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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Posts about Wild pregame skate

Wild acquires Chris Stewart, Jordan Leopold; Scandella, Spurgeon updates

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 2, 2015 - 2:59 PM

The Wild has made two moves prior to the deadline, and one came out of the blue because the price dropped dramatically.

Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray, who had been trying to trade Chris Stewart all year long for a huge return, may have overreached at the end. The Wild was able to snag the power forward for a 2017 second-round pick. The Sabres are also picking up half the $465,000 still owed to the free-agent-to-be.

Stewart is a gamble because his commitment, fitness, defensive reliability and work ethic have long been questioned. But when he is engaged, he is an absolute menace (listed at 6-2, 231 pounds) who can score and this is clearly a move to help the Wild compete in the playoffs against more rugged Western Conference teams.

He scored 28 goals as a second-year winger for the Colorado Avalanche in 2009-10 and a combined 28 goals for Colorado and St. Louis in 2010-11, and it has been downhill ever since. This year, he has scored 11 goals and 25 points in 61 games and is minus-30, tied for second-worst in the NHL.

Thirty-two of his 126 career goals have come on the power play. It'll be interesting to see if he plays the No. 1 unit because Thomas Vanek has had a propensity for turnovers, especially the past two games, on that unit. Stewart has 253 points and 510 penalty minutes in 443 games.

Don't know yet who comes out of the lineup. We'll get GM Chuck Fletcher soon, but the fourth line is playing great (Justin Fontaine seems to make every line lately churn) and Jordan Schroeder has brought offense and speed and Sean Bergenheim has just been added to the lineup.

So it'll be interesting how coach Mike Yeo proceeds with a lineup that is playing well, has been fast, hard-working and structured. Also, at some point, Matt Cooke, Ryan Carter and Jason Zucker should return. That's the risk with this trade: The coach may have to mess with four lines that have been going really well, which is a little surprising after Fletcher talked Saturday about not wanting to mess with the chemistry.

TSN, funny enough, had Stewart ready to come on when the trade went down and broke the news to Stewart live on TV.

His reaction: "The Minnesota Wild? Sounds good. ... I'm excited I'll get a chance to play in the playoffs. I had a rough start of the year, and I thought the last 30 games I definitely turned my game around.

"They definitely have a lot of skill in their lineup, so me personally, I'd like to bring that power forward game, bring that grit and get in there, forecheck, create turnovers and just use my presence, go to the net, score some ugly goals."

The Wild also acquired Leopold for a fifth-round pick and Justin Falk, whom sources say asked to be traded.

Leopold was acquired from St. Louis for a 2016 fifth-round pick in November.

Leopold, 34, is most importantly a left-shot that could bring depth in case of injury. Good vision, moves the puck well, suspect at times defensively, good locker-room guy and again would be a depth player to have around for a playoff run.

He has scored 67 goals and 213 points in 677 games for seven teams (Calgary, Colorado, Florida, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, St. Louis and Columbus).

The former Hobey Baker winner won a national title with the Gophers in 2002, scoring 20 goals and 48 points in 44 games.

This letter is courtesy of KFAN's Paul Allen, who received this letter written by Leopold's 11-year-old daughter and read it on the air today.

FROM BEFORE THE TRADES:

Once in Calgary, Todd Richards pulled a phone out of his practice garb and pulled Eric Belanger off the ice for his trade to Washington. Coach Mike Yeo said he didn't bring his phone on the ice today.

Yeo on the trade deadline: "Boring for us. I went into this day understanding and knowing – obviously things could change, but first off we like the team, we like the way that we’re playing right now – a lot of the moves that we’ve done, we did them early. You look at Duby (Devan Dubnyk), it speaks for itself what a good deal that was for our team. You look at Sean [Bergenheim], the two games that we’ve seen him, we’ve been very pleased with what he’s brought. Also looks like a good fit."

On the possibility of trading for a depth defenseman, Yeo said, "[Fletcher] has our support on that. That’s not because of the play because of the guys that are in the lineup right now. We’ve been very pleased with that group (Nate Prosser, Matt Dumba and Christian Folin) and what they’ve been doing and the progress of our young kids. But that said, you have to prepare for injuries and make sure you’re protected that way. We would welcome anything like that."

