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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The Wild and St. Louis Blues practiced at opposite sites Friday. The Wild had an optional, one though where the majority of the team skated. The Blues had a full skate.
Coach Mike Yeo said all players are healthy from Thursday’s 4-2 Game 1 win over St. Louis and there will be no lineup changes.
“I don’t really see a reason to,” Yeo said.
Similarly, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said no lineup changes, although he reunited David Backes and T.J. Oshie with Dmitrij Jaskin and Patrik Berglund moved to the Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny line.
“We’re not making any lineup changes,” Hitchcock said. “We need to play better. We need to play our way at a higher level and if we do that, we'll be in good shape. I think every aspect of our game needs to be amped up a little bit if we expect to beat this team here. They're a real good team and we're going to have to be on top of our game to beat them.”
The Wild expects the Blues to respond and Yeo is interested to see how the Wild handles being up in a series for the first time in his tenure. Remember, the Wild trailed the 2013 series against Chicago, never led last year’s Colorado series until winning Game 7 and never led the Chicago series in the second round.
“It shouldn’t be hard to stay hungry,” Yeo said. “If anything, it should fuel it a little bit more. I think we still recognize the tough challenge we have ahead of us. We got the first game. Rhat’s great. But we there’s an awful lot of work to be done still.
“I would fully expect them to come out and play a real physical brand of hockey, try to impose themselves on us. I expect them to try to throw everything at the net and try to crash the net real hard. I don’t think that’s a real big secret, but we’ve just got to make sure we’re not sitting around watching and waiting to see what they’re going to bring at us. We have our own gameplan that we’ve got to make sure we’re aggressive in how we approach ourselves.
“I think the idea is when you grab the lead, you want to push harder and try to extend it. I think for us to feel any kind of satisfaction or be overly pleased with ourselves, I don’t think you’re going to see that with our group. We know it’s going to be a tough test. All we can do right now is make sure we put our best game on the ice and go all-in with the way that we have to play and see what that gives us.”
Hitchcock said, “I thought they outchecked us. Their determination to defend was greater than ours was. Both offensively and defensively they had more minutes where they made it hard on us. If you look at the 60 minutes, there were ebbs and flows. We were really good in stages, they were just better in more stages. They were much better than we were in the second period and we mounted a pretty big comeback in the third, but I think their checking and compete on the puck was at a higher level throughout the lineup than ours was.
“I think they make you earn your stripes. So, it's our job to earn our stripes. They make you earn your ice whether it's in the D-zone or in the neutral zone, they make you earn your stripes. They check well. They're well-coached, they check well and I thought we had times where we let them off the hook when we didn't have to and that fed the engine that fed the odd-man rushes. We gave up too many odd-man rushes, but it was a lot of time when we had the puck and it was us having the puck in the offensive zone, getting checked off it, turning it over, forcing offense and then boom, they're gone and they got the foot-speed to go and we fed that engine a little bit too much.”
Zach Parise said, “From a mentality standpoint, the second one is so important for us and hopefully we can have the same type of game that we did.”
He said the pressure did not come off by winning Game 1: “That can be erased pretty quickly. We’d love to get out of here with a couple of wins. We did the first part of that last night and now we have to find areas to improve for the second game.”
Parise said, “Anytime you lose the first game in the series, you want to rebound and have a great second game. But at the same time, we can be better as well and we’re looking to put together a better second game.”
That was the theme in the Wild locker room today and clearly the message Yeo gave his team.
Nino Niederreiter: “[Saturday’s] a very important game for us. We know they’re going to come out even harder and that’s exactly what we’ve got to do too. We played some good hockey yesterday, but I think we can still crank it up another level.”
Charlie Coyle: They’re definitely not happy with their game. They obviously have more and we feel we have more too. You can never be complacent. We won. Put it behind us and stay levelheaded here. Bring that physicality back and it’s going to wear them down.”
Jordan Leopold: “We have a tough Game 2. Do we want it? Yeah. But it’s going to be a tough challenge. I’ve been in their room. I know they’re going to make some changes, look at video and do some things. I know what the mentality is and what the preparation’s going to be. It’s going to be right up there. They’re very focused. We need to be able to match it if not be better. They’re going to respond. We just need to stay with our gameplan.”
