This is Michael Russo's 18th year covering the National Hockey League. He's covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005 following 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. Michael 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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Niklas Backstrom, who did not accompany the team to Chicago, flew commercial to Chicago last night and was on the ice sharing the cage with Darcy Kuemper this morning.
Josh Harding had one to himself and will get the start for Game 2 tonight at United Center. Darcy Kuemper will back up.
Yeo would only say the plan was for Backstrom to always fly to Chicago. Regardless, he'll be in street clothes tonight and will accompany the team back to Minnesota after the game.
Backstrom took shots this morning and still looked to me like he was having some issues. But the fact he was on the ice so soon is obviously a good sign. I haven't talked yet with Backstrom. I can only imagine how disappointed he has to be. You wait all year for the playoffs and minutes before Game 1, you get hurt? Ugh. If you know Backstrom, it has to be an awful feeling.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville on Harding and Backstrom: "One's a lefty; one's a righty."
It'll be interesting to see how Harding plays tonight. Completely different mentality when you're a last-second emergency substitution to knowing for three days you're probably starting Game 2. Today's a long day, too, with the odd 8:30 puck drop, so that's a lot of time to think.
Clayton Stoner and Jason Pominville are out tonight and didn't make the trip to Chicago. 6-foot-5 blue-liner Justin Falk will play for Stoner.
"He actually has played some good hockey," coach Mike Yeo said of Falk. "It's nice to insert him into a place where we feel we can give him a good chance to succeed, too. You'll see him out there more against more of their third and fourth lines -- bigger lines, a little bit more physical. That's the type of game that he should be playing. ... With his size, we're looking for him to bring a physical element to the game, too."
David Bolland and Ray Emery are again out for the Blackhawks.
Tonight feels like Game 1 all over again with two off-days oddly in between. Jonathan Toews expects a better playoff pace at the beginning of the game. The Blackhawks have been talking over and over again about a better start tonight, so the Wild will need to weather the storm or better yet look to dictate this pace.
I'd expect a much more physical game than Game 1, one more emblematic of the playoff games we've seen around the league thus far.
"I hope so," Yeo said. "I think that serves us well. I think we're comfortable playing in those type of games. Against a team like that, if we can get engaged in a game like that, then I think that it helps us. That said, we have to make sure we're doing it the right way, doing it within the structure of our game."
More on this, Yeo said, "I know that our guys are emotionally engaged in this and I think it will increase as the series goes on. I'm not comparing us to any of the other series' that's going on."
On the 8:30 start, Yeo said, "It makes it a longer day. That's about it. But these players are professionals."
I will be on KFAN at 4:35 p.m. with Dan Barreiro.
I will be on the Fox Sports North "Wild Live" pregame show at around 7:40 p.m. tonight.
Goaltender Niklas Backstrom, right wing Jason Pominville and defenseman Clayton Stoner all missed practice today for the Wild.
Coach Mike Yeo said all are day-to-day. Pominville definitely won't play in Game 2. While Yeo said Backstrom and Stoner will travel to Chicago with the team, we obviously saw what Backstrom looked like when he left the ice during warmups in Game 1 and Stoner only played eight minutes the other night -- two shifts in the first period after getting hit hard by Chicago's Andrew Shaw.
So I'd suspect Josh Harding starts in goal and Stoner is doubtful to say the least.
Justin Falk took Stoner's spot on the Tom Gilbert pair. Only change to the power-play units is Charlie Coyle replaces Tom Gilbert on the No. 2 unit and Pierre-Marc Bouchard plays the point.
INNESOTA WILD ANNOUNCE PLANS FOR PRE-GAME PARTY
THIS SUNDAY, MAY 5 BEFORE GAME 3
SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League (NHL) announced plans for a pre-game party between 12-1:30 p.m. Sunday, prior to the team’s 2 p.m. faceoff against Chicago in Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The party will take place along the sidewalk between Gates 1 and 3 of Xcel Energy Center.
