Don’t be mad, but you know that Russo’s Rants Q and A I promised for Sunday?
I’m actually going to hold it until next Sunday’s paper because I was able to chat tonight during the second intermission of the Wild-Stars game with Vegas GM George McPhee, in town scouting, about his goings-on lately, the upcoming trade deadline and, of course, the expansion draft.
Basically, McPhee said GM Chuck Fletcher has resigned himself to the fact he’s losing a player.
So, I’m going to write about expansion Sunday (please give that a read), and I’m sure all your awesome questions for the Q and A will still be relevant next Sunday because it falls three days before the trade deadline.
McPhee, Boudreau’s old boss in Washington, absolutely raved about the job his former coach is doing here, by the way.
Also, please give my story on Dave Strader a read. Stader, one of the best people I know, is the Stars play by play guy who’s battling a very rare form of bile duct cancer. He’s returning to the Stars’ TV booth during their upcoming homestand.
Tough loss … to add to a string of hard-fought, tough losses for the Stars lately. They lost for the seventh time in eight games despite outplaying the Wild for large chunks. But the Wild won, 3-1, maybe, depending on how you look at it, making up for a 1-0 loss to Anaheim that the Wild felt it deserved better.
The Wild though won its 38th game, equaling last year’s total in just 57 games.
“That doesn't mean anything to me. I think we've got bigger fish to fry than that,” Boudreau said.
Darcy Kuemper was rock solid with 34 saves to improve to 6-3-3 all-time vs. Dallas.
Erik Haula scored the winning goal and assisted on Jared Spurgeon’s big goal – first 4-on-4 goal of the Wild’s season – in the third period to give the Wild some breathing room after Cody Eakin made it 2-1.
Ryan Suter also scored a power-play goal with eight-tenths of a second left in the first period (the Wild’s 21-5-2 when it scores at least one power-play goal in a game this season). Mikko Koivu had two assists and is now two points shy of 600.
The Wild’s best line was its fourth line of Chris Stewart-Haula-Jordan Schroeder. Schroeder was flying early. Stewart sent a puck into open space for the speedster to catch up to, but he hit the crossbar before crashing into the end wall. Then Schroeder had a shot off a rush stopped by Kari Lehtonen.
But in the second, 12 seconds after Koivu came out of the box, Schroeder wheeled past two defenders, got deep past the goal line but still feathered a pass underneath Lehtonen’s stick to the doorstep for Haula’s 12th goal and a 2-0 lead.
“I saw his stick right in front and said, ‘Let’s give her a try,’ and slid it underneath the goalie’s stick there,” Schroeder said. “That’s what happens when you go to the net. He stopped right in front and got the puck. It was a good goal.
“I wanted to shoot right away, but there were a couple bodies that went down in front of me, so I waited it out. I kind of knew Haulzy was going to the backside, or at least to the net. He had his stick on the ice.”
Schroeder admits he wasn’t delighted about being scratched against Anaheim for Zack Mitchell, who’d I think would be reassigned Friday since Schroeder’s obviously going to play Saturday against Nashville, a team Schroeder roasted in December in Nashville (assisted on Spurgeon’s OT winner, if you remember).
On the scratch, Schroeder said, “I get upset. I want to be in the lineup every single night, I want to be a consistent player in this league. When you get taken out, you’ve got to sit back and look what you can do better, and I did that with some of the coaches and had good conversations and moved on. Tonight was better.”
On the line, which is now centered by Haula with Tyler Graovac in the minors, Haula said, “I think early on, we were going north. We were challenging their d-men. I thought both y wingers had legs tonight, and early on, I was just putting pucks in areas where they could skate and we got some early chances. Then, second period, we got rewarded when Jordan made a nice play. Yeah, I’m happy.”
Kuemper said, “I’ve been feeling good in my last few starts, just tried to keep that going. Got the good results today and a lot of seeing the puck is the guys in front of you; especially the d-men, working hard to keep the guys out of the front of the net and boxing out. Big props to them and it makes my job pretty easy.”
He really had to be solid early.
The Stars are seven back of a playoff spot and were clearly desperate.
“They came out with a big push,” Kuemper said. “We knew they would, they’re a desperate team right now, obviously, on the outside looking in, every point’s big for them. They came out hard and I thought we weathered it pretty well and it allowed me to get in the game right away.”
Boudreau said of Kuemper, “I thought he was by far our best player tonight. He played really good. He finally got rewarded for the effort he's been putting in in practice. To be thrown into games -- coming back off the road and having to play Chicago and stuff -- we have the faith in him. That's why we do those things.”
Asked how he knew Kuemper was dialed in, Boudreau said, “When it's not bouncing out of the glove and he's catching them with authority, I know he's into the game.
The Wild’s now 14-3-2 in games following a loss, including eight wins in a row.
But Boudreau felt the Wild “looked like we were skating in quicksand tonight. We got two more games to the break (so-called bye week, which I’ll talk more about in my Sunday Insider). Maybe they can get a little bit of rest.”
Late in the game, Nino Niederreiter, incidentally, got a five-minute major for interference by upending Patrick Sharp. Boudreau said it was a “weak call,” and it’s pretty clear on replay that Niederreiter locked legs with Radek Faksa and tripped into Sharp’s path.
So I’d presume nothing comes of it.
That’s it for now. Off-day Friday, so barring news, I’ll come to you next Saturday.
I’m planning a Gustav Olofsson feature for Saturday’s paper. Also, Friday at 4:30 p.m. at Hell’s Kitchen, Facebook Live podcast with Jim Souhan, Anthony LaPanta and yours truly. Please come by. It should be a blast.