I talked to Chris Stewart and Niederreiter about Steve Ott, who was doing his best to get under the Wild’s skin last night. That’s Steve Ott. Just YouTube Steve Ott and Josh Harding to refresh your memory of his act.
But Stewart, Niederreiter and Jason Zucker (Ott grabbed hold of his collarbone real obviously) all ignored him, which could have the opposite effect, they said. Ignore him, smile and he and the Blues get more frustrated. Stewart said though don’t think for a second he won’t take an opportunity to return the favor at some point in this series after getting drilled by Ott yesterday.
More on that in Saturday’s paper.
Yeo on Jason Zucker today: “We needed speed to be a factor and I think we saw that last night. Speed for us is not about one guy and I think if you look at that one line, that line played fast all night too. That’s one thing, for sure he’s a guy that has the ability to break plays and push the D back and challenge them with his speed individually. But I think the thing that I was pleased with last night was the speed game that we played with and that’s not an individual thing, that’s how we play the game.”
I found this quote interesting on Zucker: “We’ve all know that he has the ability to finish, to create chances to score goals. His evolution has come and how he’s grown as a player and No. 1 how he plays without the puck. He finds himself in much better positions because of that, but his competitiveness is miles from where it was the first couple of years in here. He recognizes how he has to play the game, there is a conversation, I think we were in Long Island a couple of years ago (Russo note: this had to be last year) and just basically told him there is no reason you can’t play the game like Zach and that should be sort of a mentor for him in how he approaches the game, his tenacity, his work ethic his compete level and doing so, generate a lot more offense because of that.”
The Blues are 1-7-1 after long breaks. Yeo was asked about that: “We had the same break as them, so I wasn’t real concerned. We’ve got a lot of bodies right now. We had a period of time where we had a long break before we played the Rangers and we used that as a template of how not to use the week (chuckled). We kind of changed some things and I felt our guys would be ready to go. Plus, a long break in the dog days of a season are a different story than before you start the playoffs. Obviously you’re going to be pretty amped up and there was no shortage of intensity right from the start of the game. I was certainly pleased with how our timing looked right from the start.”
By the way, those changes he talked about? Basically that extra line of red jerseys were bystanders during a lot of line rushes.
Lastly, a cut and paste of Kevin Shattenkirk today. The always quotable Blues defenseman had a lot of good stuff to say, and you can sense the respect level he has for the Wild.
On the Blues being 1-7-1 when having three or more days off? It's a pretty weird stat. They had the same thing too. It's a matter of getting back into game form. Yesterday was a big game, there was a little bit of nerves there at the start. We just didn't get to our game right away, which ultimately hurt us, not being able to get on top of things early enough. We know what we did right yesterday and how we looked when we did and that's what we have to do tomorrow from the start.
Beating Minnesota? I think you just have to remember what the formula was. We were chipping pucks in, we were hard on our forecheck, the D men were getting shots to the net, that's important, they seemed to be playing passive in their zone, getting into shot lanes, not allowing anything to the inside, it's going to be hard ice to fight for, but when we did it, that's when we're successful. That's what we need to work on.
Hitchcock talks of keeping it simple? They can be a frustrating team at times because they're so patient in the neutral zone and their defensive zone. They're not really letting us into the middle and that can cause you to try to make plays that aren't there or force things. That's when we keep it simple, that's when we stick to our game of grinding things down physically and just trying to get pucks to the net and looking for those rebounds.
We know how to win at home. We still have the advantage on our side that we have a home game tomorrow. I think that's how we're approaching it. The first one slipped away from us, that's for sure, today we came with a fresh attitude. Tomorrow is important absolutely but we can't put too much pressure on ourselves.
Was the time off good for him? I felt good out there. I thought last night was the best I've felt since the injury. For me, that was the most promising thing out of yesterday, I felt more like myself than I pretty much have all year.
Back to the time off? That's part of it. They did it before too. They had three days off. I think when you're playing on the road it's easy not to force things and feel that pressure of having to get that game. I think we let that get to us a little early on. We settled in and that's the most important thing, that's what we have to remember and remember how we looked when we did.
Things you learned from seeing them in person, rather than on film or in previous games? I think just one thing that I've seemed to learn from them is you can't forget they played last year too and they had a pretty good playoff run. They showed a little more experience than maybe we knew they were going to have. They're a great team. They're deep like us, they play a very good team game, they have a goalie in net who's pretty confident and playing great hockey right now. We have to find a way to expose them and be able to pick on their weaknesses and open them up this series.
