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.

Also find Russo on Facebook.

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Posts about Wild pregame skate

Erik Haula to make playoff season debut tonight in Game 2; How do you pronounce Granlund?

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 3, 2015 - 12:54 PM

The Wild will attempt to avoid a third consecutive 0-2 series' hole to the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at the United Center.

The big news of the morning is Erik Haula will make his playoff season debut tonight. Scratched in the seven previous playoff games and three of the final six games of the regular season, Haula will play for the first time since April 11 because Justin Fontaine is out with a groin injury.

Kyle Brodziak will move to right wing and Haula will center the line 5-on-5 with Matt Cooke. Brodziak will take some draws on the right side, too.

"I am excited," said Haula, who found out by seeing his name on the board after arriving at the rink this morning. "Like I said yesterday, that’s the only feeling I really have is excitement. I’ve been working hard but it’s not about me. It’s about me coming in and helping. It’s not about what happened before, it’s about this team and playing as well as we can tonight."

Today's Star Tribune coverage:

My advance on tonight's game and the Wild's confidence it can avoid that hole

Jim Souhan's column on Jason Pominville

My notebook on how Haula wanted to play

Blake Schuster's story on former Conn Smythe trophy winner, veteran Brad Richards

Michael Rand's Sunday Q and A with Devan Dubnyk

Coach Mike Yeo had a number of options to replace Fontaine, but Yeo said he wants Haula's speed to be a factor and the ultimate decider was the fact that Haula scored three goals and two assists and was plus-4 against the Hawks in last year's playoffs.

"I’ve said it before, it wasn’t about beating up on Haula at that time," Yeo said of scratching him to start the playoffs. "There were other guys that just deserved to be in the lineup. And we were choosing to only dress 12 forwards.

"But what we’d like to see from him is his speed has to be a factor. The way he’s skating through the middle of the ice, the way he’s supporting pucks, the way he’s challenging the defensemen and pushing them back. But also, more than anything else, it’s his battle level, it’s his defensive game. Those guys are going to be on the ice against good players and they have to make sure they’re up to that task."

Haula was the guy Yeo took out in Chicago on April 7 when Jason Zucker returned, so a lot of this was a numbers game.

But Yeo wants Haula to compete harder, use his speed more, bring energy and be strong in the dirty areas.

Not much else going on.

The Wild is 0-7 in this arena the past three postseasons, "Far more important for me is it would be nice to even up the series and go back to Minnesota with home-ice advantage. I think obviously it would go more from a big disadvantage to a little bit more of an advantage in our favor. I’m not getting caught up in all that stuff. Most important is just to make sure that we’ve got the right focus coming into the game. That’s when we’re at our best when we’re focused on our process. We know how important that end result is to us, but how do we go about trying to obtain it – that’s got to be our focus right now."

Charlie Coyle also said the Wild's not intimidated by the giant arena, loud fans, etc., etc.

“It’s not even a factor," Coyle said. "We clinched a playoff spot in this building a week or two ago, so it’s really just a mindset coming in, clearing your mind, coming in and saying ‘we’re a good team here.’ We’ve been good on the road of late and we’ve got to carry that into it. We’re not focusing on that too much. It’s a new game, a new day and we’ll treat it as that.”

One area the Wild has to pay attention to is how quickly the Blackhawks counter, not even after turnovers, but shots on goal. I haven't seen a team so good at turning a shot on goal or blocked shot into a rush in a snap.

Devan Dubnyk mentioned that yesterday, in fact.

I asked Yeo about that this morning. How do you guard against this? "I think there’s a couple things – one you have to make sure that when you have an opportunity to shoot the puck, you’re getting it off quickly. Especially their defensemen, they like to front a lot of shots which leads to a lot of blocks and those blocks are in pretty good structure and position where they can counter attack from that. It’s the recognition – we still have to shoot pucks. It’s not like we can all the sudden just be afraid to shoot pucks. We have to make sure we’re getting pucks there. And if we do get it by them, we’ve seen a few pictures already where we are in behind their defensemen and we’re all alone with the goalie where we can create an advantage if we get it off a little quicker and do get it to the net. If that’s not there, the recognition of making sure we’re not forcing it – that’s actually how we scored our first goal of the game. we didn’t have a play to the net and their defensemen were coming up and we were able to get that puck down low and establish some puck control from there."

