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 looks to pick up where it left off in sunny So. Florida

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: February 23, 2012 - 12:06 PM

Afternoon from sunny, hot South Florida, where the Wild visits the Florida Panthers tonight. Both teams are desperate for a W, and the Wild hopes it hasn't gotten stale since beating Boston, 2-0, when it last played on Sunday.

Niklas Backstrom, coming off a 48-save shutout, will start in goal with Matt Hackett as the backup. He will face Jose Theodore, who played for the Wild last year.

Josh Harding will not join the Wild tomorrow in Dallas.

He had a minor injury, which the Wild says is why Hackett was recalled. He had an MRI, which was normal and felt better at yesterday's practice. Then, he got sick and is still not better, coach Mike Yeo said. 

Lots of rumors running rampant about Harding because he is in the last year of his contract. Does he make it past the Feb. 27 trade deadline without getting dealt? We will see. Toronto is the one team right now very vocal that it needs goaltending help.

But, again, Harding's situation is not why he's not in South Florida. He was hurt, and now he is sick, and that is the truth.

Yeo said there's a possibility Hackett starts tomorrow in Dallas. Hey, he's proven he can play. He is 2-0 in three appearances, including once when he backstopped the Wild to a win in relief of an injured Harding in San Jose, once when he backstopped the Wild to win in LA when both Harding and Backstrom were ailing. And, the Wild hasn't won in Dallas since 2003, so maybe it should change things up.

Yeo didn't want to talk about Dallas though because he noted the Wild is 0-6-1 in the front end of back-to-backs, and he surmised maybe it's because the Wild keeps looking ahead to the second game.

Justin Falk will sit tonight. By the way, the Wild will announce playoff pricing later today and next year's ticket information as well. I will update blog later with that stuff.

BankAtlantic Center is a very special rink for a lot of Wild players.

This is where Cal Clutterbuck was called up a few years back when Marian Gaborik hurt his groin playing hackysack. Clutterbuck arrived with a carry-on bag. He never left.

This is where Marco Scandella made his NHL debut last year. He was also supposed to only be up for a game, but Brent Burns got suspended for butt-ending Steve Bernier in the face and Scandella played the next game in Tampa and stayed a few weeks.

Scandella turns 22 today, and I was sure to throw him under the bus in front of his teammates.

This is also where Dany Heatley was named MVP of the 2003 All-Star Game with four goals, an assist and a shootout goal.

They're also facing the team I covered from 1995-2005. Mike Yeo asked me if I was putting money on the board. I told him I have to remain objective.

Speaking of which, I chatted with Jose Theodore for awhile, which was surprising because he doesn't usually talk on game days. He's having a good year in Florida, especially lately. He's given up four goals in three starts since returning from a knee injury.

Funny story, in Pittsburgh last season, Theodore was riding the bike before shutting out the Penguins. He called me over and started telling me he wanted to retire in Boca and asked for suggestions on where he should look for homes during the upcoming All-Star break.

I told him which community I'd move into if I had the cash. He listened to me. Theodore now lives there now and will be there the "next 20 years."

John Madden skated this morning but won't play with a foot injury. Former Wild video coach PJ DeLuca is also the Panthers' video coach now.

Stephen Weiss plays his 614th game for the Panthers tonight, a franchise record. Funny this happens with me in the barn because Radek Dvorak broke Robert Svehla's franchise record for games against Minnesota in 2010.

Weiss, whom Chuck Fletcher tried to trade for three or four times, has been here throughout the incredible turnover. There were some hilarious moments along the way, like when Mike Keenan told him after a game in Minnesota that he better be the Panthers' best player the next game in Chicago or he was sending him back to junior (Plymouth).

Before he even had a chance, Weiss shows up to the United Center and his bags are packed. I called GM Rick Dudley, who was scouting in St. Louis to get comment on the team sending Weiss back to junior.

He goes to me, "What the heck are you talking about," then sped from St. Louis to Chicago to intervene. Weiss never was sent back to junior.

This morning, the Panthers presented Weiss with articles from his draft and also his first-ever game as a Panther against Pittsburgh (in which he scored). They gave me copies as well. Here's one of them:

 

 

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