The party will include live music, food and drink, including a beer garden, an appearance by the FOX Sports North Girls, as well as face painting and a Hockey Lodge tent with new playoff merchandise. Fans can meet former Wild Captain Wes Walz and find out about the Minnesota Wild Hockey School summer camp. There will also be autographs from former Minnesota North Stars Don Beaupre, Jack Carlson, Brad Maxwell and Tim Young. In addition, KFAN 100.3 FM will broadcast live from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
The Wild encourage all fans who will be attending the home games to download the official Wild app for iPhone and Android to be a part of the special in-arena pre-game show. To download the app, search for ‘MN Wild NHL’ in the App Store or the Google Play Store.
The Wild will face the Blackhawks on Sunday at 2 p.m. in a nationally televised game on NBC. Game 2 is Friday night in Chicago at 8:30 p.m. on FS North (locally) and NBC Sports Network (nationally).
I'll update this with some more Parise stuff after I transcribe.
I will be on KFAN at 5:20 with Dan Barriero and on KFAN Thursday morning from 9:15-11 a.m. with Paul Allen.
CHICAGO STUFF TODAY, courtesy of my friend, Robert Tychkowski of the Edmonton Sun
on Suter playing 41 minutes
“He’s a tremendous defenceman. There aren’t many guys around who can do that. We want to force him to make as many tough plays as possible, try and wear him down, even though that’s very tough. We have enough forwards to keep him busy. If we keep playing our game eventually we’ll eventually break through him.”
on Minnesota shutting things down, protecting Harding.
“We know they’re doing a great job trying to block as many shots as possible, but if our game is working we’re going to fine.”
on Wild style
“That’s how they’ve played us all season. We kind of expected that in Game 1 and it’s not going to change. It’s up to us to keep being as tough as we can on their goaltender, get more second efforts and more traffic. We have to keep wearing them down as much as we can.
“We like to think of ourselves as an offensive team that can score in a lot of different ways.
“It’s nothing short of amazing. I have a lot of respect for a guy like that... I read his quotes about not wanting any sympathy, he’s going to keep working, keep playing. You have to respect an opponent like that, especially when he’s going through something like that. Seeing the way he played, the stops he made was pretty cool. We know he’s stepping into that spot light an assuming that responsibility, which isn’t an easy thing to do... but what we want to do as a team is be tougher on their goaltender. We need to do that.”
“That’s a lot to do with their coaching staff over there and the way they play the game, well disciplined, good in all areas. There’s not going to be too many easy games or easy opportunities to score. But we feel comfortable playing that style of game. We’ve propven we can be successful playing that way.”
Playing through adversity like Harding is:
“It seems commonplace in today’s game, especially hockey, to play through injuries and different situations. You have to tip your hat to what Josh is going through on their side. It’s pretty amazing that he’s able to play at the level he does, it’s an inspiration for a lot of people. My personal story would probably be Duncan Keith in the playoffs in 2010. I don’t even know if he missed a shift, maybe one or two, after he lost nine teeth. That’s one thing that was pretty impressive to me.”
“Sometimes when you have bumps and bruises or minor injuries you look to the guy next to you that is dealing with something much worse and it makes it a little easier.”
No mullet for him, just Saad and Kane
“In 2010 Kaner and I got the mullets originally but I backed out the day before the first game. I didn’t want to deal with my mom and dad giving me heck after every game, telling me I look like an idiot. We’ll leave that up to those two.”
“It was unbelievable. During the game we noticed he was out there quite a bit. Then we saw the sheet after the game and he had 41 minutes. It was unbelievable. I remember Dunc and I played 30 minutes at the end of overtime and it felt like a lot. 41 is pretty crazy.”
On the Oduya pass off the glass to set up the OT winner: “I think that was one of the best indirect passes you’ll ever see. I think Johhny saw the play unfolding and meant to do that. It turned out to be a special pass.”
Fighting through Minnesota’s style: “I expected a tight series, low scoring games. Minnesota has always defending the front of their net extremely well. The clean looks through the middle of the ice in their end are going to be hard to find.
“If we want to play a pretty game into that type of traffic it’s going to lead to them having some success. We have to play an uglier game.”
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