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 pregame skate

Wild looks to end home-away disparity tonight in Game 5 at Chicago

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 11, 2014 - 12:59 PM

Afternoon from the United Center press room.

Game 5 of the Wild-Blackhawks series is tonight at 8 on CNBC. Series is tied 2-2.

Just like Game 7 against Colorado on the road, the Wild’s locker-room configuration was completely different than Games 1 and 2 in Chicago. To try to change the vibe, every player was in a different stall.

“Switched it up,” laughed Zach Parise. “All of us went to our old stalls that we thought we were in, but they changed it up again. Try to reverse the luck again.”

Huge game tonight. If the Wild can go up 3-2, it’ll have the chance to close out the series at home in front of its raucous crowd. The Wild is 5-0 at home, having outscored opponents 16-5. On the road, the Wild is 1-5 and has been outscored 26-17.

By the way, in the second round, the team that has scored first is 18-0. First goal is big and the Wild would love to take the Blackhawks barn out of tonight’s game early.

“This is a great test and a great opportunity for us to prove that we’re ready to take another step,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “I don’t want to sit here and just say, ‘It’s great, we got ourselves back in this series,’ and then take another step back tonight. This is a real challenge this game. I said this yesterday, we’re not just here because we want to make a series of it. We believe we can win this series and obviously this game would give us a better chance of making that happen.”

At home, the Wild has averaged 3.2 goals per game, has allowed 1 goal a game, has allowed 19.2 shots per game, has a .211 power-play percentage and a .937 penalty-kill percentage. On the road, it has scored 2.83 goals per game, allowed 4.33 goals per game, allowed 26.8 shots per game, has a .067 power-play percentage and .789 penalty-kill percentage.

Two different teams home and away. That must change tonight.

On his team’s confidence, Yeo said, “We were confident coming into this series and we’re confident right now. At the same time, we’re cautious. We still know who we’re playing against and what they’re capable of, and I think we all recognize the importance of this hockey game. We know that we have to win a game in this building and we prefer to try to do it tonight.”

No lineup changes for the Wild tonight other than Nate Prosser sliding back in for injured Keith Ballard. Prosser had a solid Round 1 but had a couple tough moments in Games 1 and 2 before being scratched in Games 3 and 4.

“You don’t go through a playoff like we have without anybody having a couple tough moments, so we’re expecting [Prosser] to come in and do what he’s done over and over for us; just be a real strong steady presence on the back end,” Yeo said.

The Blackhawks have altered two lines from the start of Game 4:

The lines at least to start the game:

Bryan Bickell-Jonathan Toews-Kris Versteeg

Patrick Sharp-Michael Handzus-Marian Hossa (8 points in 4 games this series and 14 in 9 playoff games against the Wild in 2 years)

Brandon Saad-Marcus Kruger-Patrick Kane

Joakim Nordstrom-Peter Regin-Ben Smith

Regin is making his playoff season debut because Brandon Bollig is suspended two games for hit from behind on Ballard. He’s big and fast and can be a threat.

“I’m going to try to just be myself and play the way I know I can,” Regin said. “I think I can bring some speed to the game. That’s kind of my thing, that I can skate. So I’m going to try to skate as much as I can and try to be in the right positions and hopefully good things will happen.” 

Versteeg comes back after being a healthy scratch and gets on the top line as opposed to the fourth.

On Versteeg, coach Q said, “We’re looking for more directness in his game, more pace. We were ready to start him at the beginning of the series and he was sick. We want to get him up to speed where he’s contributing with the puck, without the puck, influencing both ways, and have more speed in his game.”

“I bring skill and maybe tenaciousness on the puck,” Versteeg said. “That’s just the way I’ve always played, is an offensive style and try to be good in my own zone. I don’t know. Just try to bring an all-around game that I’ve always been able to do.”

It did look from the skate that Michal Rozsival, a nightmare in Game 4, will be scratched for Sheldon Brookbank, but Joel Quenneville wasn’t committal on that.

On the Wild, Quenneville was asked if the Wild was better than even he thought: “Thought down the stretch, arguably the top team in the league, and how they beat Colorado was comparable to the way they played. They’re hard to play against; they check well, have some team speed and they’ve got more skill in their lineup than we saw last year. It’s a better team. I’m going to say par to what we thought they’d be; not an easy game, not an easy opponent.”

