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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Backstrom, Falk to return tonight against Florida

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: March 29, 2012 - 11:49 AM

Niklas Backstrom, who suffered a painful-looking groin injury early in the first period March 1 in Montreal, will return to the nets tonight against his goalie partner of last year, Jose Theodore, and the Florida Panthers, who have points in nine of their past 10 (6-1-3).

Backstrom was brilliant against Theo and the Panthers in Sunrise on Feb. 23 when he stopped 41 shots and both of Florida’s shootout attempts in a Wild win. It was after that game that Florida went out and made a couple trades to assure a playoff spot and improve on shootouts (like Wojtek Wolski).

Justin Falk, who has missed 10 games with a knee injury, returns and Kurtis Foster will be the lone healthy scratch.

Jason Zucker will be the 45th player to dress for the Wild this season and eighth to make his NHL debut. He'll be the 14th rookie. All those numbers are NHL highs.

Several North Stars alum will be at the game for the Reunion Weekend. If you want to meet many of them, they plan to attend Tom Reid's Hockey City Pub after the game. The schedule of events for the weekend is on the previous blog.

The Panthers look to be playoff bound for the first time since 2000. They haven’t won a playoff round since their Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996 and haven’t won a playoff game since 1997. Think about that: There are freshmen and sophomores in high school who have not seen the Panthers win a playoff game in their existence.

Panthers lifer Stephen Weiss, drafted in 2001 and a player the Wild has long sought, would get to play in his first postseason. It's been a lot of pain in Fla.



Scott Mellanby and Doug MacLean in that picture, which is courtesy of the Twitter account, @jose97luis


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