Stephane Veilleux was assigned to AHL Iowa to create two roster spots.

Also, injured defenseman Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon didn't practice this morning. Everybody else did.

Yeo said there was good news with Scandella and there's nothing structural with this undisclosed injury and nothing to worry about. He said Scandella is feeling better and Yeo is "optimistic" he can play Tuesday against red-hot Ottawa.

Also, defenseman Jared Spurgeon will miss his sixth straight game with what's believed to be a concussion, but he skated this morning, is feeling better and the hope is he can return Thursday in Washington.

Also, the NHL will announce today the Colorado fines for Patrick Roy, Gabriel Landeskog and Cody McLeod.

The Landeskog and McLeod fines will seem insignificant, but remember, there is a maximum players can be fined under the collective bargaining agreement. A non-repeat offender with no hearing can be fined half of one day's pay not to exceed $5,000. So the fines are to bring attention to the rest of the NHL that the incidents were unacceptable and to establish a history with the players for future potential discipline wrongdoings.

Kyle Brodziak on McLeod jumping Mikael Granlund with three seconds left in a 3-1 defeat: "Clearly frustration or somebody told him to go do that because there's no point. What did Granny do? Just shows no class and lack of emotional control or whatever it is."

Koivu didn't bite talking about Landeskog, saying it is what it is and part of hockey and an emotional game.

Yeo on Dubnyk winning NHL First Star of the Month: "Very pleased for him that he could accomplish that. We’ve benefited from his solid play along the way. Very deserving of it. Anytime any player wins any kind of award and gets any kind of recognition like that, there’s a lot of people that helped him along the way. Certainly I think the team and the game they’ve played in front of him deserves a lot of credit for that. But there’s no doubt he’s very deserving and we’re all very happy for him."

Dubnyk also credited the team and was very honored.

I'll be back if there's a trade or after the deadline.

With three straight shutouts over Colorado, the Wild looks to keep rolling in the Mile High City

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: February 28, 2015 - 5:15 PM

UPDATED

For as long as I've covered hockey, in back-to-back situations, when a team is on the road and the next night's opponent is already waiting in your city, the coach always reminds the media of that fact preemptively after the front-end road portion of the schedule.

Tonight, the Wild is that quintessential, "They've been back in Denver waiting for us" team.

Last night, the Colorado Avalanche played in Dallas. The Wild has been sitting in Denver since arriving in the wee hours of Friday morning after its convincing 4-2 win at Nashville.

So the Wild, which didn't practice Friday, should have plenty of energy tonight against the Avalanche, which rallied to beat the Stars in an entertaining game and shootout last night. 9 p.m. CT start time. I'll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show.

Devan Dubnyk will make his 20th consecutive start tonight for the Wild, tying Niklas Backstrom's 2009 team record. He is 14-3-1 with the Wild with a 1.68 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and five shutouts.

In today's paper, I did a story on what Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom have been up to. Here's a link.

The Wild has shut out the Avs in three consecutive meetings this season by a combined 9-0 score (outshot them 111-64). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Minnesota is trying to become the first NHL team to post four straight shutouts vs. one opponent in the same season since 1928, when the Pittsburgh Pirates earned four straight shutouts vs. Boston (12/1/27-1/28/28).

The Wild, 12-2-1 since the All-Star break and NHL-best 14-3-2 in its past 19 games, has won six of eight on the road to climb over .500 on the road (15-14-2) for the first time since being 1-0 with a 3-0 win at Colorado on Oct. 11.

It is 14-3-3 in its past 19 regular-season games in Denver.

In the past eight overall regular-season games between the Wild and Avs, the Wild is 7-1, outscored them 25-11 and have a shot differential of plus-101.

Coach Mike Yeo though is expected the Avs' best after being shut out three times by the Wild. Also, Nathan MacKinnon was benched for parts of last night's game in Dallas, so expected a jacked-up No. 1 overall pick.

