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

Revised Wild clinching scenarios as Mikko Koivu returns to Minnesota lineup

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 6, 2015 - 12:41 PM

The NHL has clarified this morning that if the Wild win in regulation OR overtime tonight against the Winnipeg Jets (not just regulation) in tonight's home regular-season finale, it will clinch a playoff spot regardless of the Kings outcome at Vancouver. Originally, it was thought if the Wild won in overtime, the Kings would have to lose in regulation.

Winning in regulation or overtime tonight gets the Wild to 98 points and 41 ROW (regulation and overtime wins). Because Winnipeg plays Calgary one more time, there is no way both those teams could finish BETTER than 98 points and 41 ROW.

There is a scenario in which Winnipeg finishes with more than 98 points (99) AND Calgary ties the Wild with 98 points and 41 ROW, but the Wild would win the head-to-head tiebreaker with Calgary.

If the Wild wins in a shootout tonight, the Wild would have 98 points and 40 ROW and theoretically both Winnipeg and Calgary could finish ahead of the Wild. So a shootout win only gets the Wild a playoff spot tonight IF the Kings lose to the Canucks in any fashion.

Obviously, in a league where there are three-point games, loser points and non-shootout win tiebreakers, clinching scenarios get very complicated.

Mikko Koivu says he is definitely back tonight. He said his injury occurred in an off-ice accident and it was just too dangerous for him to play the other night. He said the docs did a great job and he is good to go. He said this time of year, it was obviously very tough to miss the Red Wings game.

Jordan Schroeder will be scratched tonight. Ryan Carter gets back in. Since coach Mike Yeo said yesterday he wanted to give Erik Haula a chance to respond from a bad game against the Red Wings, this was the predictable decision just because of Carter's size and physicality against the big, physical, very aggressive Jets plays into his identity as a player.

Matt Cooke says he's ready to return. Yeo said tomorrow's lineup at Chicago is up in the air and will be determined after tonight's game.

Assistant coach Darby Hendrickson said the next step for Jason Zucker is to start getting into battles with players wearing pads. If he's to play Thursday in Nashville, that would need to happen tomorrow in Chicago because the Wild isn't practicing Wednesday.

Yeo said he's confident Zucker will be able to return "very soon."

Huge game tonight, and probably a nailbiter.

Ten of the 11 meetings between the Wild and Jets have been one-goal games, and the other one by two had an empty-netter. The Wild is 6-2-3 against the Jets and 3-0-2 at home against the Jets.

The Jets have won seven of their past 10 overall.

Devan Dubnyk vs. Ondrej Pavelec. No Toby Enstrom for the Jets, or suspended Dustin Byfuglien.

Wild's clinching scenarios tonight and how next week's trip is shaping up to be dramatic

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 4, 2015 - 11:25 AM

Wild and Detroit Red Wings tonight at 6 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center.

Pavel Datsyuk returns for the Wings. Devan Dubnyk vs. Jimmy Howard in goal. For Dubnyk, it'll be his 37th consecutive start overall, the most in the NHL since Evgeni Nabokov started 43 in a row for San Jose in 2007-08.

The Wild will be looking to rebound from Thursday's loss to the Rangers. The Wild has not lost two in a row in regulation under Dubnyk or two in a row (including shootout) since Jan. 19-20 (vs. Columbus, at Detroit).

Last time the Wild faced the Wings, it rallied from 4-1 down in the third, the tying goal coming on an incredible play by Zach Parise to steal a breakout pass from Jonathan Ericsson at the goalmouth. All the Wild's vets were great -- Parise, Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Ryan Suter.

Erik Haula and Nate Prosser in for the Wild tonight, Ryan Carter and Jordan Leopold sit. Suter is fine to play, coach Mike Yeo said.