Matt Cooke returns to the Wild's lineup tonight

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 9, 2014 - 1:51 PM

Wild and Blackhawks, Game 4, tonight at 8:30, Xcel Energy Center

It’s been a couple long off-days, which is why coach Mike Yeo even began his presser today by joking that there’s nothing new from yesterday.

Good afternoon from the press room, where every cubicle if full of “hard-working” beat writers. I’ll be on KFAN at 5:55 p.m. with Dan Barreiro.

Matt Cooke’s long-anticipated return from a seven-game suspension tonight. He’ll skate on the left side of Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine.

“I’ve been ready to go since I haven’t been able to play, so the time is finally here and I just want to go out and battle with my teammates,” Cooke said. “I’ve got a lot of praise for the guys in this room. They’ve done a great job, battling with adversity, up in games, down in games, tough travel. They’ve done a great job and I’m just thankful that I get a chance to go out and play with them again.”

Yesterday, coach Mike Yeo said he would talk to Cooke to see where his head’s at. Will he be nipping at the bud to send somebody into outer space or will he be tentative?

Cue Cookie: “I don’t think it’s tentative. I trust the process that I’ve been through. I feel like I can go out there and continue to play the way I did the last three years, and if I do that then I’m going to bring energy for our team. I’m going to help out on the PK and hopefully help our team win.”

He did have this gem: “Obviously, I don’t want to see anyone get hurt and neither does anyone else, but you also don’t want this to be a figure-skating contest out there. It’s something I’ve tried to pride myself on, especially here over the last three years that you can play physical without being at risk.”

On playing with the two rooks, Cooke said, “Two kids that can skate really fast and really well. Erik’s done a great job. He’s been put in the situation to play against top lines and part of that’s his speed, competitive level and the third part of that is probably goes unnoticed his skill. We should look to go out and look to spend time in the offensive zone and that’s what’s most important for our line.

“Both kids were scorers in college. Not always do you get the opportunity to play that role in the pros. It’s the best players in the world. The fact that they’re in a checking role but able to chip in offensively is a key component to our win last game.”

Haula, on playing with Cooke: “I’ve played with him a few times. I like playing with him. He brings passion and grit and physicality and all those little things that are tough to do – he brings those. I enjoy having him on my side.”

As was reported yesterday, the Blackhawks will mix up all four lines tonight to try to spread the wealth, get more spark from each line and some more offensive chances. The Wild has held the high-powered Blackhawks attack to 22 or fewer shots in the first three games of the series.

“They’re a fast team. They defend well. They play their system well,” Patrick Sharp said. “Playoff hockey, it’s tough to get to the net. It’s tough to get scoring chances so. Minnesota’s always been a team with great discipline.”

I’d expect the Blackhawks to be much more aggressive from the outset tonight than they were in Game 3.

“I don’t know if we were laying back,” Sharp said. “You’ve got to give them credit for playing well. They make it tough to do some of the things we want to do but tonight’s a new night. Game 4, huge game. We want to come in and play Blackhawks hockey and hopefully come out of here with a win.”

Added Wild killer Bryan Bickell, “I think it’s probably going to be the best game of our series. I know a couple games have been questionable, especially the last game. We don’t want to be tied going back home. We need to get our momentum back, get our mojo back and just put in a full 60 minutes.”

Again, if the Penguins beat the Rangers tonight, the Wild will play a normal evening game Sunday in Chicago. If the Rangers win, the Wild and Blackhawks will likely get the short shrift again and play another late 8:30 p.m.-like game.

That’s it. Darcy Kuemper strangely didn’t take the ice today, and Yeo allegedly didn’t know if there had been a setback. Josh Harding did skate again with the Wild and even Niklas Backstrom was around climbing stairs as part of his rehab.

“I’m having trouble keeping up with all our goalies,” joked Yeo. “How many did we have on the ice today? Three. I looked out early [with the black aces] and there was a goalie I had never seen before.”

Later!

Ballard returns tonight, plus Wild tweaking some lines; Live chat at 3 p.m.

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 6, 2014 - 1:36 PM

Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals. Tonight, Blackhawks and Wild, at 8. The game can be heard on KFAN and seen nationally on CNBC with Dave Strader and Brian Engblom wearing the mics.

Good afternoon from the X, where I’ll be for the rest of the day.

I’ll be hosting a live chat today at 3 p.m. on www.startribune.com/wild. Be there, pretty please. No questions on Thomas Vanek, Mikko Koivu’s captaincy, Jason Zucker, Mike Yeo’s coaching future or outdoor games (I did report today the Wild may host a stadium series game next season at Target Field; Wild wants Chicago to be the opponent; the NHL is pushing Dallas).