Zach Parise said, "We learned a lot from that first game. We want to come out and establish our pace right away, play the game we want to play and just try and win the first period.”

Parise also talked about the progression of Mikael Granlund's game: "Since I’ve been here it’s been pretty impressive. He really came into his own last year in the second half of the year and the Olympics. despite a couple of injuries he’s had he’s played some really good hockey. He competes hard, he’s fast, he’s good at carrying the puck through the middle and that really helps out his wingers when he’s able to skate up the middle of the ice and kick it out to the sides, it gives us a little extra room.”

BY THE WAY, the great Doc Emrick has been getting lit up by some of you by the way he pronounces Mikael Granlund, like GRAHNLOOND. That's actually correct. We asked Granlund today and that's how it's pronounced in Finland. We all Americanize it and frankly he said, "The thing is, I don't really care. You need to ask my mom."

Emrick told Granlund, "The good thing is it doesn't affect your play one way or the other." Granlund said, "Exactly. Who cares?"

Dubnyk is looking to rebound.

Here's some of his comments from this morning:

Sticking to their game plan no matter what: “We’ve done a good job of rolling along here regardless of what happens. Game 5 against St. Louis they got a power play goal in the first 10 minutes of the first period and we didn’t sow down, we stuck to the plan and ended up taking that game. We certainly want to try and get a lead but we understand that we need to chip away and stick to our game regardless of what happens.”

On getting a split, and ultimately winning the series: “We have to believe in ourselves and in our game plan and realize that we’re fully capable of winning a game, not just hoping to win it. We feel that if we keep getting better we’ll have some success.”

His first playoffs: “It’s been a lot of fun. Exciting times. I’m happy that we had the opportunity in the few months leading up where every game was so meaningful and we really needed it to get that experience of parking games, win or loss, forgetting about them and moving on to the next one. That was so important down the stretch. Not having playoff experience, that experience down the stretch has really helped me so far.”

Playing in the hostile environment of the United Center: “It’s a different challenge. You know that if they’re yelling at you and giving you a hard time it’s usually because you’re doing a good job. This has always, right from when I first came into the league, one of my favorite places to play. It’s such a great atmosphere and always an exciting game to play. You always know you’re in tough against this group. Hopefully I can create some good memories here.”

Coming back in games: “You try not to think too much about the situation. You don’t think about needing to score three goals, you think about getting to your game. It was really impressive the way we came out in the second period and started playing exactly how we want to play, using our speed as much as we can.”

Wild’s ability to bounce back after a loss this season: “It’s not thinking about losing back to back games. Not approaching it as a bounce back game, We’ve been so good down the stretch at approaching and preparing for every game, whether it’s a five or six game win streak or we’ve lost one. We just prepare the next game the exact same way. It’s important, when you have a group in here that’s as good as we are, that you don’t change anything. You think about bouncing back or needing to come out with a great effort. We know the effort we want to give every single night and we just continue with that regardless of what happened the game before.”​

Finally, Game 1 is only HOURS away; Who to follow on Twitter

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 1, 2015 - 1:39 PM

Finally, Game 1 between the Wild and Chicago Blackhawks is upon us.

It only requires just a little more waiting on your part for the Central Division time slot of 8:45 p.m. CT for the opening puck drop.

By now, unless you didn't read a word this week, you know the lines and lineups.

No changes, but if you don't know, click the scouting report links I'm about to post for the projected lines for both teams.

Today, at 5 p.m., I will be doing a podcast with Jim Souhan live from Chicago. You can listen at souhanunfiltered.com, iHeart Radio or subscribe on iTunes.

Also, at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Jim and I will be doing a podcast at the Liffey in St. Paul. Our special guest will be Wild owner Craig Leipold.

Also, at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, I will be doing a live chat at startribune.com/wild. Please join and pepper me with questions.

I will be on KFAN today at 4:30 p.m.