The season series ends in Minnesota on March 8 with a 5 p.m. game.

Other tidbits: The Wild has outscored opponents 24-8 in the 19 first periods since Dubnyk’s arrival. The Wild is 26-6-3 when it scores first and has scored first in 12 of 15 games since the All-Star break. … The Wild has killed 36 of 37 opposing power plays since the All-Star break. That's an NHL best 97.3 percent. To put that in perspective, in the 13 games before this stretch, the Wild's PK was 72.2 percent (27th in the NHL over that span).

Stephane Veilleux cleared waivers this morning. He's staying on the roster at least as of right now. If the Wild needs his roster spot because of a trade, it can assign him to Iowa now.

A flood of players were placed on waivers today and will be tomorrow (last day before Monday's 2 p.m. deadline) as teams try to create similar flexibility as the Wild.

The Wild's looking for a left-shot D. As I reported today, Jordan Leopold is one name it's looking at. Not sure how the Wild brass values him, but Tim Erixon was placed on waivers by the Hawks today as they prepare to make a trade. Left-shot D drafted in the first round by Calgary that has bounced around to the Rangers, Columbus and Chicago, so his stock has dropped. But he has NHL experience and wouldn't cost an asset other than the waiver claim money.

By the way, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr attended Friday’s University of Denver-Miami University game to watch the RedHawks’ Louis Belpedio, a freshman drafted by Minnesota in the third round last June.

Sean Bergenheim to make Wild debut as Minnesota looks to rebound in Nashville

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: February 26, 2015 - 1:57 PM

Wild and Nashville Predators tonight on NBC Sports Network. Dave Strader upstairs with us wretches, Brian Engblom between the benches.

Sean Bergenheim will make his Wild debut on a line with countryman Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek (more on this below), Devan Dubnyk will start his 19th consecutive game (more on this below) with Darcy Kuemper riding shotgun and Niklas Backstrom's former backup, Pekka Rinne, getting the nod for the Preds.

On an aside, I had an awful morning. For the first time in my coffee-drinking career, I spilled an entire cup of Starbucks!

So, first off, before I illustrate how damaging that loss was to the lowly Edmonton Oilers the other night, here’s what the Wild is up against -- not only tonight, but three times in the final 22 games this season (to really put you in a good mood).

--The Predators are 26-3-1, including six consecutive wins, this season at rabid Bridgestone Arena and the other night in destroying the Colorado Avalanche tied an NHL record for the most wins by a team through its first 30 home games of one season (26, per the Elias Sports Bureau). So again, the Wild plays the first of three times the rest of the season in Smashville tonight, where the Preds have lost THREE times in regulation in 30 games.

--Renne, the 29th goaltender taken in the 2004 draft at 258 overall, leads the league with 35 victories and owns as 23-3-1 record at home with a 1.84 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

--The Preds are the best team in the NHL with a 41-13-7 record 89 points, a six-point lead in the race for the President’s Trophy.

--The Wild is 2-4-2 in its past eight in Nashville, including one regulation win in that eight-game stretch. In the past eight games here, the Wild is 3 for 22 on the power play.

-- Some other tidbits: The Wild’s penalty kill is 34 for 35 in the past 14 games (11-2-1). Former Predator Devan Dubnyk, who will start his 19th consecutive game tonight (one off Niklas Backstrom’s team record), has allowed 29 goals in 18 games. Jordan Schroeder has five points in his past five games. Jason Pominville has really dried up. The streaky scorer is known to go through droughts, but usually in those cases, he’s getting chances. Pominville has 11 shots and no points in the past six games since scoring goals in three straight games. That six-game pointless streak is his longest drought in parts of three seasons with the Wild.

That Oilers loss the other night was so damaging to the Wild in the standings. Not only did Winnipeg, Los Angeles and Vancouver all win that night, Calgary lost. So the Wild could have gone three points up on eighth.

Instead, the Flames rebounded last night with a win at awful New Jersey, so the Wild is back into ninth place – one point behind the Flames with a game in hand and one point ahead of the Sharks with a game in hand. The Wild’s four back of the seventh-place Jets with two games in hand.

