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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Best first-round ever?; Look at second round; Wild tidbits

Posted by: Michael Russo under Stanley Cup, Wild coaching, Wild off-season news Updated: April 28, 2011 - 11:29 AM

Coming to you from vacation. If you want to get my feelings on the playoffs on a nightly basis like some of you have been emailing me, follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/russostrib. If you follow me there, you would have seen my Masterton rant after Pierre-Marc Bouchard was ridiculously snubbed.

Best first-round ever? Who knows because frankly, I remember asking the same question during last year's first round, too.

I often feel the first round is the best round because the teams are so visibly jacked, the pace is so visibly higher, the hitting is so mammoth and the drama is so tremendous -- compared to the regular season. But it's hard to sustain that level for four full rounds, especially once injuries start to creep in and bodies start to hurt. So slowly the pace does slow a bit.

But this first round was pretty scintillating with the three- and four-goal comebacks and the nine straight nights of overtimes and the entire Vancouver-Chicago plot twist. The Blackhawks rally from 0-3 down, tying the game in Game 6 on a penalty shot where the backup goalie, Cory Schneider, who got the nod over the struggling No. 1, gets hurt. Then in comes that struggling No. 1, Roberto Luongo, in Chicago only to give up the overtime winner for a return date to Vancouver in Game 7? Who could have scripted that?

Then in Game 7, just like the 2010 Olympics, Luongo gets scored on late, goes to the locker room, wakes up a quiet locker room by asking, "Who's going to be the hero?" and the hero that emerges is Alex Burrows, who had as up-and-down game as you could possibly have.

My favorite series was Nashville-Anaheim. The games were fantastic, Bobby Ryan's goal was spectacular, Teemu Selanne's performance said everything you need to know about the ageless wonder and the sentimental guy in me loved seeing Nashville advance past the first round for the first time. Jordin Tootoo became one heck of a story for all the right reasons, and the conclusion was a reward for David Poile and Barry Trotz, who have been one great tagteam since the organization's inception.

Speaking of ageless wonders, Dwayne Roloson. Here's the feature I wrote on him April 1. Game 7 shutout to oust Pittsburgh at age 41? Amazing. Roloson had a couple puck-handling or goals allowed hiccups in the series, but the final product: 4-3, .949, 1.77. Pretty doggone good.

How about Wes Walz on Twitter AFTER Tampa fell down 3-1 in the series: @walz3737: "Gut feeling.....lightning in 7 games"

Here's your second-round matchups:

2011 EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

SERIES I TIME (ET) #1 Washington vs. #5 Tampa Bay Network
Friday, April 29, 2011 7 p.m. Tampa Bay at Washington VERSUS**, TSN
Sunday, May 1, 2011 7 p.m. Tampa Bay at Washington VERSUS**, CBC
Tuesday, May 3, 2011 TBD Washington at Tampa Bay VERSUS, TSN
Wednesday, May 4, 2011 7 p.m. Washington at Tampa Bay TSN
*Saturday, May 7, 2011 12:30 p.m. Tampa Bay at Washington NBC, TSN
*Monday, May 9, 2011 TBD Washington at Tampa Bay VERSUS, TSN
*Wednesday, May 11, 2011 TBD Tampa Bay at Washington VERSUS, TSN

My prediction: Capitals in 7

SERIES J TIME (ET) #2 Philadelphia vs. #3 Boston Network
Saturday, April 30, 2011 3 p.m. Boston at Philadelphia NBC, CBC
Monday, May 2, 2011 7:30 p.m. Boston at Philadelphia VERSUS**, TSN
Wednesday, May 4, 2011 7 p.m. Philadelphia at Boston VERSUS**, CBC
Friday, May 6, 2011 8 p.m. Philadelphia at Boston VERSUS (JIP), CBC
*Sunday, May 8, 2011 3 p.m. Boston at Philadelphia NBC, CBC
*Tuesday, May 10, 2011 TBD Philadelphia at Boston VERSUS, CBC
*Thursday, May 12, 2011 TBD Boston at Philadelphia VERSUS, CBC 

My prediction: Flyers in 6

2011 WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

SERIES K TIME (ET) #1 Vancouver vs. #5 Nashville Network
Thursday, April 28, 2011 9 p.m. Nashville at Vancouver CBC, VERSUS
Saturday, April 30, 2011 9 p.m. Nashville at Vancouver CBC, VERSUS**
Tuesday, May 3, 2011 TBD Vancouver at Nashville CBC, VERSUS
Thursday, May 5, 2011 TBD Vancouver at Nashville CBC, VERSUS
*Saturday, May 7, 2011 8 p.m. Nashville at Vancouver CBC, VERSUS**
*Monday, May 9, 2011 TBD Vancouver at Nashville CBC, VERSUS
*Wednesday, May 11, 2011 TBD Nashville at Vancouver CBC, VERSUS

