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 returns to St. Paul reeling, down 2-0 to Colorado Avalanche

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild game coverage Updated: April 20, 2014 - 8:44 AM

The Wild may rue the day it coughed up Game 1. You only get so many kicks at the can when you outplay a better opponent, have them on the ropes and hand them the game.

Tonight’s Game 2 recipe against the Avs: good start by the Wild, massive defensive and neutral-zone breakdowns, another dominant night by Colorado’s first line and Darcy Kuemper’s first playoff appearance.

Ilya Bryzgalov was chased after allowing three goals on 14 shots through 31:59. Hardly all his fault. He was playing behind an exposed defense and coach Mike Yeo tried to change the momentum of the game. But Kuemper came in, stopped all 14 shots he saw and will almost certainly start Monday’s Game 3 after tonight’s 4-2 loss to the Avs.

Nathan MacKinnon, the 18-year-old star, scored his first career playoff goal and had three assists one game after having three assists in his playoff debut. He is the fourth player in NHL history with 3-plus points in each of his first two career playoff games (Odie Cleghorn, Newsy Lalonde, Bobby Smith).

MacKinnon’s seven points ties the NHL record for most points in the first two playoff games of an NHL career: Odie Cleghorn in 1918-19 and Barry Pederson with Boston in 1981-82. He is the second-youngest player to record four points in a playoff game at 18 years, 230 days…Pierre Turgeon was 18 years, 226 days when he had four points on April 10, 1988 vs. Boston. He is the third 18-year old in NHL history to record a four-point game in the postseason (Turgeon twice in 1988 and Trevor Linden in 1989).

“Obviously I still feel like a kid,” he said. “I’m only 18 still and I’m not trying to grow up too fast. I’m trying to enjoy this. I’m not the only young guy on the team.”

Paul Stastny, one game after scoring the tying goal with 13.4 seconds left and the OT winner, scored an empty-net goal and three assists and Gabriel Landeskog, the youngest captain in the NHL at age 21, scored two goals. So, 10 points by the top line.

MacKinnon and Stastny each have seven points in the series and Landeskog three goals – three giant reasons why the Wild flew home to Minnesota tonight down 2 games to none in this best-of-seven series. The Avalanche was a league-best 26-11-4 on the road this season. Teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-seven playoff series hold an all-time record of 287-45 (86.4%).

Charlie Coyle gave the Wild a 1-0 lead 4:18 in with his second goal of the series. But 2:02 later, MacKinnon scored his first career playoff goal after a tremendous flash of speed. He took Stastny’s pass at center-ice and erupted like few other NHLers can.

Jared Spurgeon, who had a poor night, and Nate Prosser were put on their heels in a gigantic way, and once MacKinnon did a crossover and cut to his right, Spurgeon got tangled, toppled over and MacKinnon let loose a howitzer past Bryzgalov’s blocker.

In the second period, Jonas Brodin committed an offensive-zone turnover and Mikko Koivu got caught flat-footed in the neutral zone. With Brodin and Ryan Suter backing up as MacKinnon flew, MacKinnon dropped a pass to Landeskog for the snipe over Bryzgalov’s glove.

Landeskog’s second goal also came after Koivu was caught standing still in the neutral zone. MacKinnon flew past both times.

MacKinnon flew into the Wild end and wheeled easily around Spurgeon to create a 3-on-1 down low. Paul Stastny made a behind-the back pass to Landeskog, who buried his third goal of the series into an open net.

“Our forwards have to stop skating backward in the neutral zone,” Zach Parise said. “We get flat-footed, you try to jump at them and they go right around us. We have to stop doing that.”

Mikko Koivu was caught flat-footed in the neutral zone on Landeskog's two goals and Ole'ed in the neutral zone on MacKinnon's goal. Parise was late on the backcheck on both of Landeskog's goals. 

The Avalanche barely had the puck and barely got a sniff of the offensive zone in the first 10 minutes, but that turned in the last half. The Avalanche began to pressure, force some icings, won some draws and Bryzgalov responded with a number of clutch saves late to keep the Wild in the game.

But things imploded in the second. Bryzgalov has now allowed 16 goals in four games.

