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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El Nino strikes in overtime; Wild makes roster moves

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: February 6, 2014 - 11:40 PM

Now you know why coach Mike Yeo says Nino Niederreiter has a “silly hard shot.”

Very impressive final two games before the Olympic break for the Swiss winger, who tonight in a 3-2 victory over Nashville scored his first career overtime winner.

He also assisted on Jonas Brodin’s goal and this came two nights after scoring the Wild’s first goal in a 2-1 win over Tampa Bay.

The Wild, now sixth in the West but still in the first wildcard position because that’s how it worked (see postgame blog against Tampa Bay if you’re confused), is seven points up on ninth-place Phoenix and six up on Vancouver, which sits in the second wildcard spot.

The Wild, which had lost six in a row at the turn of the New Year and looked like it was about to roll over and die with guys like Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jared Spurgeon and Josh Harding sidelined, entered the Olympic break on an 11-4-2 run.

“We’re going the right direction. There’s still a lot of room to get better at though,” said Parise, who scored his 19th goal and 10th on the power play tonight.

The team is now off for 20 days. The five Olympians (maybe four if we learn Friday Koivu has to pull out) will leave for Sochi on Sunday. The non-Olympians will begin practicing again Feb. 19.

Erik Haula and Johan Gustafsson were reassigned after the game. Darcy Kuemper can’t go down because he’s above the 16 games in the team’s final 20 games before the break threshold. Plus, I don’t think he should have his health risked anyway because the Wild will undoubtedly need him after the break.

The one news that did come after the game is now we know why I started to hear yesterday that Jason Zucker wasn’t being reassigned to Iowa. Yeo said after the game that he will have a “minor procedure” and should be ready to rejoin the team after the break.

Read the game story for all the details. Niederreiter turned inside on and shot in between the legs of Swiss pal Roman Josi for the winner. Josi will be Niederreiter’s Olympic roommate, which should be … challenging now.

Very solid last two games for the Wild to enter the break on a winning note after consecutive road losses to end the last trip.

“Really good solid overall couple games for us,” Jason Pominville said.

Kuemper had the yips and looked a little rusty tonight. He said like a wide receiver in football, on Craig Smith’s first of two goals tonight, he was deciding what he was going to do with the puck before he swallowed it. Because of that, he said he dropped the puck.

But he said his teammates played a heck of a game in front of him (outshot Nashville 36-18) and that first goal didn’t faze them. He joked that the three hit pucks by Nashville just happened because he had the angle taken away.

“A little bit of puck luck goes a long way,” he said.

Impressive last five weeks for the Wild.

But Yeo said he wants the Wild to keep climbing and not worry about its cushion, saying, “we haven’t done anything yet. We’ve put ourselves in a good position, but there’s a lot of work to do here still.”

Yeo joked that six weeks ago, when his job was on the line, was a “piece of cake, slept like a baby.” For me personally, all I wanted was for our players to look at me and say he has confidence, we should have confidence. I believed in the group.”

Happy Olympic break everybody. I’ll be back Friday if there’s Koivu news. Remember, there’s an Olympic trade freeze Friday at 2 p.m. until Feb. 23, so there should be little news throughout the Olympic break.

Enjoy the Olympics.

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