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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Granlund, Niederreiter injured, but Wild rallies for yet another come-from-behind win

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: April 1, 2014 - 9:02 AM

UPDATE: No hearings for either Muzzin hit.

As I keep saying, pick your poison in the West. It’s hard to say the Wild would be lucky to face Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs, but hey, it’s arguably better than St. Louis, which has beaten Minnesota nine in a row.

But maybe it’s good if the Wild heads over to that Pacific bracket, which includes a potential first-round meeting between L.A. and San Jose. The Wild improved to 12-4-5 against the Pacific Division tonight by snapping the Kings’ six-game winning streak with a 3-2 win here at the Staples Center.

It was the Wild’s first two-game winning streak since that five-game winning streak (Feb. 4-March 3) heading into the March 5 deadline. Mike Yeo picked up his 100th victory as the Wild head coach. It was the Wild’s third straight victory in which it rallied from a third-period deficit.

Wild’s magic number is down to 10 and Phoenix plays Tuesday (vs. Winnipeg) and Wednesday (at Los Angeles) and Dallas plays Tuesday at Washington.

Wild’s now five up on Phoenix and six up on Dallas heading into Thursday’s game at Chicago.

The Wild lost two players in tonight’s game to potential head injuries.

Mikael Granlund was hurt late in the second period when he went in for his fifth hit of the night against Jarret Stoll. Granlund, who has a history of concussions (just this year he's taken hits from Connor Murphy, Nazem Kadri and I can't remember off the top of my head, but somebody in Ottawa), had a nasty red mark below his left eye after the game. Nino Niederreiter was hurt three shifts into his night when he was clobbered in the neutral zone by a high, hard hit from Jake Muzzin, who looked to get away with a head shot in the second on Jason Pominville.

Muzzin wasn’t penalized on either high hit. Niederreiter pinballed into Jeff Carter and left the game wobbly.

Yeo didn’t have updates on either after the game other than saying the standard “upper-body” injury line. The Wild has a travel day to Chicago on Tuesday, so injury updates on both are not expected until after practice Wednesday afternoon. If neither can play in Chicago, the Wild has Dany Heatley and Cody McCormick waiting in the wings.

Rookie Erik Haula got a chance to step up in place of Granlund and was elevated from the fourth to the second line with Matt Moulson and Pominville. Pominville set up Moulson’s tying goal against his brother-in-law Jonathan Quick. Haula also drew an assist.

If Granlund’s going to be out for awhile, Haula may have shown the coaches tonight that he can fill that void.

“It’s nice to play more,” Haula said. “It’s unfortunate what happened to Granny. I hope he has a speedy recovery. He’s an important player for our team, but it’s all about winning. I got a chance to step up. It’s a confidence booster for myself and it’s a process. It’s my first year pro, and it’s a process to get going. I’ve taken little steps as the year’s gone and hopefully I can keep taking more steps down the line here.”

Sixty-two seconds later, Mikko Koivu, who is hitting his stride bigtime lately with a six-game point streak and 12 points in his past eight games, one-timed Charlie Coyle’s pass off the wall for the eventual winner.

Zach Parise also scored his team-leading 28th goal and 13th on the power play (tied for 3rd in the NHL) and had an assist on the Koivu winner. The Wild is 18-3-2 when Parise scores and 11-1 when Koivu has at least two points this year. I’m doing a story on Koivu for Wednesday’s paper, which I recommend (although I haven’t written it yet, so maybe it’ll be awful, ha). But Koivu talked to me this morning about how much last year’s playoff weighed on him last offseason and how hard it was for him to return initially after ankle surgery. It was a frustrating time initially, but he really is started to play well. He won 14 of 22 draws tonight, too, had two big blocked shots and two takeaways.

Coyle was a beast, too, with two shots and six hits.

"He's stepping up," Yeo said. "That's what we need. This is a guy that we can't just say he’s a second-year guy. He's a real important part of our team. What he’s shown us lately, we’re going to keep pushing him."

