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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Matt Cullen's season may have ended in Wild's loss at Buffalo

Posted by: Michael Russo under Vikings draft, Wild game coverage Updated: March 24, 2012 - 10:28 PM

Another game, another casualty for the Wild.
Besides the loss – a 3-1 defeat to Buffalo – Matt Cullen told me after the game he broke his right index finger when he blocked Christian Ehrhoff’s shot with 4 ½ minutes left in the game. The injury and reaction afterward looked so similar to Mikko Koivu’s broken finger last year.
It’s amazing how hard some shots are that can be absorbed by players if they’re hit in the right place, yet so often these little flip shots hit the glove and boom, players around the league are lost with broken fingers or hands. It just hits that perfect soft spot in the glove.
Obviously, if Cullen’s right, he’s likely done for the year. Regardless, the finger was blue and he couldn’t bend it after the game, so the Wild will have to recall a forward on emergency conditions for Sunday’s game in Washington (4 p.m., NBC Sports Network, tell your friends).
Every game, it’s somebody else lost. Last game it was Jared Spurgeon to a concussion.
“I’m so sick of talking about injuries, it’s ridiculous,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We still have to play hockey games. It stinks to lose Matt Cullen, it stinks we have guys out of the lineup. But we have a job to do. Let’s do it.”
Immediately after I tweeted the Cullen news, I got fans clamoring for Jason Zucker. As I wrote in my notebook in Sunday’s paper, I’m not so sure if the Wild signs him now that it’d want to toss him in the NHL and have him burn a year of his three-year deal. If me, I’d think you’d want to sign him to start next year and then have him sign an amateur tryout so he can play in Houston.
Also, he’s not healthy. He probably shouldn’t have played in the NCAA regional. I don’t know how the heck he had seven shots in the loss to Ferris State because during the week, I was told he could barely hold his stick with an elbow injury. So regardless if they sign him now, I can’t imagine they’d rush him into the lineup and risk his health.
So I’d think we’d see another forward. Chad Rau perhaps, you know, because all he does is score game-winning goals.
As for tonight’s game, which snapped a two-game winning streak (read the gamer and the notebook and the Sunday column on the Draft, incidentally), terrific first period against the fiery-hot Sabres, outshooting them 16-11 and outscoring them 1-0 on Steve Kampfer’s bury of a Kyle Brodziak pass (seven points in the past four games for Brodziak).
The Wild passed terrifically, got pucks deep, shot from everywhere. It had nine shots in the first 6:51 … and nine in the final 40 minutes.
After I’m sure the Sabres got Ruffed up by Lindy Ruff during the intermission, they were a different team in the second, the Wild was on its heels, Thomas Vanek tied it 1:12 in and only Josh Harding’s masterful goaltending kept the Wild in the game until Marcus Foligno’s go-ahead, power-play goal early in the third.
The Sabres crashed the net, got three forwards deep and the Wild’s D were under attack the last 40 minutes, but especially in the seconds. The Wild’s outstanding first-period execution went MIA after the first 20.
Not a good game, but for you draft lottery cynics out there (aka sportswriters), the Wild’s fifth-worst in the NHL and three from second-worst Edmonton.
Matt Hackett will likely start the game in Washington. His sticks didn’t arrive on his flight from Chicago this afternoon, so he used Niklas Backstrom’s stick in warmups and wrote “Hackstrom” on it, he told me after the game. He said his sticks did eventually show though.
Brett Bulmer’s Kelowna Rockets are down 1-0 in the second. If they lose, Kelowna would be down 2-0 – or two more losses until the Wild may call him up if it has an emergency situation.
Saint John keeps trucking along in its QMJHL playoff series with Cape Breton. Charlie Coyle and Zack Phillips, two Wild prospects, have combined for eight goals and 11 assists in the two games.
Sick, as the kids say. Talk to you from D.C.


 

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