The Wild would clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Red Wings in regulation or overtime AND any of the following occurs:
 
- the Flames lose in regulation
- the Flames lose in overtime or shootout AND either the Jets or Kings lose in regulation
- both the Jets and Kings lose in regulation
 
The Wild would clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Red Wings in a shootout AND any of the following occurs:

- the Flames lose in any fashion AND either the Jets or Kings lose in regulation
- both the Jets and Kings lose in regulation
 
The Wild cannot clinch a playoff berth Saturday if they lose in any fashion.

Check out the top of the Central Division right now and how much the Wild's trip next week will mean to the top-4 teams in the division.

Basically, the Wild will have a large say next week who wins the Central and its likely first-round opponent if the Wild makes the playoffs.

The Wild closes the regular season at Chicago on Tuesday, at Nashville on Thursday and at St. Louis on Saturday.

DRAMA!!!!!

Remember, if the Wild finishes in the top wildcard spot, it plays the second-best division winner. The three top Central teams all have two games in hand on Anaheim, but the Ducks so far look in decent shape to win the West.

The Ducks' last two games are vs. Dallas and at Arizona.

Devan Dubnyk nominated for the Masterton Trophy by the Twin Cities chapter of the PHWA

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 2, 2015 - 1:22 PM

Frankly, there has been no better comeback story in the NHL.

A year ago at this time, Devan Dubnyk was playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League. Today, he has become the toast of the NHL for turning the Wild’s season around an incredible run of success since being traded to Minnesota on Jan. 14.

The Wild workhorse goalie, who will start his 36th consecutive game tonight (35th in a row for the Wild) against the New York Rangers, has allowed two goals or fewer 26 times. He has allowed 57 goals in 34 starts, one fewer than the Wild allowed in the 14 games before he arrived. He is 26-6-1 with the Wild with a 1.70 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, which includes a crazy 14-1-1 road record with a 1.44 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.

Behind the scenes, it took a ton of work to resurrect his career and become this year’s feel-good NHL story.

If you didn’t read here, I wrote today about how Dubnyk has put himself in the conversation for the Hart and Vezina Trophies. In fact, Bovada has him as the fourth-best odds to win the Hart (15/1)

The Bill Masterton trophy is the award given annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. The Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has chosen Dubnyk as this year’s Wild nominee.

Last season, Dubnyk was basically run out of Edmonton. He was dealt to Nashville, played two admittedly poor games and was traded to Montreal after the Olympic break and immediately assigned to Hamilton.

During the playoffs, Dubnyk was so far buried on the depth chart, the Canadiens permitted him to leave the team and return to his wife and infant son in Edmonton so he could be a husband and a dad.

“It was crazy. It feels like last year was so long ago now,” Dubnyk said this morning after being informed of the honor by the two Wild beat writers. “The most important thing was getting that break in the summer, really getting a chance to reflect on last year, think about what happened, what could I have controlled and what couldn’t I have controlled?

“The most important thing for me is I wanted to take the mindset of realizing that if I would have played better, I wouldn’t have been in that situation, and not think that I didn’t get a fair shake or wasn’t treated fairly somewhere. The thing is if I would have played better hockey, I wouldn’t have ended up in Hamilton.”

Last summer, the NHL allowed a free-agent interview period for teams. That turned out to be perfect for Dubnyk.

His agent knows Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett well, and Coyotes goalie coach Sean Burke, like Wild goalie coach Bob Mason, always liked Dubnyk’s game from afar.

Burke and Dubnyk had a long phone conversation.

“To have them put full confidence kind of just allowed me to start from square one and feel good about what I had done and really try to forget about that period of time,” Dubnyk said.

Off the ice, Dubnyk said, “A lot of it was mental. I’ve always been comfortable as far as my summer program and conditioning. I think I got on the ice a little more early on. And then to have that opportunity to go to Vail and work with [former NHL goalie] Steve Valiquette [on a new head trajectory technique] was important for me and also going to Arizona early and talking to Burkie and starting that early.