Puck possession a key to counteracting Minnesota's speed? That and not turning the puck over in those crucial areas, at their blue line, when we have possession in the neutral zone, making strong plays, that's what's key to really not feeding into that team speed they seem to have.
Wild faster than expected? It's the playoffs. They played to the best of their abilities and I think that's what every team does at this time of year. We knew they were fast, they showed it, they proved it, now we adjust to it, we know what it is, we know how to handle it.
I think the one thing we can work to do is with our size up front, we have the ability to get on those defensemen, younger guys, guys who aren't as big and physical as our guys, just really work and make them play hard. I think it's going to be tough for them to win battles against our big guys out front, that's why we have to get pucks to the net and work to find those rebounds because I think we can win those battles.
Getting more shots on Dubnyk? There was the opportunity to shoot pucks early and I was guilty of it early on, was having it on my stick too long and then trying to get it to the net. They were packing it in pretty tight, so when we get those pucks on the point we have to get it there quickly so they can't set their defense again. That goal was a good example of it.
Importance of scoring on Dubnyk? That's important for us. It's important mentally, to try to put it in his mind that we're coming and that's the way we're going to try to score goals. We did a great job last Saturday and we have to realize there's a way to do it. We need to stick with that game plan.
Talk to ya Saturday. I best write for the actual paper now. Plus, I’m going to the Cardinals-Reds game tonight.
The Wild outshot, outhit and outblocked-shot (to make up a word) the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
The Blues pushed hard late and Dmitrij Jaskin fluttered a shot over the net with Chris Stewart pressuring in the waning seconds before the first of two Wild empty-netters, but the Wild held on for a 4-2 victory to take home-ice advantage and put itself in a position to take a stranglehold on the series Saturday at 2 p.m. (NBC).
Lots of great Wild efforts all over the ice. Matt Dumba scored and battled all night, Charlie Coyle played a big boy's game with Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker put St. Louis on its heels early, Sean Bergenheim provided solid shifts from the fourth line, Stewart was physical and blocked a Barret Jackman outlet that led to Dumba's goal, Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line had a solid game, the defensemen looked good, etc. Wild scored two power-play goals (one was empty-net by Pominville, and gave up one shorthanded goal, the first shortie against since Jan. 3).
The Wild, 1-9 on the road in the past two postseasons, snapped a seven-game Game 1 losing streak with its first Game 1 win since the first-ever Game 1 way back on April 10, 2003, against Colorado.
The Wild was especially strong in the second period, holding the Blues to four shots and none in the final 8 minutes, 32 seconds. The Wild jumped out to a 1-0 lead 2:47 into the game on an awesome goal by Zucker.
With the Wild on a line change, Zucker caught Zbynek Michalek off guard by turning on his jets and flying into the offensive zone. Zucker took a tight-angle shot, Jake Allen kicked the rebound right to him and in one motion, Zucker sped to the other side of the net with Allen out of position and tucked the puck inside the post with the puck sticking to his blade like it was glued there.
“That guy's a speed demon there,” Allen said. “Good play by him. Wish I could have controlled the rebound a little bit better, but it was a good move by him.”
The Wild played an OK first. Five or six good chances, but a lot of one and done’s in the offensive zone and sloppy in its own zone. But in the second, after Matt Dumba scored his first career playoff goal on a power play, it was all Wild.
“They outplayed us in the second,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They were quicker on pucks, they were faster in the zone. We took some penalties that gave them some momentum, gave them a chance to rest. We didn’t build on the good first period.”
Hitchcock said you have to play simple games in the playoffs, and when the Blues got frustrated being kept to the outside, they played a “very complicated game and it made us look slow.”
The Wild, on the other hand, looked fast for large chunks of the game. Even in the first, the Wild was able to get going with speed and that was especially the case in the second when it sustained pressure in the offensive zone.
Things got hairy in the third when Jaden Schwartz scored on a redirection, but Mikael Granlund scored with an empty-net. That was big because Alex Steen scored with 58.7 seconds left. Finally Jason Pominville scored with an empty-net to seal the deal.
Devan Dubnyk picked up the win with 19 saves in his debut. The Blues are now 4-13 in the playoffs and as I wrote in my gamer you can read on startribune.com/wild, the pressure is squarely on them now after their past playoff losses.