Just kidding on the above. You can ask anything. (I just might not answer it!!!)

I’ll be on KFAN at some point after 5:30 p.m. today and on Fox Sports North at 7:20 p.m.

First, the news:

1. Two revamped Wild lines tonight: Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle and Matt Moulson-Erik Haula-Justin Fontaine. Niederreiter, excited to be at home for the first time since his Game 7 OT winner last round (give him a hand), called his line the “Big Man’s Line.” Moulson has had some chemistry with Fontaine in Long Island in March, but let’s be honest, the Wild is trying to find this guy a fit. He has had a poor postseason, has one goal and has slowed down his lines. More on that below.

2. Nate Prosser, who turned the puck over on the first goal in Game 2 and lost Patrick Kane on the fourth goal in Game 1, is scratched. Keith Ballard is getting in for the first time since straining his groin March 17. Why Ballard over Jon Blum? More on that below.

3. Darcy Kuemper took the ice with black aces Jake Dowell and Carson McMillan before the Wild’s morning skate. It was his first time on the ice since his Game 7 head injury. He’s been exercising the past few days, so this was the next step to hopefully taking the ice with his teammates again. Ilya Bryzgalov starts tonight with John Curry as the backup. Josh Harding continues to take part in the morning skates.

4. No Andrew Shaw tonight. He didn’t make the trip for Chicago after getting hurt in Game 1 on a check from Clayton Stoner. Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson will play tonight, but he cannot talk, coach Joel Quenneville said, since blocked Jonas Brodin’s shot in the throat in Game 2.

The Wild lost Games 1 and 2. Tonight’s not a must-win, … but it’s a must-win and everybody knows it. Win tonight, and just like the first round, the Wild’s right back in the series. Lose tonight, and the inevitable is almost certainly around the corner.

The Wild has lost to Chicago in six of seven playoff games the past two years. The Wild’s big guns haven’t produced and have been on the ice for a ton of goals against in those seven games.

Coach Mike Yeo pulled out of his holster something today that a few ink-stained wretches couldn’t get him to admit yesterday:

“For us, it's the mental hurdle,” Yeo said of the difference between playing Colorado and Chicago. “The first two games, I don't think we were completely on top of our game. We did a lot of good things and were right there with them. Scoring chances coming through two games were very even, we had a small edge in shots for. We had a pretty small edge in shot attempts for, which is a big difference from last year. As far as I'm concerned, we've leveled the playing field here, but we have to take the next step. We have to push past being close or even to them. We have to make sure that we get ahead of them. I believe that we can.

“It's a great test. It's a great team, but we've got a pretty darn good team ourselves. We just have to prove it now.”

That is the thing. The Blackhawks are the champs. They know how to play in these tight games and almost have this mystique that they’ll eventually remove your heart if you don’t take advantage of your opportunities. Let’s be honest: Both Games 1 and 2 were hanging right there for the Wild to win. It couldn’t score despite some golden looks. And then, the Blackhawks struck.

Tonight, I’d expect the Wild comes out with similar energy and offensive-zone pressure as it did in Games 3 and 4 against Colorado. The Blackhawks certainly haven’t seen Minnesota’s best game yet. The problem is I don’t think Minnesota has seen Chicago’s either.

The Blackhawks have lost eight straight playoff series initial road games, so we’ll see tonight if the Wild can make that nine. Remember, the Wild won Game 3 at home last year down 0-2 on a Matt Cullen to Jason Zucker overtime goal. On the ice for that goal interestingly enough: Zucker, Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Justin Falk, Tom Gilbert and Josh Harding. None of the six will be in tonight’s lineup.

Thanks to the Star Tribune’s Jim Foster for that tidbit.

As Chip Scoggins wrote in today’s Strib, this series doesn’t even feel like a playoff series because none of that feistiness and energy that made last series so compelling has existed.

I think Chicago makes it tough because the Hawks just play hockey machine-like, plus agitator/motor mouth Shaw is hurt and Brandon Bollig was scratched in Game 2.

But the Wild will be looking for more energy and physicality tonight. Yeo showed several clips to his players of times they could have blown up or at least checked Blackhawks defensemen and peeled off, maybe because of the lack of energy this series after playing a long series last round.