“The reflecting part – during the season] you don’t have a chance to think about it. It’s not a lot of fun and you’re just kind of stuck in it. You go to the rink every day and it’s kind of the same old, same. You don’t have a chance to sit back, but once I was able to get away with it and get back with my family, it gives you the opportunity to really just look back on the entire situation and go through it and understand what it was that happened and what I could do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Now, he’s come to Minnesota and was immediately embraced by his teammates. It helped a ton that he showed such commitment by flying all night after the trade to start that first game in Buffalo when the Wild so needed something different. The next day, after that 7-0 win, a lot of teammates also took note that there he was at J.P. Parise’s funeral even though he had his entire life uprooted and his wife and son were still in Arizona.

This afternoon, I am filling in for Dan Barreiro on KFAN from 3-6:30 p.m. One of my guests is Zach Parise. I pre-taped the interview because the interview is running at 5:55 p.m. and he has a game tonight.

“I remember playing against him, scoring on him a couple times before he got here, I remember that,” Parise said, laughing. “Other than that, I didn’t know much about him at all. So I was surprised and happy we traded for him because I knew he was a big guy, and it’s just been a really good story.”

Parise also said how well he’s fit in, saying, “He’s a really easygoing guy, very easy to get along with. You’ve got a guy like [Niklas] Backstrom, you can’t talk to him on the day of a game. It’s like you don’t even exist.” He said, kiddingly, “I don’t know how he lives his life like that. So it’s kind of refreshing to have someone you can joke around with in the locker room before the game.”

Dubnyk said he is enjoying everything about being here.

“I’ve been trying to do that the whole way through,” Dubnyk said. “You want to stay level. You don’t want to get too high and think too much about it, but at the same time my approach from the get-go this year was to really try to enjoy and embrace every opportunity that I got. That continued when I got here, just taking those days in between games to just enjoy the wins and enjoy the feeling that we have here and what we’re doing because it is a special thing, and that’s made it that much more special. It’s not like I’m trying my best to pretend nothing’s going on here. It’s been fun and I’m enjoying it, so it’s just going to get more exciting from here on out.”

In 2013, Josh Harding won the Masterton Trophy.

The Wild’s all-time nominees are Harding (2013-14, 2012-13), Clayton Stoner (2011-12), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (2010-11), Guillaume Latendresse (2009-10), Kurtis Foster (2008-09), Aaron Voros (2007-08), Marian Gaborik (2006-07), Wes Walz (2005-06, 2000-01), Alexandre Daigle (2003-04), Dwayne Roloson (2002-03) and Richard Park (2001-02).

As I mentioned, I am filling in for Barreiro today.

Besides Parise, my guests include Super Troopers/Beerfest, etc. actor/comedian/writer/director Erik Stolhanske, Edmonton Journal hockey writer Jim Matheson, Rangers play-by-play guy Kenny Albert, Minnesota United coach Manny Lagos and the Wild’s Kevin Falness will be in with me as well.

I’ll also be on Fox Sports North tonight to talk about the Wild, Dustin Byfuglien, Dubnyk and the Wild’s upcoming schedule and potential playoff opponents if the Wild makes it.

Lineup the same as has been reported all week.

Coach Mike Yeo said today that Matt Cooke’s conditioning after so much time off still needs to improve, so the first “realistic goal” for Cooke to return is likely next Tuesday in Chicago.

The Rangers are awesome on the road. The Metro leaders are a road win for its 26th to break a team record. They are fast and good, so the Wild will have to beware the first 10 minutes tonight to make sure the inevitable rust from four days off doesn’t kill them.

Yeo is worried about an emotional letdown after two big wins and just wants the Wild to get back to that desperation level it was playing with every night.

Also, after four days of hearing how good they are and after four days of so much talk that they’re already in the playoffs, Yeo wants to make sure his players remember they’re not yet.