“We have to leave this one behind and take the good things out of it but move to the second one,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “We know the further it’s going to go the tougher it’s going to get. We have to enjoy this one for a couple minutes and start to prepare for Saturday’s game.”
Coach Mike Yeo said, “That’s a good start for us. I think we have to make sure that we use this game, we look at the video and there’s certainly some areas where we know we can be better. But a lot of good things to take from it, for sure.”
Dumba had a great game, and not just the goal. He battled all night. Yeo said, “He’s a strong kid. He’s a competitive kid, and certainly not afraid to go into the corners. He’s got the skating ability to escape and help us execute in certain situations, but he’s got that competitive nature that’s a huge part of it too, especially against a team like this. It’s one thing to say you want to execute, but they’re going to find a way to create some turnovers and you’re going to have to find some opportunities to separate guys from pucks. That’s not an easy team to do it against.”
Dumba, during his celebration, said some words into his left elbow. Dumba was coy about what he was saying and said he may tell us after the playoffs.
Here’s some of David Backes’ thoughts:
“They came out and played a solid road game and we needed to capitalize on a few more chances, create scrums around their net with loose pucks. We just didn't get to the inside enough. The result is they win the special teams battle by a goal and a 2-1 lead before the empty-netters.
“I think we got better as the game went along. I don't know if it was nerves or too much time off or what. We didn't bring our 'A' game from the drop of the puck and they were able to score a goal early and then add a power play goal after that. Combination of staying out of the box... I've got to block that or Petro's got to block that; Jake can't see it. We'll take blame and blame where it's due and need a much better effort on Saturday. But the good thing we know it's in this room to bring that better effort.
“I think it's a conscious effort by us to go set up shop in front of their net. We finally did. Schwartzy gets a nice tip and scores a goal there from getting there. That's what we need to do. We can't do it again until Saturday, but one game's in the books. They get a 1-0 lead. Now's the time for us to make a few adjustments and find a way to win the next one.
“He made all the saves he was supposed to and on some he shouldn't. The power play goal he can't see because we're in lanes but not blocking pucks. The wraparound, (Zucker) gets around there pretty quick. He makes a pretty good play.
“You get down one at home and you hope to pick it up a notch and that'd be a wakeup call. It almost took until the third period until we finally got our legs going and played our brand of hockey. We had great chances and created o-zone time, looked more like our game and we needed that for a full 60 in order to win games against this team and another chance on Saturday.”
Lots more in the paper from Chip and I, and quotes in the game story from Zach Parise, Dumba, Dubnyk and Yeo.
Good win. Lots of series still to go, but great start. Talk to you after Friday’s practice. By the way, I'll be doing a 2 p.m. live chat on startribune.com before Game 3 Monday.
Afternoon. I’ll be on Rosen’s Sports Sunday tonight on Ch. 4 and on KFAN at 10:15 a.m. Monday (Vox in the Box with Paul Allen).
The Wild held an optional practice at Xcel Energy Center today in preparation for Monday’s big regular-season home finale against the Winnipeg Jets. Win in regulation, and the Wild clinches a playoff spot. Win in overtime, and the Wild would need the Los Angeles Kings to lose in regulation at Vancouver to clinch a playoff spot.
Sixteen skaters, including Jason Zucker and Matt Cooke and excluding captain Mikko Koivu (scratched cornea), and goalies Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom practiced.
The Wild still sounds as if it’s planning for a Cooke return Tuesday in Chicago. It sounds like the hope is Zucker can return Thursday in Nashville. Coach Mike Yeo said he honestly doesn’t have a plan, but Zucker hopes to get one or two games and Yeo said, “I don’t want to throw him into the playoffs in Game 1 having not played any game.”
The Wild isn’t practicing Wednesday in Nashville, but a Thursday return would give Zucker three consecutive morning skates to prep more and two games before the playoffs. I’m not sure you want Zucker’s first game coming against the rugged St. Louis Blues in Game 82.
For the first time Sunday, Zucker really ramped up the contact. Assistant coach Darby Hendrickson battled with him throughout practice, so Zucker said how he feels Monday will be a big indicator as how his week should go.
