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 4, Blue Jackets 2; Skills competition Sunday at 1 p.m.; Sykora waits

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: January 24, 2010 - 8:51 AM

Think of those poor saps that were walking up to the sports book windows in Vegas with 21.4 seconds left because they bet their life savings on the "under" in the Wild-Columbus game.

Then, with 21.3 seconds left, Rick Nash throws a puck on net that I think hit Niklas Backstrom's blocker and deflected in off Kim Johnsson. Then with 3.3 seconds left, Antoine Vermette scored.

Then think of the poor saps that ripped up their "over" tickets because I forgot to tweet that the game ended 4-2 and not 4-0.

(Russo note: We at the Star Tribune do not endorse sports gambling).

Solid game for the Wild tonight as for a change, it started well, scored first, took a lead into the second period. These are accomplishments that happen once in a blue moon for the Wild.

Mikko Koivu scored twice. Antti Miettinen and Andrew Brunette each had an assist, but make no mistake, their forecheck helped create Koivu's second goal. Koivu now has 16 goals -- four off his twice-reached career-high of 20.

Eric Belanger scored his 13th goal -- the Wild's third. Think he thought it would be the winning goal with 30 seconds left?

"No chance," Belanger said.

And, 29 GM's should get fired today.  These 29 men could have had Robbie Earl for jack squat Wednesday when he was on waivers. In the two games since, the former Wisconsin Badger's got two goals -- and now five in 15. I'm no math genius, but that puts him on pace for 27.33333333333333333 goals over an 82-game season.

He also brought speed, physicality and a helped draw a double minor from Derek Dorsett. The Wild's 9-0-1 the past 10 games Earl's in the lineup, and 10-3-2 overall when he plays. He's a difference maker!!!

Jax goalie Steve Mason -- sophomore slump. He hasn't won consecutive games since Oct. 17 and 20! He has one road win since Nov. 19!

Jared Boll showed some heart tonight trying to fight Derek Boogaard with his team trailing 3-0. It didn't seem to have the spark he had hoped. However, the Jackets did hit a couple posts and how would the game have changed if Plus-3 Marek Zidlicky didn't rob R.J. Umberger of the tying goal with a block in the first period?

-- Koivu had his seventh career two-goal game. He has a team-best 12 multi-point games.

-- Backstrom is 15-2-4 with a 1.99 GAA and .929 SP in starts after being pulled all-time. He is 11-0-1 with a 1.72 GAA and .939 SP in his last 12 starts after being pulled.

-- The only part of the Wild's game that was lousy tonight was the power play. 0-for-5. Time for Brent Burns to be put back on the point, I say, although to be fair, power play has been better last three or four games prior.

-- Wild is 6-1-1 in its third jerseys AT HOME(edited);  2-1-1 on Hockey Day Minnesota.

-- I talked to GM Chuck Fletcher and Petr Sykora continues to wait on the sidelines. Sykora's choices are trade, Houston, Europe and retirement. The Wild is trying to trade him, but I believe a trade on the table fell through because the Wild looked to be close to one Wednesday and it hasn't happened.

Lastly, the Wild will have its team skills competition today. I will live tweet at www.twitter.com/russostrib and blog after.

Doors open at 9:45 for autographs with the skills competition starting at 1 p.m. Here's the most updated information with events and schedule. Tickets are $15 at the door with each autograph station $10 (Got questions why no Koivu/Clutterbuck. Season-ticket holders were allowed to vote for two exclusives, and they were the winners). Proceeds benefit the Minnesota Wild Foundation.

I joked the other day that I bet that Nik Backstrom gets conveniently sick. I did talk to Fletcher before the game and he said Backstrom will likely join banged-up Josh Harding and injured Clayton Stoner on the sidelines. He said Backstrom and Harding would participate in the festivities but likely not be in goal for the rapid fire, shootout events.

Here's the reason (Fletcher's got a good memory because he was assistant GM for this, and this article proves I've been covering this league a LONG time and am getting old):

Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)

 
December 14, 1999, Tuesday, Broward Metro EDITION
 
KIDD TO MISS AT LEAST 2 MONTHS;
GOALIE DISLOCATES SHOULDER IN PANTHERS' SKILLS COMPETITION
 
BYLINE: MICHAEL RUSSO ; Staff Writer
 
SECTION: SPORTS, Pg. 1C
 
LENGTH: 967 words
 
DATELINE: SUNRISE --
 
Four days ago, coach Terry Murray said his biggest fear about Monday morning's NHL-mandatory superskills competition was a major injury.
 
Murray's fear was warranted.
Goalie Trevor Kidd, who has had the most impact on the Panthers' success and spot atop the Southeast Division, has been lost for two months and possibly longer after dislocating his right shoulder during the rapid-fire shooting event Monday.
 
Six thousand pupils from 43 middle schools witnessed Kidd's pain after he tried to stop a shot from Peter Worrell. Before the event, Kidd said to the children jokingly, "I just hope I don't pull something."
 
 
 
"I went to poke the puck, and he went to reach it," a shaken-up Worrell said.
"I started skating away and he started screaming. I thought he was just fooling around. I turned back, and I realized he was in some pain."
 