So the Wild’s task tonight is to rebound from losing to the worst team in the Western Conference against the best team in the NHL inside in an arena where the Predators rarely lose.

As I said when the Wild got into the top-8, the final stretch of the season would still have lots of jockeying for position, probably a temporary spot inside that top-8 and a roller coaster of emotions the rest of the way.

Bergenheim was supposed to get into snowy Nashville last night, but there was bad weather both in Atlanta and here, so his Atlanta to Nashville connection was cancelled.

So he woke up at 5:30 and flew nonstop to Nashville from Ft. Lauderdale this morning. After the morning skate, he sat with assistant coach Darryl Sydor to go over every facet of the Wild’s systems for a half-hour.

 

 

So he may be playing on some adrenaline tonight on that Koivu line.

The lines tonight:

Bergenheim-Koivu-Vanek

Parise-Granlund-Pominville

Niederreiter-Coyle-Schroeder (reunited)

Haula-Brodziak-Fontaine

Stephane Veilleux is scratched.

On the line changes, coach Mike Yeo said, “Obviously when you have a change to your lineup like [trading for Bergenheim], it’s going to affect a lot of things. We tried to look at a lot of different scenarios and first off putting a couple lines together that have had chemistry in the past with Nino, Charlie, Schroeds and also Granny, Zach and Pommer.

“Thomas, his game lately, he’s involved in probably six to eight scoring chances every game, so we think where he’s at with Mikko and the way that Mikko’s been playing, that line has the ability to create. But we also think that they need somebody that’s going to be on the puck, that’s going to hound pucks, that’s going to forecheck, that’s going to go to the net, but also that’s going to be responsible at both ends of the ice. We’ll see how it works at.”

We will see. Not sure what I think of Vanek there. I’d put Schroeder, but I think they want to reunite that Nino-Coyle-Schroeder line that was real good in Vancouver (Schroeder to Nino for 2 goals) and Vanek can’t be on the fourth line. And we know by now, Fontaine can adjust from role to role.

Bergenheim hasn’t played since Feb. 12 in Minnesota, a healthy scratch by Florida since asking to be traded.

“He says he’s been trying to do his part in practice,” Yeo said. “Obviously games are a different situation, so we’ll be keeping an eye on that during the course of the game. But at some point we have to make sure we’re playing him in shape here, too, so we might as well throw him right into the fire.”

Bergenheim doesn’t look out of shape. Yeo called him a big guy the other night and I took that to mean tall. He’s only 5-10. But Yeo meant was thick. The guy is jacked and looks to be very well-conditioned and definitely plays a hard game when it comes to battle and finishing checks. He also skates well.

Yeo said, “I don’t think it’s fair for us to expect or demand perfection right from the start. New system, new players. There will be a lot of changes, but he should be able to provide some energy for us.”

Bergenheim said, “It was an interesting 24 hours because I had to try to travel quite a bit (he first went from Chicago to Florida). But the mood is very, very good and I’m very excited to be here.

“I packed a few warm jackets and now I’m good to go.”

On not playing for so long and maybe having to play 18-20 minutes tonight, Bergenheim said, “I’m in good shape. I’ve been training hard. I don’t feel like I haven’t played in two weeks. I feel good. That’s all that matters.”

He’s got the Finnish Granlund-like blonde blow going. In fact, Bergenheim could be what Granlund will look like in 10 years.

Speaking of Finns, Haula played six minutes the other night and was responsible for the second goal largely with mistakes in the neutral zone and the D-zone. He saw his stick in half afterward.

“I talked to him about it, and he’s aware of it and he was not happy with himself on it,” Yeo said. “In that game, he was doing some good things, hit the post, another chance off the rush. But you look at the way our lines are constructed right now, we need him and we need that line to make sure that they’re extremely good defensively.

“He’s still a young kid who’s still trying to learn from that stuff.”

With Fontaine on the right, Brodziak moves to the middle because Yeo doesn’t want Brodziak to have to play his off wing. But there will be times on the left side in the D-zone Haula may take draws.