Yeo met with the six potential fourth-liners down the stretch, tonight’s fourth line of Ryan Carter, Kyle Brodziak and Jordan Schroeder and scratched Erik Haula and Sean Bergenheim and the injured Cooke to explain that they all have arguments as to why should play down the stretch, but if they’re not, it is incumbent on them to have good attitudes, support the rest of the team, not create problems and work hard.

He doesn’t foresee problems but wanted to get ahead of it and explain the situation.

“It’s healthy for a team to have competition,” Schroeder said. “It pushes guys. But at the same time you don’t want guys being upset and negative around the locker room. You want guys to be upbeat and positive and trying to help and support each other.

“Good teams have depth. It’s difficult for everyone from the coaches on down to make decisions when guys are playing so well and the team’s playing so well. So if you’re in, play your butt off and try to stay in the lineup. But things can change night to night.”

Ryan Carter to return to the Wild's lineup tonight against the Kings

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 28, 2015 - 1:04 PM

Devan Dubnyk vs. Jonathan Quick tonight in a goaltending classic between the Wild and L.A. Kings.

Who woulda thunk 2 ½ months ago Dubnyk would put himself in the conversation this season with the league’s elite goalies?

But Dubnyk continues to roll and tonight will start his 35th consecutive game (includes one with Arizona), the most in the NHL since Dwayne Roloson started 36 in a row for Edmonton in 2009.

Dubnyk is 34-11-3 in 52 appearances this season. He ranks second in the NHL with a 2.07 goals-against average and second with a .930 save percentage. He is 25-6-1 in 33 starts since joining the Wild. He has a 1.72 goals-against average, .938 save percentage and five shutouts in that span.

Since being pulled in Detroit on Jan. 20, Dubnyk is 3-0-1 in the second of back-to-backs with a 1.20 goals-against average and .967 save percentage. The Wild is 5-2-4 in the second of back-to-backs this season.

Wild has won four in a row and a win tonight and the Wild overtakes Chicago for third in the Central. Kings have won three in a row on their five-game road trip.

The Kings are starting to hit their stride, and Yeo said of the defending champs, “When I look at their game right now, I see the L.A. Kings from last year in the playoffs.”

The Wild is 8-6-2 in its past 16 games against Los Angeles with six of the games decided in a shootout. The Wild is 10-4-4 in the past 18 meetings played at Xcel Energy Center.

Ryan Carter, who separated a shoulder Feb. 9, will play for the first time in 24 games. He will play for Sean Bergenheim, who has one goal and no assists and is minus-5 in 15 games. In two of his past five games, he played less than six minutes.

Carter joked that he should have fresh legs, and he’ll play on a line with Erik Haula and Jordan Schroeder. Kyle Brodziak is feeling much better, coach Mike Yeo said, so he should be able to practice when the Wild next skates Monday.

Yeo said Carter should add a physical presence against the big Kings and help with the penalty kill.

“He should be more than fresh,” Yeo said. “He should have a lot of energy and excitement coming into the game. He’s one of those character guys, real important part of our locker room and I think his presence will be a lift for the rest of the group.”

Matt Cooke is even close to practicing.

At a minimum, assuming nobody gets hurt tonight and Brodziak is ready to return Thursday against the New York Rangers, one of Brodziak, Schroeder, Haula and Carter would have to not play.

“I don’t want to paint the picture that we have a short leash for everybody, but certainly we have a lot of guys that we’re going to get some games and an opportunity,” Yeo said. “Our goal is to make the playoffs and we’ve got a lot of work to do, but if we do make the playoffs, this is almost a showcase for guys as far as what our lineup is going to be going forward.

“Every game is meaningful, every shift is meaningful.”

One interesting thing that has happened the past two games is Schroeder, besides making things happen basically every shift with his speed and offensive ability, has killed penalties. While the former Gopher was scratched eight consecutive games, Yeo and assistant coach Rick Wilson had Schroeder sit in on the penalty-kill meetings.

