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

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.

Wild motivated to force Game 7 vs. Avs

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 28, 2014 - 12:46 PM

Good afternoon from the X, where I will be hosting a live chat on www.startribune.com/wild at 3 p.m. CT. Please join.

I will also be on KFAN at 5:30 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. and on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission.

The Wild must beat Colorado tonight or its season is over. It’s very clear the Wild is loose.

Even coach Mike Yeo jokingly came to the podium after today’s morning skate with a piece of paper. It was an inside joke to the gathered local media.

“Pulled that trick out once,” joked Yeo, a reference to how after March’s home loss to Detroit. After that game, Yeo brought a yellow piece of paper to the podium with a bunch of funny math written on it so he could preemptively demonstrate to the blood-thirsty press that the skidding Wild wasn’t that bad off and this wasn’t like last year’s late slide, that “this is a different team.”

The Wild won the next night in Detroit and then went on a tear after back-to-back losses to Vancouver and St. Louis.

Last year, the Wild won a must-win season finale in Denver in order to continue its season into the playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild wants nothing more than to get this series back to another must-win game in Denver on Wednesday … so it can continue its season in the second round against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Could the stars be aligning for a kinda sorta repeat of last year’s scenario?

We’ll know tonight. For the Wild to give itself that opportunity, it must win Game 6 to force a Game 7.

The Wild cannot expect tonight’s game to feel like Games 3 and 4. I’m not saying the Wild won’t win, but I expect the Wild won’t dominate every iota like it did in two homes games week. Like this entire series, I expect a dogfight and Darcy Kuemper better be sharp.

As usual, low-scoring games benefit the Wild. The Wild has lost 5-4, 4-2 and 4-3 games in Denver and won 1-0 and 2-1 games in Minnesota.

No lineup changes for the Wild tonight. Mikael Granlund will replace Charlie Coyle on the top power play.

Matt Duchene (knee) will meet with Colorado’s team doctor this afternoon, take part in warmups if cleared and returned for the first time since late March if he feels good.

ON tonight’s game, Yeo said, “We’re excited. You’ve got to sit around and wait again ‘til a later (8 p.m.) start here, but these are the games you get up for. Knowing what’s at stake, knowing that our season’s on the line, having a chance to go out and play in front of our crowd with the opportunity to push it to Game 7, as a competitor you have to love those challenges.”

Yeo said, “We’re going to go all-in to this game and throw our best effort out. … I have lots of confidence in this group.”

On the Wild staff, the Wild has Yeo and Rick Wilson, who have coached on Stanley Cup-winning teams. It has Darryl Sydor, who won two Cups as players. It has Darby Hendrickson and Andrew Brunette, who were part of six straight elimination victories in 2003 for the Wild against Colorado and Vancouver.

Yeo says the Wild has a lot of “resources” and he asked those guys the past few days to talk to not just young players, but the veterans about their experiences.

“I purposely asked those guys to take the time to talk to a lot of guys this morning because of that experience,” Yeo said. “Just even a reminder. … We have a lot of people that have reached the end and reached the pinnacle and been at the highs of those moments, but in order to come through in those moments, you’ve had to go through some other parts like we’re facing right now.”

I’m doing a story on the renewed coach’s challenge debate in the NHL going into this offseason. In this series along, the Avs were called offside before an empty-net goal (onside), Jonas Brodin flipped a puck into the crowd (ruled deflection) and the Avs scored a game-tying goal in an OT win despite what should have been an offside call.

“I’ll probably be in favor of it. I’ve got a flag in my pocket right now,” Yeo joked.

If you saw my story in yesterday’s paper, so would Patrick Roy.

Zach Parise on tonight’s game: “We know it’s a lose-you’re-done scenario. We had a good skate this morning. We need to be a lot better tonight [than we were in Game 5], sharper in different areas. … We were loose and excited and ready to play. We’re confident here. We want to extend the series.”

Jason Pominville, the Wild’s regular-season leading goal scorer with 30, has no goals and three assists in the series. Asked if he feels the pressure to score, Pominville said, “Not at all. I don’t want to add any pressure to do anything more. I don’t want to go out of my way to start cheating and looking for offense. You can bring a lot of different things to the team when you’re on the ice aside from scoring. Obviously, you’d like to score. I would like to get on board. But I can’t start cheating and creating something that maybe isn’t there by not sticking to the plan or system.”

Pivotal Game 5 tonight for the Wild and Avalanche in Denver

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 26, 2014 - 5:02 PM

UPDATE

With the series tied at 2-2, Game 5 of the Western Conference quarters tonight will be a swing game.

Somebody, whether that be the Wild or the Avalanche, will be facing elimination Monday night in St. Paul during an 8 p.m. Game 6.

Avs coach Patrick Roy shrewdly put on a show at his presser yesterday. With the Avalanche returning home after losing two games in Minnesota, he deflected all the attention onto himself and almost made the presser sound like an end-of-the-season presser. He talked about how it’s a process going from 29th to winning the Cup and how proud he is of what his team has accomplished this season.

Today, it back to business as usual as both teams look for a key win tonight.

Matt Duchene is clearly getting closer to a return, very possibly in this series. Roy said he won’t play tonight, but Duchene, the Avs’ talented youngster and leading scorer who has been out since late March with a Grade 2 MCL sprain, practiced for the first time with teammates this morning. He skated normal line rushes with Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn.

Roy said the Avs only lineup decision will be Joey Hishon or Paul Carey tonight on the fourth line.

No lineup changes for the Wild.

