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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Harding does job, but Wild suffers tough overtime loss as Chicago takes Game 1

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: May 1, 2013 - 11:21 AM
Tough loss for the Wild tonight as it put forth a heck of an effort but wound up succumbing 2-1 with 3:25 left in overtime as the Blackhawks took Game 1 of this best-of-seven quarterfinal.
 
I’ve been saying the last few days, but as scary as Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp are, the line that have really hurt the Wild this season has been Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg.
 
They combined for the winner. Andrew Shaw’s hard hit in the Wild end knocked Torrey Mitchell off the puck. Then Johnny Oduya made a pretty stellar pass off the glass over a leaping Ryan Suter. That triggered a 2-on-1, and after Jonas Brodin seemed to wrongly skate at Stalberg, he feathered a pass to Bickell, who was alone. Bickell deked and stuck it under Josh Harding’s left pad.
 
Tough loss in a game the Wild easily could have one. The best chance came in overtime when Jason Zucker, who had one shot, one shot blocked and four missed nets, hit iron for the second time on the night. Crossbar. He then drew a power play – the third penalty Zucker drew in the game – but the Wild negated its fourth scoreless power play with 52 seconds left when Tom Gilbert held Toews’ stick.
 
Lots of coverage in the paper on the Harding emergency start for Niklas Backstrom, who was injured during warmups. You can see video on the previous blog. He seemed to sustain a left groin or hip injury trying to reach for a rebound. Coach Mike Yeo said that threw the staff a “curve ball to say the least.”
 
Yeo had no prognosis for Backstrom, but obviously Darcy Kuemper will need to come up and join Harding, who likely will have to start Friday. There's also a bunch of guys banged up. Clayton Stoner took a hard hit tonight. Matt Cullen seemed to aggravate his knee injury, etc.
 
Harding, in his first NHL start in three months, did everything he could possibly do. He made 35 saves and held the fort several times. Said Parise: "He delivered." The Wild’s D also did a terrific job. Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon combined for 11 of the team’s 21 blocked shots. Suter logged a franchise-record 41:08. Brodin was real good, except for the mistake I mentioned on the winner.
 
The Wild have to figure out a way to regroup from a tough, tough loss. The Parise-Koivu-Coyle line was solid defensively against the Hossa-Toews-Saad line. Problem is the Toews line (Toews was a beast tonight) smothered the Koivu line and gave them nothing.
 
Koivu had a great look in the third on a power play, but Parise and Koivu didn’t have their first shots until late in the second and the line combined for five shots in the game.
 
“We need do a better job getting some end zone time, but they make it hard for you to generate anything offensively,” Parise said. “Our line against them was a lot of neutral-zone play. They didn’t get much either against us. It was two lines that play well defensively. There was a lot of neutral-zone plays, there was a lot of one and done plays. We’ll have to look at the tape and find ways.
 
“They don’t give you a lot, but it is frustrating. We’re trying, we’re working. We feel like a lot of times we’re chasing the puck, but we’ll have to find ways to break through it.”
 
Like I said, the shame is the Wild easily could have won this thing, and against the Blackhawks, you can’t afford to blow chances to win in a short series.

“It’s unfortunate we didn’t get the end result we wanted,” said Scandella, who was great. “But we’re hungry here and we’re going to come back hard. It doesn’t feel good right now, but we know we can play with them.”
 
Check out the paper and startribune.com/wild for all the coverage and Jim Souhan’s column on Harding. I have an early flight back to Minnesota. My gut says they won’t practice with two off-days following an overtime. The Blackhawks are not. But there will be availability, so I’ll talk to you from there.
 
Here are some quotes courtesy of Blackhawks PR:
 
Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville  
 
“That was a heck of a play. Johnny (Oduya) put it up there for a race and Viktor (Stalberg) used his great speed and saw the presence of Bick (Bryan Bickell) coming late with his speed and I think all three guys made really nice plays on it. Good ending to a game that I thought we really got better as the game went on. Seemed like the third period and overtime we started to go a little bit better.”
 
“I thought he (Crawford) stayed with it. And I thought he had a key save right before our score there. He made a big save on a guy in the slot. He seemed big and he got comfortable. I liked the response and it’s kind of the way he played all year.”
 
“I think when we play them that’s the area (the slot) they defend well. We might have been a little bit too on the outside. We gotta put more pucks and more traffic at the net and even though we got some zone time we weren’t getting anything out of it. It’s tough to penetrate that slot and pretty goals might be tough to come by.”
 
Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell  
 
“With their goalie going down in warmup and Harding coming in, I think they had a good plan and we have to tinker some things to get better with our odd-man chances against, but it’s going to be a good series.”
 
“I thought we were going to win in regulation, but we carried it to OT. It was special (scoring the GWG) for this city, these fans and even the teammates to get that OT goal and give us the win.”
 
Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford     
 
“It was definitely a battle. That’s not the way you want to start a game. I can’t remember what time it was on the clock when I got that shot. I wasn’t getting any work, but I just tried to get myself in the game after that.”
 
“Every game is huge. Obviously you want to win the first one to set the momentum and feel good about yourself for the next one. I think, especially, winning in overtime, staying patient and sticking with our game plan…just keep battling, keep battling.”
 
Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo  
 
“Don’t have much of an update for you (on Backstrom’s status). Lower body. Pretty much getting ready to pull up the lineup and post the lineup and sure enough find out that he’s not suited to go, so that was a bit of a curve ball to say the least.”
 
“I thought that we should be confident in the structure and the defensive part of our game. We’ve been in situations like that, playing against good teams. We know that we can do a good job at it (blocking shots). I thought our guys came out with the right focus.”
 
Wild goaltender Josh Harding   
 
“I thought that we played a pretty good game, but obviously came up on the short end. It’s a great hockey club over there. I thought we played good and if we just capitalize on a couple more chances I think that we’re going to be set. Tomorrow is a new day, I take the positives out of this game and forget about the negatives and go from there.”
 
“I just figured that I was in if I took the rest of the warmup and prepared like I was playing. I prepared like I should’ve. Obviously we would’ve liked a better outcome, but we definitely put up a fight tonight and we’re going to come back, put the work boots on tomorrow and get better tomorrow.”  
 
Wild center Kyle Brodziak
 
“It’s a tough situation. I don’t know if many guys saw what happened to him or know really what happened to him. It’s a tough situation, but you have to applaud Josh (Harding) on the way he came in, and in a tough situation play the way he did.”
 
“We played a pretty solid, structured game. We didn’t give up a whole lot and that’s what our goal is going into every game. But like I said, there are things we need to work on to be able to generate more offense and if we keep with the program and work on those things, we like our chances.”
 

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