Yeo didn’t have an update on Koivu today. But the captain who missed last night’s game is expected to play Monday. If not, Yeo said the Wild will have a Plan B
Yeo did say regardless of Koivu playing, Erik Haula will be given a chance to respond from his poor game (a shootout loss) last night against the Detroit Red Wings. Yeo met with Haula this morning.
So if Koivu plays, I’d think Jordan Schroeder will be scratched because one would assume Ryan Carter needs to play against the big, physical Jets. If Koivu doesn’t play, Schroeder would likely play.
This is conjecture.
Yeo said, “I know that Haula can play better. I just want to get him to the level that he was playing at two weeks ago. I know it’s there. I know he’s capable of it and I know we can get him back there.”
Haula was such an important, impressive piece to the Wild’s postseason last year that Yeo badly wants Haula to get back to that level so he can play him this postseason. Right now, his game doesn’t warrant it.
“It would be easy to take him out of the lineup [Monday],” Yeo said. “But sometimes you have to make decisions based on the bigger picture. Sometimes those decisions you have to think a little bit deeper. We want to give him a chance to respond and see if he can get his game up to that level because we know what he’s capable of and we know how effective that can be in the playoffs.”
If I had a dime for every story I’ve written this year with Haula falling on the knife, I’d probably have … a dollar.
He did again today: “I know what it is and the things that I do well and when I don’t play well the things that I tend to do. Maybe as not as big of a guy and whatnot, I have to really focus on the compete part. It’ll be there next game for sure. I’ll make sure I bring that, the extra efforts.
“Everyone competes. But just those little things stick out. A good example was the penalty I took [Saturday], that was probably my worst shift of the game. I know it was a bad shift.”
Play against Winnipeg, and a player has no choice but to compete. So this will be a huge test for Haula to show Yeo something.
On wanting to be in the lineup in the playoffs, the former Gophers two-time leading scorer said, “Everyone brings something different. I just want to get back to that. I feel like I get that extra drive when the playoffs start. I’ve always been like that. Not to say that this year’s going to be like last year because last year was obviously top of the line, but I want to definitely be a big piece when we get there and be in the lineup.”
The Wild has the most points in the NHL since Jan. 15. It has won a franchise-record 10 in a row on the road. It had won five in a row overall, including big wins over St. Louis, Calgary and L.A. It took four days off and it has seemed to lost its mojo.
“If there’s anything we’ve done well over the past stretch, you put the previous result behind you and get ready for the next game,” Yeo said. “It’s tougher to do with losses than it does with wins.”
Yeo just wants the Wild to do all the things in Monday’s game that helps the Wild get to its game. You can’t just go on the ice and expect it to be there, he says.
“We know what’s at stake for them, we know what’s at stake for ourselves. We know it’s going to be an intense game. Our third period [against Detroit] was a much better indication of how we have to play the game, but it’s how we approach the game that’s going to be important,” Yeo said.
Yeo said all week he tried to guard against a lost desperation level that naturally may come with a cushion and the fact there’s no motivation anymore about being able to catch the second- or third-place teams in the Central.
“We’re stuck in between a little bit and that’s the way the last couple games have played out,” Yeo said. “We’ve got to invest in the game.”
I talked to Thomas Vanek a lot about his around the world shootout move this morning, and I’ll squeeze that into Monday’s newspaper.
On Monday, Vanek said, “We just need to get back to our game and controlling the game. After those four days off, I don’t know, I don’t think we lost anything, but we wanted to win so bad to clinch a spot that sometimes when you think too much it goes backwards.”
He said those days off will help the Wild in the long run, but now it has to get back to the mindset of just playing well. “We didn’t worry about [being so close to the playoffs] the last two months. We just knew we needed to win and play well. We have to get that mentality.”
See you on Rosen’s tonight and talk to you tomorrow.
Frankly, there has been no better comeback story in the NHL.
A year ago at this time, Devan Dubnyk was playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League. Today, he has become the toast of the NHL for turning the Wild’s season around an incredible run of success since being traded to Minnesota on Jan. 14.
The Wild workhorse goalie, who will start his 36th consecutive game tonight (35th in a row for the Wild) against the New York Rangers, has allowed two goals or fewer 26 times. He has allowed 57 goals in 34 starts, one fewer than the Wild allowed in the 14 games before he arrived. He is 26-6-1 with the Wild with a 1.70 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, which includes a crazy 14-1-1 road record with a 1.44 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.