Remember, Avs coach Patrick Roy made clear before the series started that the Avs have “a lot of info” on Bryzgalov. Avs goalie coach Francois Allaire was Bryzgalov’s goalie coach once upon a time in Anaheim, and Avs backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere was the Ducks’ No. 1 at the time. First goal, blocker side. Second goal, upstairs again glove side.

Here’s the Bryzgalov Q and A postgame:

(What did you see from them and their top line) I don’t know what to say. What do you mean?

(Their top line scored 3 against you. What did you see from them?) They score goals on the rush ...

(Will you feel ready if they come back to you at some point?) All I can is practice and wait. I don’t know.

(You shared a quick moment with Kuemper in locker room. What did you tell him?) I just tell him great job.

(Concerned about your game?) What exactly do you mean?

(You’ve had some tough games here lately. Concern you at all) Not really. Not really.

Kuemper said, “Obviously for me to go in, something had to go wrong. Obviously we’d have to be down or a situation like that. But I was ready. That’s why I was back in the lineup because if they needed me, I was ready to go.”

(any rust?) “No, I’ve gotten a lot of practice time lately. The rust is gone and I feel on top of my game.”

(Just expect to start Monday) “Yeah, I’ll have to wait and hear but I hope so. This is playoff hockey. You want to play. I felt good so have to carry that over into the next game.”

Add about 15 seconds of pause before Bryz answered after each question and you'll imagine how fun that back and forth was. We may have seen the last of him. 

The Wild flipped struggling Spurgeon and Brodin on the first and second pairs. Brodin is so overmatched this season. His turnover led to the second goal and he's getting tossed around like a rag doll. MacKinnon springs away from him en route to Game 1 winner and just look at how he was outmuscled by MacKinnon on the empty-netter.

On Spurgeon, Yeo wouldn’t dissect him but said, “He’s a guy who’s bounced back continually. If he wasn’t at his best tonight, I’m confident he will be next game. That’s the kind of character he is, the kind of player he is. This is not about one guy. It’s about our team.”

 In the second period, Nino Niederreiter and Matt Moulson switched lines. In the third, Yeo reunited the Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line and a Moulson-Koivu-Coyle line.

But the Wild better figure out a way to slow the Avs down in the neutral zone, defend better, or this thing will end soon.

Koivu, Suter and Parise, whom Yeo talked to on the bench after the game (Yeo said the message was between the coach and his captains), all said they’re skating backwards too much, getting caught flat-footed, etc. The defensemen struggled, but Yeo said that’s because they’re making a lot of mistakes in front of them.

Yeo said it’s on the coaches to figure out a way to neutralize Colorado’s top line.

How does the Wild rebound?

“Part of it is being at home,” Yeo said. “Making things a little bit more uncomfortable for them. Part of it is being at home, getting matchups, we’ll be looking to get. And part of it is we still can be better in our game. We’ve been able to shut down really good players all year long. For me, I think you see we’re backing up a little bit too much as far as I’m concerned. I think we’re allowing them to build speed, so we’ve got to a better job with that.

“Part of it is being better in our system, being tighter in our system, being a little bit more in their face when they touch the puck. We’re giving time and space. We want to make sure we’re taking it away. Part of it is also angles. I think we got caught flat footed. That’s usually something we do a better job of.”

Again, how does the Wild rebound?

“You’ve got to get the next one,” Suter said. “That has to be the mindset. You can’t get frustrated. We didn’t play the way we were capable. They played well. They played really well. We can be better.”

Yeo said, “We should get excited about that opportunity to play in front of our fans. Our building is going to be rocking. They did what they were supposed to do. We’ve got to go take care of our business.”

Wild's building will be rocking all right. "SHOOOOOT!"  

Discouraging two games in Denver. Again a reminder how the Avs catapulted past the Wild from a young talent standpoint by stinking for a few years. They're doing this without Matt Duchene. I'm not sure how the Wild catches up. By signing another 30-something free agent? The Wild's certainly proved it's not big enough or fast enough or skilled enough. 

That's it. Very, very early flight so I can get back for availability. Talk to you Sunday.

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