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 loses shootout but returns home with five points out of eight on road trip

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: April 4, 2014 - 12:28 AM

Disappointing, of course, not to get the extra point in a 3-2 shootout loss, but considering a week ago players like Ryan Suter and Zach Parise were talking like the Wild’s playoff hopes were in dire straits after back-to-back losses against Vancouver and St. Louis, getting five of the remaining six points on this road trip were huge and may have saved its season.

With five games left, the Wild’s five up on Dallas and Phoenix. Dallas has played one fewer game and lost tonight at Carolina. Four of the Wild’s remaining games are at home, which normally would be huge, but the Wild’s been lousy at home lately (very unWild-like 1-2-3 in its past six at the X) and three of the upcoming opponents are powerhouses Pittsburgh, Boston and St. Louis.

So as coach Mike Yeo said, after being road weary after playing eight of its past 10 games on the road, it’s time to refocus and reenergize these final five games.

Couple thoughts after tonight:

1. In the past two games, the Wild has taken three shots to the melon – two in L.A. by Jake Muzzin on Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville, one tonight when Brandon Bollig clocked Zach Parise from behind.

Niederreiter didn’t play tonight supposedly for precautionary reasons. Pominville appears fine and played tonight. Parise returned to the game, but he said after the game he had a “little headache, but I should be fine.”

The only penalties out of this? To Matt Moulson as he flew in to defend Pominville. Other than that, no response from the Wild. I know the Wild wants to win. I get that. But the head shots are alarming, especially because there’s no meat in the Wild lineup to stand up to these players and their indiscretions. Clayton Stoner’s hurt, and coach Mike Yeo has scratched Cody McCormick the past two games and Mike Rupp has played four times since Dec. 31. Brad Winchester’s in the minors.

The Wild feels Rupp’s skating is a big, big problem after offseason knee surgery. He says he feels better than he’s felt all year. Here's a story I wrote on him March 22. The fourth line is playing seven, eight, nine minutes anyway. Maybe it’s time to put Rupp into the lineup in a limited role, play him five or six minutes and on the times you don’t want to skate him a regular shift, you double-shift another winger.

Rupp’s agent Allan Walsh certainly thinks it’s time:

2. Erik Haula scored the tying goal with 1:54 left and had a team-high five shots. That second line though with Haula, Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson was struggling the first two periods and the third line didn’t have much going either, so late in the second, Yeo moved Haula to the third line with Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine and Kyle Brodziak to the second.

Haula scored off Justin Fontaine’s pass and in a large part because Cooke drove the net, which forced the D to open up his legs. Haula fired it through.

If Mikael Granlund’s going to be out indefinitely, this is an issue. The Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle continues to click. Coyle scored again tonight, his fourth goal in seven games. So Yeo doesn’t want to take Coyle off that line. So he’s either got to give Haula another shot or use Brodziak there.

The line was actually much more a threat in the offensive zone after Brodziak moved there, but as you know, Brodziak is not a playmaker and he has two goals in the past 31 games, six in 77 this year.

In L.A., he had oodles of chances, but hit a crossbar and was stoned by Jonathan Quick. Tonight he hit a post and executed a perfect deke into an open net … until Duncan Keith stick-checked him from behind.

“There’s no reason why Brodzy can’t step up,” Yeo said. “This is a guy that’s scored in this league. And his game has been coming lately. That game in L.A. was one of his strongest games of the entire year.”

3. A good sign is getting points in games where you’re not at your best, and Yeo and a number players felt tonight wasn’t their best performance. I personally think they didn’t play that badly. I do think they’re tired. I know I am from all the travel. They’ve been on the road for much of the past 3 weeks and starting Saturday play another three games in four nights, including a road-home back-to-back at Winnipeg and vs. Boston.

But now’s the time they just have to suck it up and get some home wins. They’re 6-3-2 since the Olympic break on the road, but at home, they’ve been pedestrian at best. Time to get some wins.

No practice Friday. Talk to you Saturday.

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