The coaches wanted to give him every opportunity to stick in the lineup once he got back in. They like his speed in this role, and remember, when he became the odd guy out after the acquisition of Bergenheim and Chris Stewart, one reason given was Schroeder was the only forward on the team without a special teams role.

“It’s another way to stay in the lineup,” Schroeder said. “I enjoy it. If they know I can be responsible and they can count on you to block that shot and make the right play, it’s always an added bonus. With the amount of guys we have on this team and the fact the team is playing great, every shift, every game is like a tryout.”

The fact the coaches know Schroeder can kill penalties now could give him the ability to stay in the lineup maybe for Haula if the coaches want to insert Brodziak back in.

Just so many players here right now, and remember, at some point the hope is Cooke and eventually Jason Zucker can return.

Yeo said of Schroeder playing the PK, “It’s not always ideal to break a guy in this time of year. We’ve kind of approached it similar in how we handled Zuck at the start of the year. Likewise with [Justin Fontaine, who has been playing the PK lately], just trying to incorporate these guys a little more. If we can give them an increased role, it helps them to stay in the game.”
 

By the way, Thomas Vanek notched the tiebreaking goal early in the third period to hit the 20-goal milestone for the 10th time in as many NHL seasons. Per Elias Sports Bureau, only two other active players have scored at least 20 goals in each of their first 10 NHL campaigns: Jaromir Jagr (first 17) and Alex Ovechkin (first 10, active).

Mikael Granlund tries to improve in faceoff circle; Granlund Brothers Round 2; Zucker, Carter, Prosser update

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 27, 2015 - 1:21 PM

Devan Dubnyk vs. Karri Ramo tonight at Xcel Energy Center as the Wild faces a hard-working, desperate Calgary team that was knocked into ninth last night thanks to the Kings winning at the Islanders.

I missed Flames coach Bob Hartley’s pregame media scrum, but apparently before announcing Ramo was starting, he announced to the media that he talked to Colorado coach Patrick Roy two days ago and the Hall of Fame goalie is still angry with me.

Ha!!!

It was said in jest (Hartley’s one of the NHL’s funnier coaches), although I’ve got no doubt St. Patrick is still peeved at me. I’m fairly sure I got under Hartley’s skin a few times during those old Thrashers-Panthers rivalries, too.

I'll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. today.

Calgary’s Ramo has never played in Minnesota. In fact, he has only played 18 minutes against the Wild, stopping 6 of 6 shots in an eventual 4-3 overtime win by the Flames. Ramo started that game last year in Calgary, but he got hurt in the first period.

Tonight is Dubnyk’s 33rd consecutive start and 34th overall, tying Antti Niemi for the most consecutive starts in the NHL since 2010-11. When he inevitably starts tomorrow night against the Kings, it’ll be the most consecutive starts since Edmonton’s Dwayne Roloson started 36 in a row in 2009.

Dubnyk is 24-6-1 with the Wild with a 1.71 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. He is 33-11-3 this season between Minnesota and Arizona and ranks second in the NHL with a 2.07 goals-against average and second with a .930 save percentage. Montreal’s Carey Price is first in both categories.

Same Wild lineup tonight, meaning Kyle Brodziak is out with an upper-body injury and both Sean Bergenheim and Jordan Schroeder will play.

Ryan Carter will wait until at least tomorrow’s Kings game. Yeo said he didn’t want to take out anybody and he wasn’t keen on Carter playing back-to-back games after being sidelined since Feb. 9.

Rare back-to-back home games for the Wild. This is the sixth time this has occurred in Wild history. The Wild is 6-2-2 in home back-to-back games and this season is 6-5 on the front end of back-to-backs and 5-2-4 on the second half of back-to-backs.

It’s an oddity. The Kings’ equipment bags are already in the arena and the Kings’ coaching staff is credentialed for tonight’s game. I plan to put Darryl Sutter to work, like spotting for me in the third period and running some quotes. I may make him even transcribe.