This is one reason why Ballard gets in over Blum, Yeo said.

“Blum played well for us, but it was a pretty small sample size,” Yeo said. “[Ballard’s] been out for a little while, but this is a guy that’s a very big part of our team. Looking at last game, looking at some of the things that we’ve seen, we had a lot of opportunities to get the puck on the blue line and he’s a guy that can move across the line with his head up and maybe get some of those pucks through. But his skating ability is a big part of it too. Plus he brings a competitive edge, which is important against a team that wants to hang on to the puck. So you need a physical presence along with that skating ability to help you separate and alleviate some of that defensive zone time that you’re faced with.”

I think the 25 blocked shots for Chicago was a big reason Ballard plays, which Yeo indicated. Ballard is one of the Wild’s best at sliding across the blue line to get pucks through.

However, this will be tough. He has missed almost two months and now has to jump into the second round of the playoffs. He missed the last 14 games of the regular season and the first nine games of the playoffs.

“It’s been a couple months,” the former Gopher said. “But I’m excited to play, I’m excited to get back in. I’ve been feeling good for the last week and a half or so. A lot of rehab. I had to get strength back in my leg and get feeling good.”

He’ll play on the right side of Clayton Stoner.

“The game’s picked up a considerable amount since the last time I played,” Ballard said. “I think the biggest thing is not try to do too much, especially early. Whether it’s stuff like short shifts, making easy plays, getting yourself into the game a bit. But at the same time, you want to make an impact. You don’t want to come in and just be a passenger and try to just get through the game. It’s a fine line.”

Last change should help Yeo tonight, but the Blackhawks aren’t the Avs. In the home games last round, Ryan Suter was able to play 92 percent of the shifts against Nathan MacKinnon. Same thing with getting Haula’s line out against the Avs’ top line. The Blackhawks have more depth line to line

“It’s going to be a factor for sure,” Yeo said. “But at the same time, this is a deep team. We’ll be looking for matchups but at the same time some of it might be a personnel matchup, some of it might be a zone matchup as well, an opportunity to get guys into an offensive zone faceoff or certain guys into a defensive zone faceoff. If we’re going to beat these guys then we’re going to need everybody to be able to play and
every line ready to go out and win the battle against the guys that they’re facing. So we’ll be paying attention to it but at the same time we will not let their moves dictate how we go about our business.”

On the home crowd, which was unreal last round, Yeo said. “The crowd is going to be awesome. I know that. It’s was unbelievably loud last series and I expect a lot of the same excitement, but we have to help provide some of that. We’ve got to bring some jam into this game right from the start. We’ve got to make sure that we’re finishing checks, that we’re creating momentum, that we’re playing in the offensive zone, that we’re shooting pucks, we’re doing things to make this thing erupt.”

On the Niederreiter-Koivu-Coyle line, Yeo said, “I would love to see that line spend a lot of time in the offensive zone. Those are three guys who are strong on the puck, three guys that can get around the net. It should be a tough line to play against. That's part of it. If they're on top of the game, they should bring momentum to our team.”

Moulson is costing himself millions in free agency with this postseason. Just not skating well, not producing and hurting his line. My gut says this could be his last chance tonight. Barring an injury, somebody’s going to have to come out for Matt Cooke in Game 4. Well, it’s quite coincidental that Moulson slides into Cooke’s spot tonight next to Haula and Fontaine.

This morning, I asked Yeo for the 15th time about Moulson. For the first time, he actually kinda sorta answered the question by addressing Moulson personally.

On Moulson and Fontaine, “They've had chemistry together before. The speed of Haula in the middle of the ice, I think should help those two guys. Hopefully just even mentally for [Moulson] to have the opportunity to just relax and play the game, just concentrate on going out yourself and the things you need to do.

“Fonzie's a guy that can make plays, both off the rush and in the offensive zone, and they've had chemistry before, so hopefully they create some of that.”

On tonight’s game, Yeo admitted, “This game is huge. We know that. This is going to be a tough test. It's a great team and they understand the importance of it, too, but I obviously think we're going to play a very good game tonight and we've got to find a way to get a win here. Find a way to get a win tonight and the series starts to take a different turn.”

Here’s some Zach Parise

On good start: This league is a lot easier when you’re playing with the lead. It’s tough to come from behind all the time. We’ve had some pretty good starts in this building. That’s the plan. But it doesn’t always go the way you want it to. Even if we don’t get a good start or the first goal, I think it’s important for us to not stray away from what we’re trying to accomplish, what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to play. But I expect us tonight to have a lot of energy and come out with a good start.