Behind the scenes, it took a ton of work to resurrect his career and become this year’s feel-good NHL story.
If you didn’t read here, I wrote today about how Dubnyk has put himself in the conversation for the Hart and Vezina Trophies. In fact, Bovada has him as the fourth-best odds to win the Hart (15/1)
The Bill Masterton trophy is the award given annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. The Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has chosen Dubnyk as this year’s Wild nominee.
Last season, Dubnyk was basically run out of Edmonton. He was dealt to Nashville, played two admittedly poor games and was traded to Montreal after the Olympic break and immediately assigned to Hamilton.
During the playoffs, Dubnyk was so far buried on the depth chart, the Canadiens permitted him to leave the team and return to his wife and infant son in Edmonton so he could be a husband and a dad.
“It was crazy. It feels like last year was so long ago now,” Dubnyk said this morning after being informed of the honor by the two Wild beat writers. “The most important thing was getting that break in the summer, really getting a chance to reflect on last year, think about what happened, what could I have controlled and what couldn’t I have controlled?
“The most important thing for me is I wanted to take the mindset of realizing that if I would have played better, I wouldn’t have been in that situation, and not think that I didn’t get a fair shake or wasn’t treated fairly somewhere. The thing is if I would have played better hockey, I wouldn’t have ended up in Hamilton.”
Last summer, the NHL allowed a free-agent interview period for teams. That turned out to be perfect for Dubnyk.
His agent knows Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett well, and Coyotes goalie coach Sean Burke, like Wild goalie coach Bob Mason, always liked Dubnyk’s game from afar.
Burke and Dubnyk had a long phone conversation.
“To have them put full confidence kind of just allowed me to start from square one and feel good about what I had done and really try to forget about that period of time,” Dubnyk said.
Off the ice, Dubnyk said, “A lot of it was mental. I’ve always been comfortable as far as my summer program and conditioning. I think I got on the ice a little more early on. And then to have that opportunity to go to Vail and work with [former NHL goalie] Steve Valiquette [on a new head trajectory technique] was important for me and also going to Arizona early and talking to Burkie and starting that early.
“The reflecting part – during the season] you don’t have a chance to think about it. It’s not a lot of fun and you’re just kind of stuck in it. You go to the rink every day and it’s kind of the same old, same. You don’t have a chance to sit back, but once I was able to get away with it and get back with my family, it gives you the opportunity to really just look back on the entire situation and go through it and understand what it was that happened and what I could do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Now, he’s come to Minnesota and was immediately embraced by his teammates. It helped a ton that he showed such commitment by flying all night after the trade to start that first game in Buffalo when the Wild so needed something different. The next day, after that 7-0 win, a lot of teammates also took note that there he was at J.P. Parise’s funeral even though he had his entire life uprooted and his wife and son were still in Arizona.
This afternoon, I am filling in for Dan Barreiro on KFAN from 3-6:30 p.m. One of my guests is Zach Parise. I pre-taped the interview because the interview is running at 5:55 p.m. and he has a game tonight.
“I remember playing against him, scoring on him a couple times before he got here, I remember that,” Parise said, laughing. “Other than that, I didn’t know much about him at all. So I was surprised and happy we traded for him because I knew he was a big guy, and it’s just been a really good story.”
Parise also said how well he’s fit in, saying, “He’s a really easygoing guy, very easy to get along with. You’ve got a guy like [Niklas] Backstrom, you can’t talk to him on the day of a game. It’s like you don’t even exist.” He said, kiddingly, “I don’t know how he lives his life like that. So it’s kind of refreshing to have someone you can joke around with in the locker room before the game.”
Dubnyk said he is enjoying everything about being here.
“I’ve been trying to do that the whole way through,” Dubnyk said. “You want to stay level. You don’t want to get too high and think too much about it, but at the same time my approach from the get-go this year was to really try to enjoy and embrace every opportunity that I got. That continued when I got here, just taking those days in between games to just enjoy the wins and enjoy the feeling that we have here and what we’re doing because it is a special thing, and that’s made it that much more special. It’s not like I’m trying my best to pretend nothing’s going on here. It’s been fun and I’m enjoying it, so it’s just going to get more exciting from here on out.”
In 2013, Josh Harding won the Masterton Trophy.