Nate Prosser skated for a second day in a row before practice and is progressing.

Jason Zucker continues to skate and “still not even close to being cleared for contact,” coach Mike Yeo.

I asked Yeo point-blank if Zucker’s not allowed to return until that original three-month timetable, and Yeo said, “I believe so.” I hate to tell you, but 12 weeks from surgery is May 7.

We’ll see if medically that much be abided by. Zucker skated again today, and afterward, reunited on the Flames bench with former DU teammate Drew Shore, who’s playing tonight.

Round 2 of Mikael Granlund vs. Markus Granlund tonight.

Last year in a 3-2 Wild win in St. Paul (the arena Markus was drafted in by the Flames), Mikael had two assists and Markus one.

They’re a year apart and Mikael Granlund said his kid brother was his “first buddy to play hockey with.”

He said of last year’s meeting, “It was kind of exciting and kind of weird. I never played against him in professional games. It was fun and a big thing for my parents.”

Mikael Granlund said the biggest thing on his mind tonight is playing better. “The last couple games, I have not been on top of my game and I have to get back on track.”

One reason Granlund said he hasn’t been playing well is because that line almost every shift starts by having to chase the puck.

Granlund has slowly become of the NHL’s worst faceoff centers statistically. Among qualifying guys in faceoff stats, Granlund’s .464 faceoff winning percentage ranks 73rd, which is actually better than Charlie Coyle (.456) and Erik Haula (.444).

The difference with Granlund is he centers Zach Parise and Jason Pominville, and if he’s not winning draws, that affects the production of a very important line for Minnesota. Yeo admitted today this is a big reason why he put Mikko Koivu with Parise and Pominville on Long Island, and it certainly worked.

In the past 14 games, Granlund has won 69 of 193 faceoffs. That means he has won in the past 14 games 3.5 of every 10 faceoffs.

“It’s a big part of my struggles the last little while,” Granlund said. “I have lost a lot of faceoffs. I think there’s some good things here, but right now I’m really pressing it and getting really tight about it. Right now, it’s in my mind all the time. It’s a confidence thing.”

Granlund said he’s practicing faceoffs with Koivu and assistant coach Darby Hendrickson at the end of every practice and before every game he watches video of the opposing team’s centers to see their tendencies.

“He is carrying his last faceoff into the next faceoff with him, and he has to forget that,” Yeo said.

Yeo said he feels Granlund and Coyle have to take advantage of their strengths in the circle. He said Granlund’s strength is his quickness, Coyle’s is his power and he feels right now both centermen going into faceoffs trying to adapt what the other center’s doing rather than using their own strengths.

Yeo said he moved Koivu between Parise and Pominville against the Islanders in the third period to create a little momentum for them. Koivu ranks 11th with a .557 faceoff win percentage and ranks third in the NHL with 923 faceoff wins.

“I would say three games now, I feel like that line’s started without the puck every time they’re on the ice,” Yeo said. “It’s a big factor. It’s a line we do have confidence the way they play without the puck. But at the same time, they’re a lot more dangerous if they had the puck.”

Yeo said though that Granlund has won a lot of big draws for this team and he still has confidence in him in the circle.

Washington’s Tom Wilson was fined $2,000 for his embellishment in last week’s game against Minnesota. He had been previously warned. Money well spent though. That alleged dive resulted in a 4-on-4 and turned a scoreless game into a 2-0 Wild deficit in an instant.

I do feel these public fines, although insignificant monetarily, have decreased the amount of dives in the NHL. A few years back, I felt it was to epidemic proportions. I don’t see dives being a huge issue anymore.

Lastly, in February, I got to moderate a Q and A at the Lagoon in Uptown after director Gabe Polsky screened his awesome documentary, Red Army. It’s opening today at a bunch theaters around Minnesota. Here’s a list:

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