What do you have to better: I thought we had a pretty good first game. we did come back and tie it up. But the second game, for whatever reason, our puck movement wasn’t good, we didn’t support each other up the ice and we turned the puck over a lot inside the blue line, which allowed them to make that quick stretch pass and catch us on some odd-man rushes. When we’re playing well, when we’re playing fast, we’re managing the puck a lot better. Against these guys, you have to make sure you do. Otherwise you’re not going to touch it the whole night

Here’s some Ryan Suter:

Suter

On Ballard: Brings a physical element and he’s a good skater. He can get it out of trouble.

I thought we’ve played well. We need to be better for sure, but I think we have that confidence knowing that we’re coming home and we have to get that next one.

Home ice: we play with a little extra confidence, a little extra jam. And that’s how you have to win playoff games. I think in the first couple games, we’ve gotten away from playing that physical style, playoff-type game. we just need to get back to the basics and not turn pucks over.

Last change: It definitely makes a difference. There’s a lot of good players on their team. I think it will be a good thing for us and hopefully we can use that to our advantage.

Getting pucks through vs. Hawks: They’re a great shot-blocking team. It’s seems like they’re always in the lane. I think if we can change the angle, maybe use the back wall, get pucks behind them, they might not come out so aggressive. It’s really important to try to get that puck through.

Crawford: We’ve had chances. He’s a great goalie. He’s solid back there.

JOEL QUENNEVILLE

Challenges with Hjalmarsson not being able to communicate on the ice: “Obviously you like to talk to the goalie playing it, your partner, whether he’s got an out or you’re the out, sometimes that can be beneficial. We always want to say communicate on the bench, make sure we’re talking as well. But I think we’re familiar with a lot, and he’s a lot familiar with the players around him and changes as well and make sure we’re sharp on the bench. so that’s something, we’ll see. He’s pretty aware of how to play the game, and those types of situations. Maybe he’s got to adapt a little bit, but for the most part, we expect him not to change too much.”

On the first 10 minutes tonight being important: Tough building. It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be a lot of excitement in here. Let’s make sure that we come being proactive the best we can, try to weather that first 10 minutes, just be on their heels. Let’s try and be initiating as much as you can. Let’s be prepared to play smart right off the bat, let’s bring a real intense first 10 minutes knowing we have to play the perfect road game, not just the start, but throughout the game.

On Nick Leddy again being in his doghouse (46 seconds last third period): Pace. I think the guys that we always say we’re looking for more, but we’re always looking at guys that are not getting as much as you want, or much ice time, we’re looking for things — everything’s quicker, everything faster, everything more assertive. Whoeever we’re talking about, that’s kind of what we’re getting to, or getting into.

Harder to shut down top two lines without last change: We’ll see. I’m sure that line matching is going to be something we’ll  have to keep an eye on as we go along here. How we either change or adapt, we’re comfortable with it. But I still think we want to play four lines and get everyone in the game early and see how it evolves. They changed their lines in the first couple of games in the Colorado series, and we’ll see how it works out tonight.

On them blocking so many shots: I think everybody’s got a different opinion on blocking shots. You’re taking away primary options by being in the shooting lanes and all of a sudden they have to have their second and third looks, which isn’t as enticing. And I think being there and willing there, it’s the best line of defense and the best way to defend. I think that’s what makes him such a good defender when we’re talking about be it Hammer or shot-blockers. You’re denying them what they really want to do and you’re willing to take one for the team. It’s an important art, it’s an important part of how you defend. Whether you’re getting your stick on it, whether it goes in the crowd off it, or you’re just denying them the shooting lanes sometimes. You don’t even get credit for some of the shot blocks because you’re denying them the lane.
 

Josh Harding, Ilya Bryzgalov, John Curry all on the ice in Chicago

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 2, 2014 - 2:32 PM

Wild and Blackhawks, Game 1, tonight, United Center. The game is on NBC Sports Network, but Fox Sports North will have an hour pregame show and a postgame show.

Afternoon from the Windy City, where the Wild plays its first second-round game in 11 years tonight. The Wild is 1-6 all-time in Game 1s (five overtimes), having lost six Game 1s in a row since its first one.

Ilya Bryzgalov with John Curry serving as backup vs. Corey Crawford.