Kidd will have his shoulder reassessed in seven to 10 days when the swelling subsides.
 
General Manager Bryan Murray said doctors might have to perform arthroscopic surgery to determine whether there's further damage.
 
Mikhail Shtalenkov (8-7-2), who was October's Player of the Month for Phoenix and has played well in his three Panthers appearances since the Sean Burke trade, will get the bulk of the action and start against Nashville on Wednesday.
 
Emergency goalie Rich Shulmistra, who has played one NHL game, has been called up from Louisville, but Murray has already worked the phones.
 
"Without a doubt we'll look around," Murray said. "I've made a couple of calls already today just to find out what the market is like. I'm looking for a guy that has played a few games in the NHL that in a pinch could certainly play and play well."
 
The loss of Kidd is devastating to the 16-10-2-2 Panthers. Kidd (13-4-2), acquired in June in an expansion draft-day trade, has been tremendous, ranking fourth in victories, first in save percentage (.932) and third in goals-against average (2.03).
 
"This was our worst nightmare, especially because of how well Kidder has been playing," Rob Niedermayer said. "You go out there, and it's a fun thing for the kids to enjoy -- and somebody gets hurt."
 
Many of the Panthers, who had gone five straight games with a completely healthy lineup, think it was an unnecessary risk.
 
"It's something we shouldn't have to deal with," captain Scott Mellanby said. "There are enough problems trying to stay healthy. I was told a lot of the kids that came today were new fans they were trying to promote. So you have a lot of people here that don't even know the game. I don't know if that is worth the risk. You want to grow the game and all that, but it's a risky thing."
 
"It's just not something that probably should be done," Ray Whitney said. "For whatever reason, we're doing it."
 
For the third time in the '90s and first since the 1995-96 season, the NHL and NHL Players' Association requires each team to take part in the six-event competition, the same one done during the All-Star weekend, to help promote the game and entertain fans. Every healthy player must participate in at least one event.
 
The rapid-fire event is a timed competition in which a shooter tries to gets as many pucks as he can past the goaltender and into the net.
 
"You never want to see something like that happen," said Frank Supovitz, the NHL's vice president of special events. "It's a shame it did. ... In this particular case, you always take a look at the rules and make sure they're what they're supposed to be. We've been doing this for 10 years, and we've adjusted the rules as we've gone along to make sure we minimize the risk of injury.
 
"In any athletic endeavor you're going to have that kind of risk. You engage in that kind of risk in a team practice too. Many players have been injured in practice."
 
The Panthers' biggest gripe is that the NHL and NHLPA prohibit an on-ice practice the day of the skills competition, something Terry Murray and the players say would have loosened them up. Murray says all he would have wanted was a 20-minute practice open to the public.
 
"Whenever you do something like that when guys don't get a chance to warm up, the risk for injury increases," Whitney said. "We should not jump out there and go at it like that. We take normally 15 or 20 minutes of warm up before practice, let alone going out there and trying to hit top speed without even taking four laps around the rink. I'm surprised injuries don't happen more often."
 
Bryan Murray said Mellanby and players' union rep Lance Pitlick agreed to practice, but the Panthers instead chose an off-ice workout after hearing the Tampa Bay Lightning had a grievance filed by the NHLPA after it practiced before its skills competition Dec. 8.
 
An NHLPA source acknowledged the rule but says there was no grievance and that if the 23 players unanimously voted to practice, the Panthers could have, as did the Lightning.
 
"They say that after the fact, after the injury," Murray said. "I guarantee if we did that, we would have gotten a severe warning never to do that again."
 
Either way, Supovitz said the no-practice issue needs to be reviewed.
 
"The question to why (practice is not allowed) and whether that's a good idea is a question," Supovitz said, adding, "It's also unusual to do a skills competition this early in the day. This was done as an educational program for local schools under the direction of the Panthers. But usually the skills competition takes place (in evening, not 10 a.m.), although there's no evidence that had any bearing on this."
 
The injury put a damper on Monday night's Christmas party, but the team vows to respond.
 
"Sometimes life throws you curves," Worrell said. "We'll see if we can hit them."
 
Michael Russo can be reached at mrusso@sun-sentinel.com.
 
 
 
ORGANIZATION: FLORIDA PANTHERS (94%); NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE (94%);
 
COUNTRY: NORTH AMERICA (51%);
 
CITY: PHOENIX, AZ, USA (51%); LOUISVILLE, KY, USA (50%); NASHVILLE, TN, USA (50%);
 
COMPANY: FLORIDA PANTHERS (94%); NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE (94%);
 
SUBJECT: HOCKEY PRO INJURY ORTHOPEDICS (78%);
 
LOAD-DATE: December 15, 1999
 
LANGUAGE: ENGLISH
 
GRAPHIC: PHOTOS 4, Staff photo/Judy Sloan Reich; Big shot, eh? Oleg Kvasha takes a whack in the hardest-shot contest, part of the Panthers' NHL-required skills competition.; (color) POOR KIDD: The Panthers' goalie is fourth in the NHL in wins, first in save percentages.; Kozlov: 4 for 4 in accuracy shooting; Worrell: Three goals in rapid-fire competition.
 
Copyright 1999 Sun-Sentinel Company

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