The Wild’s all-time nominees are Harding (2013-14, 2012-13), Clayton Stoner (2011-12), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (2010-11), Guillaume Latendresse (2009-10), Kurtis Foster (2008-09), Aaron Voros (2007-08), Marian Gaborik (2006-07), Wes Walz (2005-06, 2000-01), Alexandre Daigle (2003-04), Dwayne Roloson (2002-03) and Richard Park (2001-02).
As I mentioned, I am filling in for Barreiro today.
Besides Parise, my guests include Super Troopers/Beerfest, etc. actor/comedian/writer/director Erik Stolhanske, Edmonton Journal hockey writer Jim Matheson, Rangers play-by-play guy Kenny Albert, Minnesota United coach Manny Lagos and the Wild’s Kevin Falness will be in with me as well.
I’ll also be on Fox Sports North tonight to talk about the Wild, Dustin Byfuglien, Dubnyk and the Wild’s upcoming schedule and potential playoff opponents if the Wild makes it.
Lineup the same as has been reported all week.
Coach Mike Yeo said today that Matt Cooke’s conditioning after so much time off still needs to improve, so the first “realistic goal” for Cooke to return is likely next Tuesday in Chicago.
The Rangers are awesome on the road. The Metro leaders are a road win for its 26th to break a team record. They are fast and good, so the Wild will have to beware the first 10 minutes tonight to make sure the inevitable rust from four days off doesn’t kill them.
Yeo is worried about an emotional letdown after two big wins and just wants the Wild to get back to that desperation level it was playing with every night.
Also, after four days of hearing how good they are and after four days of so much talk that they’re already in the playoffs, Yeo wants to make sure his players remember they’re not yet.
Yeo met with the six potential fourth-liners down the stretch, tonight’s fourth line of Ryan Carter, Kyle Brodziak and Jordan Schroeder and scratched Erik Haula and Sean Bergenheim and the injured Cooke to explain that they all have arguments as to why should play down the stretch, but if they’re not, it is incumbent on them to have good attitudes, support the rest of the team, not create problems and work hard.
He doesn’t foresee problems but wanted to get ahead of it and explain the situation.
“It’s healthy for a team to have competition,” Schroeder said. “It pushes guys. But at the same time you don’t want guys being upset and negative around the locker room. You want guys to be upbeat and positive and trying to help and support each other.
“Good teams have depth. It’s difficult for everyone from the coaches on down to make decisions when guys are playing so well and the team’s playing so well. So if you’re in, play your butt off and try to stay in the lineup. But things can change night to night.”
I wrote a ton about Devan Dubnyk and Zach Parise in the game story, so I’ll try to touch on some other stuff from tonight’s come-from-behind 2-1 shootout win over the Islanders.
On an aside, funny story, but I met a person the other day that said, “I love your blogs.” I laughed and said, “How about the articles?” He goes, “What articles?” Yes, I write those, too. That's what I'm doing when I disappear on Twitter every third period.
I just thought that was funny, and on a night like tonight where I spent the majority of the gamer talking about Dubnyk, I don’t want you to think I’m completely out to lunch if I don’t touch on him as much in here. Start reading the articles, too, if you don’t (ha). I try to make this more of a supplement.
Obviously, Dubnyk continues to be the Wild’s MVP and lifted the Wild to yet another gigantic win tonight. The Kings just keep winning, so the Wild stayed five points up on a playoff spot with eight games left. Winnipeg blew a 2-0 lead in Vancouver and lost 5-2.
That means the Wild is three up on the first wildcard spot.
I knew the Wild had a travel delay out of Toronto last night, but I didn’t realize until after the game that the Wild got to its hotel at 3 a.m. I think the Wild kept that to itself in order to make sure that the Wild’s potential fatigue wasn’t part of Jack Capuano’s gameplan. Didn’t matter. The Islanders always come out hard and home and they had the Wild firmly planted on its heels in a first period in which the Wild was outshot 16-5 and out-attempted 32-9.
“First period, we were turning pucks over like crazy, turning pucks over in front of their defensemen, making hope plays and forcing plays and allowing them to counter back with their speed,” Yeo said. “You can’t play with good structure when you’re turning pucks over like that.”
But Dubnyk, the rock star, kept the Wild in a scoreless game.
