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's 7-game win streak ends in Winnipeg; Bouchard injured

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: December 14, 2011 - 6:26 AM

Early morning update: From Winnipeg's airport where a Starbucks just past the inaccessible glass from the U.S. departure gates is taunting me, the Wild did scrap this morning's skate. I'll update Bouchard condition once we know it, but a U.S. customs agent tells me he was still spitting up blood and bleeding from the nose when he cleared the "border" last night. Agent says his face looked like he was beaten to a pulp.

Tremendously entertaining game at MTS Centre tonight, and you can read the particulars of the Wild’s 2-1 loss at Winnipeg in the game story and the notebook on www.startribune.com/wild.
Biggest concern after the Wild’s seven-game winning streak (overall and road) was snapped tonight is the health of Pierre-Marc Bouchard. He was driven face-first into the ledge that separates the boards and glass behind the Winnipeg net with 1:06 left by defenseman Zach Bogosian.
Bogosian was assessed a boarding major and game misconduct, and Bouchard left with his nose gushing. After the game, the remnants were still there on the ice and by the locker room – a trail of blood.
Coach Mike Yeo said Bouchard was getting patched up, but an update will come Wednesday. I have heard his face is a mess. Obviously the concern is a head injury because Bouchard has a history of concussions. He returned last Dec. 1 after being limited to one game two seasons ago after his season-ending one three years ago.
If Bouchard is hurt, the Wild may need to call up a forward on emergency conditions unless it absolutely knows Matt Cullen is healthy and can play. Ill, Cullen returned home on a 1:30 p.m. flight today to recoup to hopefully play.
But the Wild has no extra forwards, so you either get Cullen back, call up another forward or dress a seventh defenseman (Nate Prosser).
I’m sure the league will review the incident. Not going to guess on further discipline, partly because I’m usually wrong (never imagined Bouchard would get suspended for the opening night high stick, thought Ryan Whitney would face a hearing for the kneeing of Cal Clutterbuck, etc). I saw this one quickly on deadline and it is a tough play because Bouchard is turning, bent and playing the puck. But, it was a definite violent hit from behind where Bogosian had Bouchard in a vulnerable position and still crunched him.
“I haven’t even seen it yet, so I don’t want to comment,” said coach Claude Noel. "I don't think much of it. I don't have much of a comment. I didn't really see it much. He was bleeding I guess. I didn't go in and look at it (on video) and I don't really have a comment on it. It's a five-minute major so I'm not sure what will take place."
Entertaining game as I mentioned, and the fans helped make it that way.
The crowd, as advertised, was as loud and enthusiastic as you get in the NHL. Rivals Montreal.
The fans cheered the good, booed the bad -- both when it came to their team and the officials, like when referee Chris Rooney waved off a Dustin Byfuglien goal because Kyle Wellwood impeded Niklas Backstrom’s ability to make the save.
“You see they missed NHL hockey,” Backstrom said.
The crowd especially gave it to Dany Heatley.
Either fans booed Heatley because that’s just what you’re supposed to do in Canada or because he asked out of Atlanta umpteen years ago. Coincidentally, Heatley was playing his 700th game against the franchise that drafted him second overall in 2000. He assisted on Guillaume Latendresse’s 5-on-3 goal to extend his point streak to seven games.
But the game was fast, intense and physical. Big fight between Clayton Stoner and Tanner Glass, big hits, lots of scrums.
“They pump a lot of noise into that building,” Yeo said. “It was a good atmosphere and good hockey game for the fan’s sake, I’m sure, but not the way we like to go about our business (he’s talking about the end to end game because the Wild was sloppy with turnovers galore).
“You could see the two teams don’t like each other. I’m sure the next one (Feb. 16) will be very interesting as well. They seem to want to get involved in a lot of scrums after the whistle, so the next time we play against them, I’m anticipating a pretty exciting game as well.”
Said Noel: "I don't know that we don't like them. It's just competitive. I think a rivalry is healthy, it's good. There was a high emotional level. Both teams clearly wanted to win the game. That leads to the dislike. That's what happens and that's okay. They're Minnesota, we're Winnipeg and we're one up on you."
With Cullen sick, Latendresse returned after practicing for the first time Monday.
As coach Mike Yeo said, it wasn’t ideal, but the Wild had no extra forwards and “these were the circumstances we were dealt with.”
Latendresse eased in, playing less than three minutes in the first period, but he topped five in the second and finished with 11. He scored on Mikko Koivu’s rebound on a two-man advantage. It was Latendresse’s fourth goal in his last five games, but the one scoreless game was the one he was concussed in Nov. 10.
Latendresse nearly scored three more times on one suffocating shift later in the period, but Ondrej Pavelec (so good tonight with 34 saves) denied them all. The Jets tied it on Bogosian’s first of the year. It came after he picked off Latendresse’s attempted clear off the side wall and after several close calls at the Wild net.
“It’s always fun to score, but when you lose the game, you don’t have the same feeling,” Latendresse said. “Even if you haven’t played for a month, it doesn’t change anything. We lost the two points tonight.”
Backstrom was outstanding, robbing Kyle Wellwood and Andrew Ladd on one sequence, Bryan Little on another and Jim Slater on back-to-back chances. Pavelec swallowed pucks early, turned away Bouchard’s breakaway stab and gloved down another Bouchard chance.
Cullen’s absence, Cal Clutterbuck’s return and the fact Yeo wanted to slowly integrate Latendresse forced all four lines to be fiddled with.
Fourth-liner Cody Almond centered a second line with Casey Wellman and Bouchard, and Colton Gillies, who had been struggling, broke into the running-well Darroll Powe-Kyle Brodziak-Nick Johnson line.
That’s because Yeo wanted Powe to center Latendresse.
When the third line was reunited late, forechecks again.
As Clutterbuck explained, “We were just turning the puck over too much. We were carrying the puck up the wall with not much speed in the offensive zone instead of keeping it below the goal line where we built our game.”
That meant once stripped, two Wild forwards were trapped and the Jets could come with momentum and speed.
Obviously, the big question is what the Wild will have left with Chicago, the fourth-best offensive team in the NHL, waiting. Tough, tough game on the horizon. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane have combined for 53 goals and 125 points. I’m interested to see the Wild’s legs.
“We consider ourselves a fairly good conditioned team,” Kyle Brodziak said. “As emotional as [this loss] was, we just have to forget about it now and start thinking ahead to [Wednesday].”
I don’t think Backstrom starts, so the question is whether Matt Hackett or Josh Harding starts. Harding had a second straight good practice this morning, so we’ll find out Wednesday morning if he’s good to go.

This hit the cutting room floor for late-edition notebook, so:

Plymouth’s Blake Wheeler, 25, spent three years at the University of Minnesota (2005-08). The Jets forward is ecstatic to see the 14-5-1 Gophers ranked second in the nation.
“Being at the top of the rankings, that’s where that program belongs,” Wheeler said. “It’s refreshing to finally see those guys play with some passion out there and wearing that jersey with pride. That’s what we tried to do.
“That program was bigger than all of us.” …
Wild prospect Zack Phillips was one of seven players cut from Canada’s world junior championships selection camp Tuesday. Brett Bulmer made it through the first round of cuts.

OK, I’m outta here. I have a super early flight back to Minnesota so I can get back for the Blackhawks and Wild morning skates (can’t imagine too many Wild guys go on the ice after this grueling game).

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