Poor Kyle Brodziak had four shots tonight and eight attempted shots. Good game but still can't score. Matt Cooke had six hits. 

Moulson really impressed tonight. He scored his fifth goal as a Wild, but most notably stood up for Pominville on the Muzzin high hit. Amazingly, Muzzin didn’t get penalties on either high hit, but Moulson wound up taking the extra two by going after him.

“That stuff builds team chemistry,” Yeo said. “Whenever you see somebody who goes outside what’s normal for them and they’re doing it for the team, the way I saw our killers go out on that kill and then for [Moulson] to get that goal, I thought it was great.”

Ilya Bryzgalov made 18 saves and is now 4-0-2 with the Wild with a 2.16 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. With Darcy Kuemper hurt, it could be Bryzgalov’s net for a bit.

So, painful trip to L.A. as the Wild lost three players to injury (two in the game). But very impressive win by the Wild against a great hockey team and a completely healthy hockey team.

Again, doubtful we’ll get injury updates until after Wednesday’s practice. That will also be the first time we’ll get a chance to talk with newly-signed defenseman Christian Folin, who chose to come to Minnesota over more two-dozen NHL teams.

The 6-foot-3, mobile, hard-shooting, two-way, right-shot defenseman from Gothenburg, Sweden, agreed to terms on a two-year, $1.85 million entry-level contract that begins immediately. Folin, 23, a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, will join the Wild on Tuesday night in Chicago, will practice Wednesday and can play in any of the final six regular-season games.

He is not playoff eligible because he’s a free agent signing after the trade deadline.

“Physically, you don’t normally have a young man coming out of college or junior that possess his physical attributes,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “We think he fits perfectly into our defense corps going forward. He’s what we need. We need a little more size, we need a guy that can shoot the puck and it’s hard to find right-shot defensemen.”

In helping lead the River Hawks to the Hockey East tournament title, Folin led UMass-Lowell defensemen with 20 points in 41 games. He scored 21 points in 38 games as a freshman. Prior to college, Folin played two seasons with the Austin (Minn.) Bruins of the North American Hockey League, scoring 41 points in 87 points.

The Wild had to burn a year of the contract. That’s what every team was offering. Basically, it means next year is his first real year of the deal and he becomes a restricted free agent next summer.

“He’s a physically mature man and he’s 23 years old,” said Fletcher. “He’s a very good skater. He’s got size and strength. Physically, we certainly feel he can make the jump right away. Whether he gets in or not will be up to the coaches, but at a minimum we’d like him to come in and practice and join the team and start to make that adjustment to the National Hockey League.”

Fletcher said scout Brian Hunter has been working hard on this for two years. The Wild invited Folin to last year’s summer camp, but he chose not to go to any.

“We’ve made our interest known for awhile,” Fletcher said. “It’s just really hard to find defensemen that possess his size, skating ability. He’s a right-shot defenseman, so there’s a lot of attributes there. It’s great when you can sign a guy like this. We traded our first-round pick last year, we traded two second-round picks over the next three years. We’re adding a real top asset to our group.

“We think he’s a good enough hockey player to play right away [this season]. I’m not saying where he’ll fit,” but Fletcher noted the Wild only has six healthy defensemen, although Keith Ballard may return Thursday, Clayton Stoner’s out for awhile, minor-leaguer Jon Landry’s out for awhile, “we just got [Steve] Kampfer back and [Matt] Dumba’s in junior. I’m excited to burn a year because we need the depth right now, we need more options.”

So, maybe Folin actually gets in a game or two before the end of the season. At the very least, he joins an impressive growing prospect pool of D that includes Olofsson, Dumba, Gunnarsson, Labbe, Seeler, Soucy, de Jong, Fletcher said.

As always, check out the game story on www.startribune.com/wild, the Kuemper injury story with some funny Andrew Brunette stuff and the notebook.

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