“They’re big on their starts and they try to overwhelm you and sometimes on the road like that, it’s important to just survive, just get through that first wave and gather ourselves,” Dubnyk said after his 37-save effort. “Exactly what we did.”
The Wild started to play much better in the second, started to get some chances on Jaroslav Halak, who didn’t have to exert himself early, started to come with speed. Halak made a nice save on a deflected Thomas Vanek (his eight-game point streak ended) shot and a great save on Jason Pominville off a Parise setup.
But with 23.7 seconds left in the second, the moment a penalty on Mikael Granlund expired, John Tavares jammed in the game’s first goal.
But Yeo altered his lines in the third to create some offense and the Wild responded by buzzing shift after shift for eight or nine minutes. Parise and Pominville played with Mikko Koivu, Granlund played with Nino Niederreiter and Chris Stewart and Thomas Vanek and Charlie Coyle played with Jordan Schroeder (more on him in a sec).
Finally, Pominville found Parise in front, Halak stopped Parise’s first shot and Parise scored his 29th goal on his rebound. Parise scored 29 last season, so he’s a goal from his personal-best with the Wild. He was great again. Goal, shootout winner, four shots, four hits, four blocked shots (huge one in last minute).
The Wild got to overtime and Dubnyk was great again, especially on a robbery of Johnny Boychuk.
“I can’t even count the times that guy’s scored on me in the American League and even when he was in Boston, so I was lucky I could at least return the favor a couple times,” Dubnyk said. “It probably would take about 10 times before I could get him back on all the goals he scored on me.”
In the shootout, Dubnyk wasn’t beaten on three attempts and Parise’s 39th career shootout goal was the difference.
“I’ve seen that before. Just never happened to me,” Parise said of his post and in goal.
10th straight road win to extend franchise-record and 14-1-2 on the road under Dubnyk. He is now 14-1-1 on the road in 17 starts with a 1.44 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.
He is now 3-0-1 with a 1.20 GAA and a .967 SV% in the second of back-to-backs since being pulled Jan. 20 at Detroit in his first try with the Wild in such a situation.
YES, HE WILL START BOTH RARE BACK-TO-BACK GAMES THIS WEEKEND AT HOME AGAINST CALGARY AND L.A., AND WE DON’T EVEN HAVE TO ASK YEO!
“He deserves this story right now and deserves to be talked about. It’s a guy you want to cheer for,” Yeo said of Dubnyk.
The Wild now has eight wins when trailing after two periods. That’s fourth-most in the NHL.
“We shouldn’t get in the habit of it,” Ryan Suter, who logged 32:04 of ice time, said. “The past two weeks, we’ve been coming out slow and finding ways to win at the end, which is a good thing to have. But we don’t want to make a habit of it.”
Dubnyk said, “We’ve won games where we’ve absolutely dominated, we’ve won games like this. But we always find a way to gather ourselves and get our game going and get the important goals. We just find ways to do it in every way imaginable. Road wins are huge in the playoffs.”
The Wild has won once on the road in the past two playoffs, so this is big the confidence the Wild has on the road. And if the Wild makes the playoffs, it’ll start on the road barring a mathematical miracle.
Finally, Schroeder. Scratched in eight straight because of a number’s game. He played his first game since March 6 tonight because of Kyle Brodziak’s minor upper-body injury.
Schroeder’s speed was a threat all night, and after starting on the fourth line with Erik Haula and Sean Bergenheim, he was elevated to the third line, played on the Wild’s one penalty kill and played in overtime.
“He brought a lot of energy, he brought a lot of speed,” Yeo said. “I do think that part of our [problematic] start is the game was happening fast for us and he was a guy that was thinking the game and playing the game at the speed it was going out there.”
That’s pretty impressive for a guy who hadn’t played in 2 ½ weeks.
“Every time he was on the ice, he was bringing some momentum to us, he was having some good shifts and he earned more opportunity through the game,” Yeo said.
Even though I liked Bergenheim’s game much better the past two games, I’d have to think now if Brodziak can play this weekend, Schroeder would stay in and Bergenheim would come out. But we will see.
The Wild is off Wednesday. I’ll write a follow and I’m actually staying in New York for the day and will be back Thursday. Rachel Blount has Thursday’s practice and I will be doing another podcast with Jim Souhan Thursday afternoon at the Liffey in St. Paul. You can also listen at souhanunfiltered.com.
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