So far, this has been a homer series. Avs win Games 1 and 2 in Denver, Wild Games 3 and 4 in St. Paul.

The Wild dominated Games 3 and 4 yet only won 1-0 and 2-1. So it’ll be interesting to see if the Wild, clearly with renewed confidence, brings the same personality tonight. The Avs are obviously going to get the benefit of matchups on their home ice and a jolt from the home crowd. Can the Wild match that and play the same way it did in Minnesota?

“We’re making them come through five guys when they have the puck. That’s pretty tough to do,” Zach Parise said. “The key is we have to do the same thing on the road as we did at home.”

Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog said Colorado was “taken aback” by the Wild’s play in Game 3.

“It was a wakeup call that they want this just as badly as we do,” Landeskog said.

After the Game 4 loss, Max Talbot told Landeskog almost every series he has ever played in was 2-2 at some point.

“That made me bounce back right away,” Landeskog said. “No one said it was going to be easy.”

Landeskog said the Avs were chasing too much in Minnesota and with the home-ice matchups, they believe they’ll have the puck more and be able to control the game better.

“We missed the fans here,” he said. “We realize why people talk about home ice advantage. Fortunately, we feed off the crowd so much. As an opposing team , I wouldn’t say it puts you back on your heels, but certainly you feel the energy against you.”

Western Conference home teams are 16-2 I the playoffs.

“I think we’re a different team than we were in Game 1,” Parise said. “We know we have to win one in here if we want to win the series. Hopefully it will be tonight. Hopefully we can break that trend tonight and get a win in here. “

I chatted with Patrick Bordeleau this morning, the former Wild draft pick that was cut loose on June 1, 2006, by the previous regime. Bordeleau said he has a lot of motivation facing the Wild even though that regime is long gone.

By the way, Bordeleau took a big run at Jared Spurgeon in Game 4 and kneed him. No call and certainly looking like a response after Matt Cooke ended Tyson Barrie’s series and a lot longer with a knee.

“I would have to think that they’re taking a pretty close at that,” Yeo said. “We have a player that was suspended for seven games. The very big difference is our player wasn’t hurt from it, but I would have to think both the referees and the people watching from afar are keeping a close eye on it.”

Matt Cooke makes statement regarding 7-game suspension

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 24, 2014 - 4:08 PM

Matt Cooke, suspended seven games for injuring Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie with a knee-on-knee hit Monday night, addressed the media this afternoon.

Cooke didn’t field questions but made an unwritten statement.

“First and foremost, I want to say that I’m disappointed and sorry that Tyson Barrie can’t play for the Colorado Avalanche tonight. I wish that he could. Unfortunately, it was not my intent to collide with him knee-on-knee. It was my intent to finish my check. Playoffs are a hard and physical time and it’s my job to be physical. I’ve led my team in hits in all three games and it’s an intense time. I’ve led my team this year in hits and in this series.

“Since March 20, 2011 (the elbow to Ryan McDonagh that resulted in a 17-game suspension), I’ve been a changed player. I’ve approached the game differently, I think differently about the game. That The stats that I’ve collected over those three seasons prove that I’m a changed player and the plays that I make and the plays that I don’t make prove to that point as well. At the end of the day, this situation was not my intent.”

Cooke has until tomorrow night to decide if he will appeal his suspension to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Cooke didn’t respond when I asked if he would.

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said this morning, “It doesn’t matter the number of games [Cooke received]. It doesn’t replace Tyson Barrie. We want to see Tyson on the ice tonight.”

Zach Parise wouldn’t discuss his opinion of Cooke’s suspension length nor the perceived inconsistency in the league’s decision-making process when it comes to suspensions (i.e. Bryan Bickell leading with his knee on Vladimir Sobotka last weekend and getting nothing):

“I don’t know what they look for. It’s not fair for me to comment on it, but I have got my opinion.”

On Cooke, Parise said, “You’ve got to know when he’s on the ice because he finishes his hits. So when you’re playing against him, if you’ve got your head down, he’s going to come after you and try and hit you. He’s one of those players where you just got to know where he is.”

Coach Mike Yeo is excited to finally drop the puck on Game 4 at an absurdly late 8:30 local time.

“It’s amazing a couple days between games in the playoffs feels like a week. Good day off, good practice yesterday, and now I can’t wait to hurry up and wait ‘til 8:30 tonight,” he joked.

As you know because you READ TODAY’S COVERAGE, Nino Niederreiter will take Cooke’s spot on the left side of the Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine line. Also, Kyle Brodziak, scratched Monday, will center Dany Heatley and Cody McCormick.

Darcy Kuemper vs. Semyon Varlamov. Kuemper made 22 saves in his first career shutout in his first career playoff start Monday.

“Honestly, I don’t think it would even matter who would be in net for them,” Roy said. “I think we had only four scoring chances all night long. They played really well. I mean, they tracked really well, they came back hard in the middle of the ice. They played with great urgency. I mean, they had a solid game. I have to give it to them. I don’t want to take anything from [Kuemper], but at the same time, I thought he had an easy game and I’m sure Bryzgalov could have done the exact same thing.”

On Cooke’s sentence, Yeo said, “We always definitely respect and accept what the decision is from the league, and with that, it’s just real important that we all put it behind us.”

On if Cooke will continue to provide a leadership role on team (he can practice and travel and be around all team functions, and he did skate today with the team), Yeo said, “For me, I’m focused on the game tonight, so to sit here and say that I spent the morning trying to make a plan for Matt Cooke, I haven’t. We’re playing Colorado tonight and I’m focused on the guys that are in the lineup. There will be time for some of those decisions.”

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