Josh Harding, who actually began practicing again with the Wild in Chicago earlier this month, was on the ice in gear today for the first time with the big club in a few weeks. Darcy Kuemper is in an undisclosed location with an undisclosed upper-body injury “getting checked out,” coach Mike Yeo said.

On Harding skating, Yeo said, “Just more than anything else, let's just get him on the ice. This is an extreme longshot to think he would have a chance to play in this series. Get him on the ice and get him back to being part of the group and helping out a little bit with practice. Obviously this time of year, the goalie playing a lot of games isn't going to see a lot of time in practice. It's nice to have three goalies.

“For me I'm not even considering it right now. If there's an absolute emergency or there's a desperate situation we find ourselves in we'll be prepared for that. We're not getting him on the ice to get ready to play a game, let's put it that way.”

Yeah, and Matt Duchene wasn’t going to play in the last series, coach Patrick Roy said. He played the final two games. Last year, Harding didn’t start for two months and then had to start Game 1 of the playoffs. So, stranger things have happened. My gut says at some point in this series, Harding rappels down from the rafters – so to speak.

Curry will back up tonight. He said he has to be ready for anything. In Game 7, he was watching from a suite. When he saw Kuemper get hurt, he immediately went down to the locker room and suited up. He was on the bench as Bryzgalov’s backup when Nino Niederreiter scored, so 30 minutes or so after watching the game in a suit, Curry was on the ice celebrating and in a handshake line.

Go figure.

“Very cool,” Curry said of being part of it. “Earlier in the game, I was talking to Mike Rupp about Kuemps [and how good he was doing] and he said, ‘It’s amazing how quick things change for a goalie.’ A period, later, I’m dressed on the bench.”

I talked to Ryan Suter about the conversation he had with Kuemper in the second and third periods the other night before he left the game. Remember, Duchene knocked Kuemper down and his head hit Suter in the leg.

I’ll have more on this in tomorrow’s paper.

A taste: “Right away in the second period, I thought he was hurt. I asked him, ‘You alright?’ And he didn’t say anything so I said, ‘Well, you’re not coming out. You’re fine, you’re tough, you’re playing. I probably shouldn’t have said that,” Suter said, laughing.

Charlie Coyle has 15 stitches going from the right side of his lip down to the chin courtesy of Suter’s deflected shot in Game 7.  Basically, Suter was an absolute menace the other night to his teammates!!! (Well, except for the defensive play of the Wild’s season to almost certainly save a goal shortly before Niederreiter’s winner).

“I can’t even smile,” he said, … smiling.

He can talk (with a bit of a lisp), can eat, can drink. If he got one on the left side, it would look like a Fu Manchu.

“It was a freak accident. Luckily it tipped. I couldn’t imagine getting it straight on,” Coyle said. “Most [stitches] I’ve ever had. Well worth it. No teeth, thank God. I’m totally engaged now.”

What else?

No lineup changes for the Wild, I don’t think. Dany Heatley is on the first power-play unit tonight.

Yeo: “For me, this is the most Dany Heatley that we've seen all year. There's been parts - there was a stretch in the middle part of the year where we lost some guys. We really put him in a situation to take advantage of and he did. Then the trade deadline, there were different things that happened that pushed him down. He's just handled things so well all year. It's been real impressive to watch. I've had experience with older players and they find themselves out of the lineup, and I can honestly say that I've never worked with someone who has handled it the way he has as far as No. 1 not being a distraction and making sure he's supportive for his teammates but more importantly making sure he stays on top of things and works and is ready for this opportunity. He's moving real well right now, he's a guy with experience, he's a guy who plays strong on the puck, obviously has a chance to create some offense when he's out there.”

What was the toughest part of being scratched?

“Watching,” Heatley said. “The three hours of the game is the worst part of the day. You come to the rink and can do your work, be around the guys, still kinda go through the afternoon routine and not coming at four or five o'clock to the rink is the toughest part.”

I’ve got funny stuff from Kyle Brodziak on his celebration on the Niederreiter goal. Basically, he was the only one in the arena who knew the puck was in and starting jumping up and down. You can hear him screaming on the video.

His buddies made fun of his “vertical.”

More on that in tomorrow’s paper.

I’ll be on Barreiro at 3:15 and Comcast Chicago TV at 5.

If you didn't see the postgame locker room celebration produced by the Wild from Game 7, check this link

Also,

Talk later.

