 4:19 PM

Wild gathered at the X this afternoon for video work and a meeting, and then a handful of players went on the ice for a little practice.

Wild returns home Monday night (6 p.m. CT) with the goal of trying to get back into this series with the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs are 12-0 all-time when they’re up 2-0 in a series, … so they’re due.

Coach Mike Yeo wasn’t tipping his hand as far as lineup changes (Justin Fontaine, Dany Heatley and Jon Blum having been the scratches; Wild is 0-3 since Blum came out of the lineup for banged-up Clayton Stoner) or the starting goaltender. Let’s be honest: Darcy Kuemper is likely going to make his first career playoff start after stopping all 14 shots in relief of Ilya Bryzgalov in Saturday’s Game 2 defeat in Denver.

It was his first action since leaving the morning skate March 31. Matt Cooke accidentally let the cat out of the bag today with reporters: Kuemper suffered a concussion in practice – perhaps March 30 in Phoenix, which could explain why I never saw him get hurt (my flight to L.A. was right as the Wild hit the ice the day after its win at Phoenix).

Bryzgalov has allowed 16 goals in the past four starts and was pulled in two of them.

“If I do get the start, I'm really excited,” Kuemper said. “It's a big game for the team and I'm going to do my part and I’m sure everyone else is going to do their part to try to come up with a win.”

If the Wild’s going to get back in this series, it must neutralize the Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Nathan MacKinnon line. The trio combined for 10 points last night.

From the NHL’s morning PR email:

MacKinnon collected three assists in his postseason debut in Game 1. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, his seven points (1-6—7) match an NHL record for points in the first two games of a playoff career, tying Odie Cleghorn (MTL: 1919) and Barry Pederson (BOS: 1982).
 * MacKinnon also became the third 18-year-old in Stanley Cup Playoffs history to post a four-point game, joining Pierre Turgeon (BUF: April 10, 1988) and Trevor Linden (VAN: April 9, 1989). The record for points by an 18-year-old in one postseason is 13, set by Jaromir Jagr in 1991 (PIT: 3-10—13 in 24 GP).
 * At 18 years, 228 days, MacKinnon became the youngest player in Avalanche/Nordiques history to score a playoff goal, doing so in highlight-reel fashion. He also became the sixth-youngest player since 1979 to record a goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: 
YOUNGEST PLAYERS TO SCORE IN POSTSEASON, SINCE 1979
1. Jordan Staal, PIT – 18 years, 213 days
2. Brian Bellows, MIN – 18 years, 217 days
3. Pierre Turgeon, BUF – 18 years, 222 days
4. Patrick Marleau, SJ – 18 years, 224 days
5. Martin Lapointe, DET – 18 years, 227 days
6. Nathan MacKinnon, COL – 18 years, 228 days
 * Stastny now has 3-4—7 through the first two games of the series. He had 3-5—8 in 15 career postseason appearances entering 2013-14.
 * At 21 years, 147 days, Landeskog became the youngest player in Avalanche/Nordiques history to record a multi-goal playoff game. Alex Tanguay (21 years, 200 days) previously held the mark, posting 2-1—3, including the game-winning goal, in the Avalanche’s Game 7 victory over the Devils in the 2001 Stanley Cup Final.
 

For the first time in this series, Yeo will have last change because the team’s coming home.

One would think the Wild will assemble a third line of Matt Cooke-Erik Haula-Nino Niederreiter and give them the task of going up against Colorado’s top line.

Yeo made clear though that he believes that when the Wild’s playing its game, any line and any center can go against the Avs’ top line.

But, Yeo said, the Wild hasn’t been on top of its game.

The Wild must be better with the puck. Players are turning pucks over, and the Avs are exploding out of the zone, which puts Wild defenders on its heels. As Ryan Suter, no forward likes to skate backwards, but the Wild spent the second period skating backward Saturday.

“We’ve got to get more aggressive in our mentality because there’s too much gap, and we’re giving them too much ice,” Yeo said. “We have to do a better job of making sure they’re coming through tight layers.”

On MacKinnon, Yeo said, “He’s playing really well right now, we’ve played against some other great players this year too and we’ve done the job against them. It’s just a matter of resetting and getting back to our game. Getting home, I think, will give us that opportunity.

I wonder if the Wild tried to stick Haula on MacKinnon like a glove. He’s the only Wild forward who can maybe keep up with the speedster. Cooke said, “Obviously I want that [Colorado top line] matchup for me and for my line and for our team. It’s tough when you’re on the road. We’re going to get the last change and if that’s the way that coach wants to go, then I’ll be ready.”

Koivu, who was caught flat-footed on the first three goals Saturday, said, “We recognize the challenge. We’re excited to be home. We’re excited for tomorrow’s game. We know we need to play better. As a team, there’s things we need to do better. We recognize that and that’s our goal.

“We just have to take advantage of coming home and playing in front of our fans and in our building.”

Avs are landing about now. They didn’t practice. Patrick Roy did say Matt Duchene is on the trip and will begin skating Monday. Talk to you Monday. I’ll be on KFAN at 9:15 a.m. and on Fox Sports North before and during Game 3.

Wild looking to put Game 1 meltdown in rearview mirror

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 18, 2014 - 5:04 PM

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.

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