Dubnyk’s “This is Your Life” tour, which I stole from somebody on Twitter I think (can’t remember where I saw that), continues tonight in Nashville.

We’ve seen him play Arizona. We’ve seen him play Edmonton. We’ve written a ton about his experience playing in Montreal’s farm team in Nashville.

Well, what the heck happened in Nashville, where he played two games, allowing five goals on 29 shots in a 5-4 debut loss to Colorado and four goals on 31 shots in a 5-4 shootout loss in Calgary?

He never played again, was put on waivers and ultimately sent to Montreal.

“My confidence wasn’t overly high at the time of the trade [from Edmonton],” Dubnyk said. “I only got the opportunity to play two games. Unfortunately my first game, I didn’t do a very good job. I was pretty nervous. When I came to Nashville, I think I put way too much pressure on myself. You just can’t perform that way. I wasn’t very good my first game at all and second game was ok and then that was kind of it.

“Carter Hutton was lights out. He earned every start he got. When you watch a guy that’s as good a guy as he is, how hard he worked and how well he was playing, you just try to wait for your turn and unfortunately it didn’t come. Peks came back after the Olympic break and I was the odd man out.”

Expect a motivated Parise tonight. He had an unbelievably frustrating night of knee hockey.

He lost all three games he played last night at Matt Cullen’s Brentwood house.

Cullen’s three boys picked the teams. The teams switched every game. And Parise ended up on the losing team every single time, he said, laughing hysterically.

“But it was a blast. Just awesome. What a great family,” Parise said.

I may be doing my Sunday column this week on Cullen, who’s in the last year of his deal and looking to win his second Stanley Cup with his favorite coach, Peter Laviolette, as bench boss.

Talk later.

Jared Spurgeon placed on injured reserve; My ever-changing trade deadline thoughts

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: February 24, 2015 - 3:02 PM

Afternoon from Xcel Energy Center.

Late update from practice, I know, but I made the mistake I thought I learned a lesson from years ago: Don't write in the blog platform. Write is MS word, then copy and paste. This time I wrote in here, my Pandora script needed debugging or something and it froze my Firefox. Lots of computer jargon I know nothing about, but long story short, my blog needed to be rewritten three-quarters the way through.

As you can imagine, I handled it well. angry

Devan Dubnyk vs. Ben Scrivens tonight as the Wild wraps up a two-game homestand with the Edmonton Oilers.

The Wild is 20-2-1 in its past 23 at home vs. the Oil and Dubnyk is 5-0 this season with a 0.79 goals-against average against his old team. He has allowed four goals in those five games.

Dubnyk has allowed 27 goals in 17 starts with the Wild, which is 13-2-2 since his arrival and 11-1-1 since the break.

Jared Spurgeon is getting better according to coach Mike Yeo, but he won’t go on the upcoming road trip to Nashville and (most likely) Denver. He has been off the ice since getting hurt in Calgary last Wednesday.

Spurgeon has been placed on injured reserve. He can be taken off anytime he’s ready to return. He was placed on IR to open up a roster spot in case of a callup or a trade. Nothing is imminent, I’m told. Just a paper move to buy a roster spot if needed.

Nail Yakupov is out tonight with a groin injury. I went to dinner last night with the Oilers scribes by the way, and I got to meet Matt Hendricks’ parents at the team hotel as they traveled in from Blaine to have dinner with their boy. How did I know it was Hendricks’ parents?

Matt’s dad’s face is identical to his son. Very nice folks, just like their son (well, nice off the ice. Don’t mess with him on the ice. He’s the type of player the Wild needs, but I digress).

Jeff Petry, who missed the past few games with a rib issue, is returning tonight, which is a little surprising since the Oilers will likely trade him by Monday’s deadline … and why risk injury?

As Hall of Fame hockey writer Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal tweeted, it’s not like other teams need to scout him. Hey, maybe he’s trying out for the Wild. I kid, I kid.

In all seriously, I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission tonight to talk trade. As GM Chuck Fletcher told me in today’s Star Tribune here, his main objective going into the deadline is to improve the Wild’s depth with all these injuries. And when he says depth, it could very well mean depth.