Twitter follows tonight:

Team Star Tribune: @russostrib, @souhanstrib, @schustee, @CarlosGphoto, @fromjefferson

Some Blackhawks scribes: @MarkLazerus, @TramyersCSN, @ChrisKuc, @BrianHedger and @ESPNChiPowers.

Here's today's Star Tribune coverage:

Here's my Zach Parise/Patrick Kane feature on how they're very different players with different styles and personalities, yet they have a ton of respect for each other and it gives some insight into how both tick.

Here is Jim Souhan's column on Iron Men Ryan Suter and Devan Dubnyk

Here is the notebook on how the Wild wants to keep up with its good discipline, on Dubnyk being a finalist for the Masterton, on the sick bay and Las Vegas odds on this series.

Here is the Wild scouting report

Here is the Blackhawks scouting report

Preseries video with Michael Rand and myself

Here's some coach Joel Quenneville stuff from this morning:


"Minny is probably he most disciplined team as far as positionally aware of denying either access through the middle of the ice, through the zone, to the middle fo the net. as good a checking team as you’re going to see, that we’ve faced all year. we know how tough it is to generate shots, chances, and the willingness to be patient and improvising when you can. you have to be aware of cautioning yourselves: when you try to create, you’re vulnerable. so let’s make good decisions with the puck."

On Jason Zucker: "He’s played well, very dangerous player, excellent speed, use him in a few ways. but his speed jumps out at you. has some presence aswell, dangerous off the rush. whether they use him offensively or defensively, he’s a factor."

How "Minny" has changed: "In the last three years they’ve improved each and every year, they’re deeper up front, very balanced on the back end as well. improvement in team game – goaltending’s improved as well – they’ve progressed."

Here's Devan Dubnyk on being a finalist for the Masterton: "That’s a completely different side of it compared to the Vezina [finalist]. It’s been a big story and a big part of my life over the last year turning it around, so to get that recognition, I’m certainly honored."

Here's some Mike Yeo, who opened his presser by eating a doughnut (so he's loose):

On Mikko Koivu the last two series against Chicago: It’s always a tough challenge and he’s going to face some of the toughest challenges. He’s always going to face good d pairings or whether it’s Toews or a checking line to try to match them up, he’s going to be in a role that’s going to challenge him at both ends of the ice. We’ve been pleased with what he’s done so far. I think when you come out on the short end of it like we have in a series, you’re always looking for a reason. We haven’t scored enough goals. I think the biggest difference really is there has been times where he’s done very well in his matchup, making sure he hasn’t lost in very difficult matchups, but we’ve gotten beat elsewhere in our lineup and that’s where we have to see if we’re different this year.

Biggest gut-punch the way the series ended last year? "That was a tough one, yeah. That still stings a little bit that one. You know, I think there’s some good things that we can take out of that series, but bottom line was we still fell a little bit short. Even if we won that game there’s still no guarantees. We said the last couple of days, ‘We haven’t won a playoff game in this building.’ So obviously if we’re going to win this playoff series then we have to find a way to do that."

What convinces you that you can beat them this time? "Again, there’s nothing that’s convincing here. I’ve said this for the last couple of days, there’s a lot of reasons for optimism, there’s a lot of reasons why we could feel good or feel confident. We have a quiet confidence about us and we know what we’re capable of. We also know what we’re up against. For the last several months we’ve been at it pretty good and we’ve had to be at our best. And with that we’ve been probably pretty close to the best team in the league, and obviously with respect to the other teams out there, but the bottom line is until we get into this series, until we find something different, or prove that something’s different, then nothing’s changed. We have to change something here along the way."

Wild, Blues look to take command of series; Matt Cooke in, Jori Lehtera "50-50"

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 24, 2015 - 1:24 PM

The Blues got taken to a clinic in Game 3 and responded more than impressively in Game 4.

We'll see if the Wild can do the same thing tonight.

Good day from St. Louis, where Game 5 is tonight at 8:30 p.m. This is the third consecutive playoff round in which the Wild has been tied 2-2. The Wild lost Game 5 on the road twice last postseason (it won Games 6 and 7 in the first round to beat Colorado) and has lost five consecutive Game 5s since 2003.