Wild-Avalanche part of trio of Game 7s tonight; Stephane Veilleux playing

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 30, 2014 - 2:05 PM

UPDATED BOTTOM

Good day from the Pepsi Center. I'll be on KFAN at 4:55 p.m. CT and on KARE-11 at 6:20 p.m. CT.

Tonight is the final night of the first round with three Game 7s -- the fifth time in NHL history and the first time since April 22, 2003, that three or more Game 7s will be contested on the same day. On that day, some guy named Andrew Brunette beat some guy named Patrick Roy to advance some team named the Wild to the second round.

Flyers-Rangers, Wild-Avalanche, Kings-Sharks tonight.

The opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs now has yielded three or more Game 7s in four consecutive postseasons:
 
2014: 3, TBD
2013: 3, Home Teams: 1-2
2012: 3, Home Teams: 1-2
2011: 4, Home Teams: 3-1
 
* Since 2003-04, there have been a total of 22 Game 7s in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Home teams are 10-12 in those contests.
 
* According to the Elias Sports Bureau, home teams are 90-59 (.604) all-time in Game 7s contested in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
* Elias also says that the team that scores first in a Game 7 holds a 111-38 (.745) all-time record.
 
* Thirty-seven of the 149 all-time Game 7s have required overtime. Home teams are 19-18 (.514) in those contests.

The Wild will make one lineup change tonight. Stephane Veilleux will play for Justin Fontaine, who was on the ice for the Game 5 overtime winner and had a tough Game 6.

Why Veilleux?

Cue Mike Yeo: "Speed, speed on the forecheck, speed to pressure, veteran, penalty kill and bring some jam into the game."

Asked if he'll have to dial down the guy they call, "Tornado," Yeo said, "He’s wound up for exhibition games, so we’ll have to keep an eye on that for sure."

The Wild's penalty kill was exposed last game by the return of Matt Duchene. The Wild didn't play nearly big enough or fast enough in Game 5 here, so the thought is to change it up. Veilleux adds energy, speed and has even scored a couple goals since the Olympics.

He'll start the game on the fourth line with Kyle Brodziak and Cody McCormick.

"I don’t know if I’ll be able to nap," Veilleux said. "It'll be important to control the emotions in a good, positive way. Be there for my teammates in whatever situation there needs to be. Pretty excited. Tonight it’s all about the team, all about the win."

Yeo will likely start with Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle; Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville (good line early in the season); Matt Moulson-Erik Haula-Dany Heatley. I am worried about the speed on the wings, but Moulson and Pominville haven't played well together and Heatley has played well the past three games. If the Wild wins tonight, I bet you Heatley will be a big part of it. I just have this feeling.

Expect Yeo to do a lot of line juggling tonight. Like Game 6, he'll see who's going and judge how the game is unfolding and maybe change things up based on matchups and feel.

"I’m comfortable with either [Koivu or Granlund]," Parise saud. "Had [good chemistry with Mikko]. Had some chemistry with Granlund and Pominville. To me it doesn’t matter. We could start the game one way and second shift it could be changed. [Yeo] did a good job [last game]. Good feel for the bench. You can tell when some guys are going or some guys are looking good together and he made good in-game adjustments."

The Wild made a bunch of different changes to change up the bad Denver vibes.

"Subtle changes," Yeo said, before adding with a laugh. "OK, pretty much everything."

They changed their flight time yesterday, changed the way they practiced, the team meal time changed and instead of going into the restaurant, they got a private room, the bus times were changed today from 12:30 and 12:45 to 12:27 and 12:47 and every player's locker stall is different.

"Some superstitious guys in here," Parise said.

They didn't sacrifice a live chicken ... that I know of.

Yeo brought the whole team here, including Josh Harding, scratch Mike Rupp and suspended Matt Cooke. Rupp and Cooke have combined to play in 13 Game 7s, so perhaps they can talk to some teammates and help lighten the mood.

The Avs are making one change, too. Joey Hishon, the 17th pick in the 2010 draft, will be back in the lineup and center the third line with Max Talbot and Jamie McGinn. Brad Malone comes out and Marc-Andre Cliche goes to the fourth line. The Avs don't have a point from their third or fourth line at even-strength, so this deepens them because Hishon has skills and Matt Duchene now centers the second line with Ryan O'Reilly and P.A. Parenteau.

I'll be doing a notebook lead tomorrow on Ryan Suter's pregame routine of playing football with assistant equipment trainer Matt Benz.

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