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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Wild motivated to force Game 7 vs. Avs

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate 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.”

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