Scenario is simple: Wild win, it can close out the series at home Sunday. Wild lose, and it must avoid elimination Sunday and force a Game 7.

I'll be doing a live podcast from St. Louis with Jim Souhan today at 4 p.m. It can be heard at www.souhanunfiltered.com, iHeart Radio or easiest by subscribing for free on iTunes.

I'll be on KFAN at 5:15 p.m., KARE 11 with Dave Schwartz tonight at 10 and also on Bucky Gleason's TV show in Buffalo at 5:40 p.m. CT.

Pay attention at 6 p.m. today. We'll find out if Devan Dubnyk is a Vezina finalist.

You can tell the Blues expected the Wild to blow up its lines tonight. On the Blues' locker-room marker board before Game 1, the lines were set and exact.

Today, it read:

Parise-Granlund-Pominville

Niederreiter? Zucker?-Koivu-Stewart

Cooke? Carter? Fontaine? Vanek-Coyle-???

Bergenheim-Brodziak-???

Suter-Brodin

Scandella-Spurgeon

Leopold? Prosser?-Dumba

The Wild didn't blow up the lines though. The only lineup change expected is Matt Cooke in for Sean Bergenheim, meaning

Parise-Granlund-Pominville

Zucker-Koivu-Stewart

Vanek-Coyle-Niederreiter

Cooke-Brodziak-Fontaine

Suter-Brodin

Scandella-Spurgeon

Leopold-Dumba

Coach Mike Yeo said he liked Cooke's Game 2 effort, but because they lost, he went with the Game 1 lineup in Game 3, won that game, so they went with the same lineup for Game 4.

What do you have to bring tonight, Cooke was asked.

"I think it’s pretty obvious my game," he said. "The more time we can spend in the offensive zone, the better it is for our line and the more chances we’re going to get and the less time we spend in our zone. I think above all else it’s my experience, my emotional level that can come in and support the guys in a tight game and in a playoff type atmosphere because I’ve had a lot to pull on."

This was funny. You’re not used to sitting out playoff games, what’s that like sitting three of the first four games?

Cooke with a grin: "I did it last year. I did. Seven times. I did."

OK, different circumstances.

Cooke said, "It’s never easy sitting out a game at all let alone in the playoffs. I feel like my game is built for this time of year and these type of games. It’s tough, but I had a tough year with injuries and guys have come in and played well and they deserved and earned a spot to be out there playing. I didn’t expect to come in and just leapfrog everybody because they were a part of the success down the stretch and I had to watch from the outside looking in."

Blues center Jori Lehtera may not play tonight. Hitchcock called him 50-50 after being nailed by a Jay Bouwmeester shot in a third-period power play Wednesday with the Blues ahead 6-1. Marcel Goc, scratched in Game 4 for Chris Porter, looks like he will draw back in for Lehtera if he doesn't play and Porter, Zach Parise's best bud, would stay in.

Porter, who wouldn't be a bad guy for the Wild to sign this summer, is fast, aggressive, physical and seems to be St. Louis' secret weapon in the playoffs. Scratched often in the regular season, he always seems to come in and make a playoff impact. The other night in Minnesota, he made life difficult on the Wild's defensemen and assisted on the first goal.

Hitchcock had some interesting stuff to say today on the series:

Why has each game been different?
"I think it's what it takes to win a game in this series. It takes a lot, a lot of emotional and physical input and I think you let your foot off the gas a little bit because you have to put so much into it and the other team gets angry and they dial up their focus for the push-back. The series is where it should be at based on play. Both games should have been 6-1. We were outplayed, put so much into Game 2. We looked like a little bit of a tired team and they were angry and they pushed back hard. We did the same thijng to them (in Game 4). Both teams ... I've never seen shift lengths so short in my life since I've been coaching the NHL. From the opening buzzer to the end of the game, your shift lengths are in the 30's, I've never seen that before. Usually you get it down there in the third period, but this opens the game; that's how much has been put into each shift by each player. 
 