On defense, the Wild is one Nate Prosser injury away from having to recall Justin Falk as a left-shot D or miscast right-shot rookie D's Matt Dumba or Christian Folin on the left side (the Wild hates doing that because as young D, the team wants them in the best situation to succeed) or put Jonas Brodin on the left side (and my opinion is the left-shot Brodin is never as good strangely at left D as he is as right, especially next to Ryan Suter. Just my opinion though. Not sure the organization agrees with my belief).

So with Spurgeon going to come back at some point and the fact that likely Folin would come out of the lineup when that happens and be the extra if the blue line is healthy (AGAIN, Prosser is needed to stay in the lineup on the left and has played great for a dozen games now), you really only need to acquire one D that can play games but maybe waits in the wings until needed. So, it wouldn’t shock me if the type of D acquired is a third-pair type of defenseman. We shall see. But I’d be very surprised if the Wild doesn’t acquire a defenseman before Monday’s 2 p.m. deadline, and probably a left-shot one.

Right now, the Wild’s not depending on a Keith Ballard return. If he ever does, it’d be a bonus body, but he hasn’t skated with the team since that one day two Sundays ago and he hasn’t decided if he’s going to return to play anyway.

Up front, same thing. Matt Cooke and Ryan Carter are coming back at some point, and with Justin Fontaine, Jordan Schroeder and Nino Niederreiter all stepping up on three different lines at least as of now, maybe Fletcher just looks for a depth kind of winger.

I was told by a GM a couple mornings ago that the prices right now for even the most mediocre of rentals is a bit ridiculous right now. So maybe the prices come down by Monday.

One thing affecting Fletcher’s decision to make a quote-unquote "hockey trade" similar to the Jason Pominville one two deadlines ago is the cap may not be rising next year. And that’s affecting a bunch of team decisions right now.

So even though some Wild fans are asking me about some of the names out there with term (non-rentals) like Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul, James Wisniewski, etc., Fletcher may not want to delve into a player with term left in the $5 or $6 million ranges. That’s pretty expensive with an uncertain cap, not to mention the fact those players cost assets in return.

We shall see. It’ll be interesting to watch how Fletcher balances the appeal of making a move to maybe put the Wild "over the top" vs. just acquiring extra bodies and allowing this team that has done so much good and been so cohesive this 11-1-1 stretch continue to mature.

Yeo is really guarding against a letdown tonight. “We’ve been harping on it the last few days.”

He doesn’t want the Wild to take its foot off the gas after finally getting into the top-8. A Wild win and Winnipeg regulation loss tonight and the Wild moves into that top wildcard spot.

The Stars are starting Jhonas Enroth though, so bet the over. cheeky

Yeo said more than being in the top-8, “What’s more important to me is we continue to perform at the level that we have been, continue to prepare for every game the way that we have. Sixty-nine points does not get you in the playoffs. The fact that we’re in the top-8 today is not really that relevant. There’s an awful lot of work to be done.

“We have to continue to march forward.”

That passage came straight from the Coachspeak 101 handbook.

That’s it for now. Highlights of tomorrow’s game notebook?

I talked to Darcy Kuemper one-on-one about how he’s dealing with this situation. Marco Scandella is now wearing the cut-resistant Kevlar socks after his scare in Edmonton near his Achilles. Mikko Koivu basically saying proof that goals don’t always show how well you played or not came the other night when he was not happy at all with his game vs. Dallas. And a Gustav Olofsson update.

Spurgeon out again tonight vs. Dallas; Wild can get into top-8 with win; Kuemper trying to stay sharp

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: February 22, 2015 - 1:06 PM

Wild vs. the Dallas Stars tonight. The game is on NBC Sports Network with TSN’s Gord Miller on the call with … … … great Minnesotan Bret Hedican, who won a Cup with Carolina and but is best known as, of course, a former Florida Panther.

“Hedi” was involved in two big Florida trades, coming to the Panthers in the Pavel Bure blockbuster and eventually being traded to the Canes in the Sandis Ozolinsh deal.