My prediction: Canucks in 6

SERIES L TIME (ET) #2 San Jose vs. #3 Detroit Network

Friday, April 29, 2011 10 p.m. Detroit at San Jose VERSUS, TSN
Sunday, May 1, 2011 3 p.m. Detroit at San Jose NBC, TSN
Wednesday, May 4, 2011 8 p.m. San Jose at Detroit VERSUS (JIP), TSN
Friday, May 6, 2011 7 p.m. San Jose at Detroit VERSUS**, TSN
*Sunday, May 8, 2011 8 p.m. Detroit at San Jose VERSUS**, TSN
*Tuesday, May 10, 2011 TBD San Jose at Detroit VERSUS, TSN
*Thursday, May 12, 2011 TBD Detroit at San Jose VERSUS, TSN

My prediction: Sharks in 7

* If necessary VERSUS** denotes exclusive telecast JIP – Joined In Progress ALL TIMES LISTED ARE EASTERN TIME 

Couple other things:

1. The coaching search continues to progress. But all indications are this is going to stretch over a period of time. It should also slow down at this moment because management is leaving for meetings til late next week.

Why no rush? I think the Wild wants to see what happens with Phoenix because if the Coyotes move to Winnipeg, there is a genuine question as to whether Dave Tippett will continue to be under contract. Also, Buffalo's Lindy Ruff isn't signed yet for next year, although I hear he loves the new owner and that contract has just been waiting to be signed. Mike Yeo will likely be a candidate and the Aeros are still playing. Detroit assistant Paul MacLean could be a candidate and the Wings are still playing. I hear the Wild will seek permission to talk with Chicago assistant Mike Haviland. I think Haviland will wind up being a short-list, bona fide candidate. Other potential candidates? The Wild may seek permission to speak to LA assistant John Stevens, Montreal assistant Kirk Muller and Atlanta associate coach John Torchetti. I'd also think Craig MacTavish will be interviewed and be a legit candidate, as well as Ken Hitchcock. Hitchcock is presently coaching Canada at the world championships, so that could delay the process, too, since he's over there. Michel Therrien was under contract with the Penguins all year but part-time scouted for the Wild.

 

2. In the final tuneup game before the start of the world championships in Slovakia tomorrow, Canada beat the Czechs 4-2. Marty Havlat, who's playing on the top line with Patrik Elias and Milan Michalek, scored both Czech goals, while Brent Burns, who's paired with Dion Phaneuf, scored a power-play goal and Cal Clutterbuck, who's on a line with Travis Zajac and Antoine Vermette, scored as well. Great stuff on Twitter during the time there from @matt9duchene, like "Just had a little jam sesh on my travel guitar with Brent Burns, wish we had a guy in Denver who could play like him! #wecouldstartaband"

Mikko Koivu (see below) and Mikael Granlund are playing for Finland, Marek Zidlicky with Czech Republic and Dennis Endras for Germany.

3. Chuck Fletcher will talk in the coming days with the agent of Mikko Lehtonen to see if he wants to sign with the Wild and give the NHL a try. The Swedish Elite League star is reportedly being flooded with European contract offers, including a couple high-paying ones in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.

4. The Winnipeg situation is worth paying attention to. There's a last-ditch effort to make Phoenix work in Glendale, while Atlanta is on perilous times. I'm not throwing dirt on either grave, but both these situations do affect the Wild. IF Phoenix moves, I'm hearing Colorado would ultimately wind up in the Pacific and the Wild would be in the Northwest Division with four Canadian teams. You can bet the Wild is not happy about that. If Atlanta moves, Atlanta may ultimately move to the Northwest, the Wild to the Central Division, where it's always wanted to be, and Columbus somewhere in the East. We'll see, but keep an eye on this.

5. Four teams left standing in the USHL playoffs are Sioux Falls vs. Dubuque and Green Bay vs. Cedar Rapids. More than a dozen Minnesotans still playing, including seven on Sioux Falls.

6. Aeros open their second-round series tomorrow in Milwaukee. I wish I could make the trek, but I'm not in town.

7. Mikko Koivu is OK from the below craziness.  

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