Is that coach-directed?
 
"No, that's not coach-directed. There's been two or three times where I haven't even gotten the next lineup blown back to the bench. There's physicality, but running around hitting people, this is every puck is contested at such a high level in this series that I think it's exhausting for the players. We've seen their players hunched over 20 seconds in, 18 seconds into a shift and I've seen the same with us because there's just no room. There's no space, there's no room. The third period for both teams in Game 4 looked like a breather. It was the first time there was any space on the ice for either side. It's just two teams that are so well-structured and so well disciplined in their play and they value checking so much that you've got no space, you've got no time."
 
Difficulty of carrying momentum?
 
"We've talked about that for two days now so we'll see. Winning is a relief when you have to put so much into it and we've got to get past the relief back into the hunger part of it. I liked the disposition of our team this morning. I know you don't play this morning, but I liked the disposition of our team yesterday and today we seemed more grounded, ready to compete again, ready to go at it again, so we'll see. I think this has the potential to be the best game of the series because both teams look pretty grounded, look pretty focused. Should be a helluva hockey game."
 
Score first goal, why so important (both teams 2-0 in that situation)?
 
"Because the value of both sides put into checking. Both teams strive or get their offense from their checking and you look at us, everything's connected. Everything's connected. We get so much of our offense from our checking and they get it the same way. They check different; we use more 1-on-1; they use more numbers but we both are very effective in what we do. It's just so hard to play against teams that are so committed to the details of the game. That's why both teams are so good because there's a strong commitment by both sides to the details."
 
Series coming down to emotion?
 
"Yeah. It's two things. It's the two teams that got their butts kicked. We lost 2-0, empty-netter but it felt like 6-0. We were mad. They let their foot off the accelerator a little bit, tried to take a breath; no chance, no chance. We're hoping we don't do the same thing because if you just take your foot off a little bit, because that's all it is, it looks bad, but all it is is just a little bit and the other team is ready to pounce and go at it. It also happens when you have so many players that are so similar. Mike uses four lines, we use four lines so there's no breathing room, there's no space, there's no three-line game where there's maneuvering going on. It's just all-out short shifts, get off the ice. All-out, short shifts, get off the ice. When you're in your mid-30's in the first period, a lot of energy going on."
 
Alex Pietrangelo's play so far?
 
"He's been our best player. Played unbelievable. All the little things that you love in his game have been there since ... started with about four games left in the regular season, carried through the playoffs; he's been outstanding. Every game. The better he plays, the more risk he plays with and then he gets away with it. Even with some of the risky stuff he's done, he's flaged down pucks, he's got back in; he's been outstanding for us."
 
 
No space for Jaden Schwartz?
 
Because they've got two players standing over him; not one, and that's hard to play. When you're a smaller player, it's even harder to play. I don't think it's been fun for Pominville at times either. Obviously Schwartz is a good player and he's getting covered over, but one thing happens, because he gets covered over, other people get space. There's a reason Tarasenko gets space, it's because of what Schwartz does to create it. It's hard. Both teams are just so committed to no space, no time, no play. Hard for people to fight through that unless you've got a real size area you can control. 
 
Why is Steve Ott more effective as center?
 
"He doesn't get enough credit for how smart he is. He's really smart, composed with the puck in tight spaces. When he plays center, he plays with more control. He plays a little bit of like a wingnut on the wing; I don't know if you can say that, but he plays a little bit like a wingnut on the wing and this way when he's had to play in control, he kind of calms down and plays a positional game where you need him with some structure and he's very effective there."
 
 

Hitch scrambles lines at morning skate as Blues try to stave off 3-1 series' deficit to Wild

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 22, 2015 - 2:37 PM

UPDATED

Game 4, Wild vs. St. Louis Blues, tonight at 8:30, Xcel Energy Center.

So, it’s hurry up and wait time for the late start.

I’ll be doing a live podcast today with Jim Souhan at the Liffey in St. Paul, so come on down or listen at souhanunfiltered.com.

I'll be on NHL Network's Arena cam live at 5:20 p.m.

I’ll be on KFAN at 5:55 p.m. and Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission.