Devan Dubnyk vs. Jhonas Enroth tonight. Remember, the Dubnyk era (I wrote a profile on Dubnyk in today’s paper here, and I left a lot of the cutting room floor for later stories) began Jan. 15 in Buffalo with a 7-0 win against Enroth.

The Wild is 12-2-2 since. Ales Hemsky, who typically stinks against the Wild dating to his Edmonton days, may be out tonight. Brendan Ranford had been recalled if Hemsky can’t play. If Hemsky can, Ranford will probably be reassigned.

Wild has won four straight at home against Dallas, is 3-1 against Dallas this year but last got pounded 7-1 there.

For the first time since the Wild’s 10-1-1 post-All-Star break run began, there’s no reason for you or the Wild to scoreboard watch tonight.

If the Wild wins, it’s at least temporarily inside the top-8 for the first time since Nov. 24 without the need of somebody losing.

Coach Mike Yeo said the Wild is aware of the standings, but just “because we’re closer now doesn’t mean we should change our approach.” He said the Wild has done a good job “not being clouded with outside noise” and the standings and he knows the Stars, who are four points behind Minnesota, will be a very desperate hockey team tonight.

They lost 7-6 in overtime last night against Detroit.

The Wild is 5-1-1 since the injuries to Jason Zucker and Ryan Carter (if you include the Vancouver game that they were hurt in during the first period).

No changes to the Wild lineup. The Wild will again be without Jared Spurgeon tonight, who remains day-to-day with what sounds like concussion-like symptoms. So same D tonight: Suter-Brodin; Scandella-Dumba; Prosser-Folin.

Coach Mike Yeo cautioned Dumba after his terrific game in his hometown of Calgary (he had 30 friends and family members there) that often kids take a step back the following game, so Yeo was very pleased with the 20 minutes Dumba played in Edmonton. Same with Folin, who played 16:55 and mostly a necessary regular shift because Marco Scandella missed the second half of the first period to have a wound closed after having his ankle stepped on.

Yeo said of missing Spurgeon, “It’s a difficult player to replace in your lineup. We’re losing a valuable player and a guy that provides a lot to our group in many different roles,” but Yeo said you need guys to step up and the two rooks are certainly doing that.

Yeo said Dumba is a “kid who wants more and he recognized the opportunity with Spurg being out of the lineup and he had himself ready to play the right way.”

Dumba has a lot of confidence in his overall game, not just offensively. He said, “That’s when I play my best hockey when I can be trusted and relied on and can make plays out there. It’s easy playing on a team that’s playing with so much confidence and trust in each other. We have something really good going on right now, and hopefully we keep building on that.”

Folin said he feels in great shape right now and he said that’s a testament to the work assistants Darryl Sydor, Andrew Brunette and Darby Hendrickson put him through while he was a healthy scratch six straight games. He felt in Edmonton he carried the momentum from playing four games in Iowa into that game.

Yeo loves Folin’s ability to defend, execute through the neutral zone and get shots through from the blue line like he did on Justin Fontaine’s first goal in Edmonton.

Yeo said right now they’re going day-to-day with the goaltending.

GM Chuck Fletcher told me the Wild won’t be allowed to get Darcy Kuemper to Iowa on another conditioning stint to get some action before he starts next, so he’ll just have to play.

Yeo talked to him today and told him that especially with not a lot of practice days, “it’s increasingly important for him how he handles these pregame skates, how he handles the extra work when he goes on earlier or after practice. Bob Mason is doing a good job with both those guys (Niklas Backstrom). We have to make sure we’re keeping them sharp. It’s not just the repetition. It’s the habits. Quite often in the pregame spot, you don’t have the urgency you would in a practice.

“He’s mindful of it right now, and we’re just trying to stay on him about it.”

Yeo said there is no plan as to when Kuemper will make his first NHL start since Jan. 6. “We’re going day by day,” Yeo said. The Wild has four sets of back-to-backs next month, so Kuemper will be needed at some point. But as of now, Dubnyk will make his 17th consecutive start tonight.

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