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 likely to make changes, but Mike Yeo not tipping hand yet

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: April 20, 2014 - 4:19 PM

Wild gathered at the X this afternoon for video work and a meeting, and then a handful of players went on the ice for a little practice.

Wild returns home Monday night (6 p.m. CT) with the goal of trying to get back into this series with the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs are 12-0 all-time when they’re up 2-0 in a series, … so they’re due.

Coach Mike Yeo wasn’t tipping his hand as far as lineup changes (Justin Fontaine, Dany Heatley and Jon Blum having been the scratches; Wild is 0-3 since Blum came out of the lineup for banged-up Clayton Stoner) or the starting goaltender. Let’s be honest: Darcy Kuemper is likely going to make his first career playoff start after stopping all 14 shots in relief of Ilya Bryzgalov in Saturday’s Game 2 defeat in Denver.

It was his first action since leaving the morning skate March 31. Matt Cooke accidentally let the cat out of the bag today with reporters: Kuemper suffered a concussion in practice – perhaps March 30 in Phoenix, which could explain why I never saw him get hurt (my flight to L.A. was right as the Wild hit the ice the day after its win at Phoenix).

Bryzgalov has allowed 16 goals in the past four starts and was pulled in two of them.

“If I do get the start, I'm really excited,” Kuemper said. “It's a big game for the team and I'm going to do my part and I’m sure everyone else is going to do their part to try to come up with a win.”

If the Wild’s going to get back in this series, it must neutralize the Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Nathan MacKinnon line. The trio combined for 10 points last night.

From the NHL’s morning PR email:

MacKinnon collected three assists in his postseason debut in Game 1. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, his seven points (1-6—7) match an NHL record for points in the first two games of a playoff career, tying Odie Cleghorn (MTL: 1919) and Barry Pederson (BOS: 1982).
 * MacKinnon also became the third 18-year-old in Stanley Cup Playoffs history to post a four-point game, joining Pierre Turgeon (BUF: April 10, 1988) and Trevor Linden (VAN: April 9, 1989). The record for points by an 18-year-old in one postseason is 13, set by Jaromir Jagr in 1991 (PIT: 3-10—13 in 24 GP).
 * At 18 years, 228 days, MacKinnon became the youngest player in Avalanche/Nordiques history to score a playoff goal, doing so in highlight-reel fashion. He also became the sixth-youngest player since 1979 to record a goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: 
YOUNGEST PLAYERS TO SCORE IN POSTSEASON, SINCE 1979
1. Jordan Staal, PIT – 18 years, 213 days
2. Brian Bellows, MIN – 18 years, 217 days
3. Pierre Turgeon, BUF – 18 years, 222 days
4. Patrick Marleau, SJ – 18 years, 224 days
5. Martin Lapointe, DET – 18 years, 227 days
6. Nathan MacKinnon, COL – 18 years, 228 days
 * Stastny now has 3-4—7 through the first two games of the series. He had 3-5—8 in 15 career postseason appearances entering 2013-14.
 * At 21 years, 147 days, Landeskog became the youngest player in Avalanche/Nordiques history to record a multi-goal playoff game. Alex Tanguay (21 years, 200 days) previously held the mark, posting 2-1—3, including the game-winning goal, in the Avalanche’s Game 7 victory over the Devils in the 2001 Stanley Cup Final.
 

For the first time in this series, Yeo will have last change because the team’s coming home.

One would think the Wild will assemble a third line of Matt Cooke-Erik Haula-Nino Niederreiter and give them the task of going up against Colorado’s top line.

Yeo made clear though that he believes that when the Wild’s playing its game, any line and any center can go against the Avs’ top line.

But, Yeo said, the Wild hasn’t been on top of its game.

The Wild must be better with the puck. Players are turning pucks over, and the Avs are exploding out of the zone, which puts Wild defenders on its heels. As Ryan Suter, no forward likes to skate backwards, but the Wild spent the second period skating backward Saturday.

“We’ve got to get more aggressive in our mentality because there’s too much gap, and we’re giving them too much ice,” Yeo said. “We have to do a better job of making sure they’re coming through tight layers.”

On MacKinnon, Yeo said, “He’s playing really well right now, we’ve played against some other great players this year too and we’ve done the job against them. It’s just a matter of resetting and getting back to our game. Getting home, I think, will give us that opportunity.

I wonder if the Wild tried to stick Haula on MacKinnon like a glove. He’s the only Wild forward who can maybe keep up with the speedster. Cooke said, “Obviously I want that [Colorado top line] matchup for me and for my line and for our team. It’s tough when you’re on the road. We’re going to get the last change and if that’s the way that coach wants to go, then I’ll be ready.”

Koivu, who was caught flat-footed on the first three goals Saturday, said, “We recognize the challenge. We’re excited to be home. We’re excited for tomorrow’s game. We know we need to play better. As a team, there’s things we need to do better. We recognize that and that’s our goal.

“We just have to take advantage of coming home and playing in front of our fans and in our building.”

Avs are landing about now. They didn’t practice. Patrick Roy did say Matt Duchene is on the trip and will begin skating Monday. Talk to you Monday. I’ll be on KFAN at 9:15 a.m. and on Fox Sports North before and during Game 3.

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