Good morning from the press room, where I’ll be hunkered down for most of the day except for my run over to the Liffey and to Starbucks, of course.

If you didn’t see today’s Star Tribune coverage, please head over to www.startribune.com/wild.

But here is a fun read on Matt Dumba through the eyes of his parents.

And here’s a column by Chip Scoggins on the Wild having a different kind of toughness that has made it successful thus far in this series.

Also, over at the Wild Star Tribune page, Rachel Blount’s story on what the Blues plan for tonight, the Wild-Blues notebook leading with, of course, Steve Ott hopefully for the last time and a column by Patrick Reusse.

Lots of queries about the Game 5 time Friday. My guess is it is dependent on tonight’s Canadiens-Senators game. If the Habs sweep, maybe Wild-Blues get a 7 p.m. time. If Sens force Game 5, that too would be Friday, so more than likely the Wild-Blues and their fans will have to guzzle coffee again for an 8:30 start.

Poor Central time zone teams and their fans and their beat writers. I found it humorous hearing the whining coming out of Pittsburgh for its 8:25 ET start the other night because of the draft lottery. Hey, welcome to the almost nightly playoff life of the Wild, Blues, Blackhawks, Jets and last year Avs and their fans and writers.

Can’t imagine the papers in Chicago and Nashville even had a final score today from last night’s 1:16 a.m. final.

But I digress.

Coach Mike Yeo isn’t watching the other series.

“I look at the scores, but I’m paying no attention to the other games whatsoever,” he said. “I’m probably 90 percent focused on my team and 10 percent on St. Louis, so there’s not a lot of room for anyone else out there. Obviously, it’s good hockey, the playoffs are exciting. Sometimes you have a game on when you’re eating dinner or whatever but for the most part, it’s all about trying to get ready for the next match.”

The Wild plans to release some tickets this afternoon. The team isn’t giving a time, so mosey on down to the box office or ticketmaster.com.

If you can’t get in the door and want to road trip in St. Louis, there are a TON of Game 5 tickets available at quality prices (even below face value) for Friday’s game. Go to this link.

Same Wild lineup tonight.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Blues respond tonight.

New lines at the morning skate from Ken Hitchcock, reuniting lines and pairs from earlier this season (I caution, Hitch warned us yesterday to bring an eraser, so we'll see if this was Hitch tossing a cloak and dagger at the Wild):

Steen-Backes-Oshie

Schwartz-Lehtera-Tarasenko

Jaskin-Stastny-Berglund

Porter-Ott-Reaves

Marcel Goc, whom I thought was miscast on that mayhem line anyway, wasn’t on a line, so Parise's buddy Porter seems to draw in.

"It got blown up there at the end because of the two significant injuries," Hitchcock said of the lines. "Then when we came back, Backes had good chemistry going with what they had. Then we just slipped Steen and Tarasenko in with Lehtera and they obviously played very well in the last game and have played pretty well, but ... these are the three lines that have been together the most during the year. We want to make them familiar with each other. We know it's going to be a hard game and there's great chemistry; there has been all year, especially with the first two lines and we want to stay with that."

Bouwmeester-Pietrangelo

Gunnarsson-Shattenkirk

Jackman-Michalek

No Robert Bortuzzo again. He may be secretly hurt. I thought he was good and punishing against the Wild in the regular-season finale.

"We've reached a stage with our own team where we've just got to expect a little bit more from guys, put them in positions to succeed, put them with the guys they've spent most of the year with," Hitchcock said. "Unfortunately, Shatty was out for a long, long time so things kind of got blown up on the back-end also. But they had great chemistry when they were together until he got hurt and we'll go back to it."

Of course, Jake Allen in net.

The Blues have lost nine consecutive road games in the playoffs since 2012, having been outscored 28-11. They are 3-17 on the road in the playoffs since 2003, having been outscored 55-31.

The Wild is 6-1 at home in the playoffs in 2014 and the one game this postseason.

Via Elias Sports Bureau, teams that go up 3-1 in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup Playoffs series hold an all-time series record of 249-27 (90.2%).

“We’re approaching the game the same way,” Yeo said. “We don’t go into the game saying, ‘Oh, it’s nice we got a 2-1 lead.’ And we didn’t go in last game saying, ‘Oh no, we lost the last game.’ It’s just about the next one. That’s our approach within the game, too. If you have a good shift, how do you bounce back from the last one or how do you come back and make sure you maintain it. If you have a bad shift, what do you do when you step over the boards to try to correct it and get things going back in your direction. Likewise, that will be our same approach tonight.

“We come in with no kind of assumptions of how the game’s going to play out, no kind of thoughts in terms of ‘Oh, if we win this is what it means. If we lose, that’s what it means.’ We put all of our thoughts and focus into the idea that we have to play the game a certain way. We have to bring certain things into the game tonight. If you do that, you give yourself a better chance.”

Bergenheim, Fontaine replace Cooke and Schroeder on the Wild's fourth line for Game 3

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 20, 2015 - 1:21 PM

The Western Conference quarterfinals switch to Minnesota tonight at 7 when the Wild and St. Louis play Game 3.

No lineup changes for the Blues. Sean Bergenheim and Justin Fontaine return, reuniting the Game 1 fourth line with Kyle Brodziak. That means Matt Cooke, Erik Haula, Jordan Schroeder and Ryan Carter will be scratched.

Good afternoon from Xcel Energy Center.

I’ll be holding a 2 p.m. live chat (click this link), so please join. I’ll also be on KFAN at 4:55 p.m.

The Wild will release a very limited number of tickets for Game 3 today at 3 p.m. at Ticketmaster.

The Wild will also hold a pregame party between 4:30-6:30 p.m. Brian Rolston, the Wild’s three-time 30-goal scorer, will sign autographs and do the “Let’s Play Hockey” tonight.

You don’t need game tickets to attend the party, and if you’re going to buy on the street, the Wild and St. Paul Police caution about counterfeit tickets.

Today's articles:

A feature I wrote on Vladimir Tarasenko

Notes on shadowing Tarasenko, Fontaine, Zucker playing, Dubnyk wanting to seal the posts, etc.

Jim Souhan's column on the Wild's play so far in the series and the need to win at home.

Because the top three lines and top-6 D have been stagnant the first three games, there continues to be lots of questions about the fourth line. Just not much to write about.

But it’s also a story line because Erik Haula really has been shoved to the backburner. In Game 2 with Fontaine sick and Bergenheim scratched, it was Cooke and Schroeder who played and Carter in warmups as the extra insurance policy.

Remember, Haula was good in last year’s playoffs, but Yeo explained there are multiple reasons for the decision to not play Haula, from the type of matchup it is with the gritty Blues, to the type of season Haula had, to the fact he didn’t think he played well down the stretch during the, for lack of a better term, auditioning process for the fourth-line playoff spot.

Plus, Brodziak continues to play well ay center, so if you’re playing Haula, it would be at wing.

Asked first if it has to do with the Blues’ style and the need to have a winger go in the dirty areas as Yeo kinda insinuated in Monday’s paper, Yeo said, “Yeah, that and we talked about this before the playoffs started. A lot of it for those guys was going to come down to how they were playing before the playoffs started as well. So some of it would dictate that but a good portion of it was, we talked about whether it was auditioning or a chance to show how they could be effective and how they could contribute, that was part of it as well. This is one decision we’re making tonight, but we’ve got a lot of options that are good options, and certainly he is one of them.”

So asked if he wasn’t happy with Haula’s auditioning, Yeo said, “This is not about beating down Haulzy. I think it’s been a trying year for him. Going into the playoffs last year, there was a much different feel to his game. I know there was a lot of reference to what happened in the playoffs last year. I think he was in a different place as well. So that’s a big factor in it. But again, this is a different team, it’s a different matchup and I also think that we have a lot more guys who are playing very well that make those tough decisions.”

On reuniting the Game 1 fourth line, Yeo said, “I thought both games to be honest with you, that Brodziak line whether it was Bergie and Fonzie or Cooke and Schroeds, I thought both those lines had some real good shifts in the offensive zone, forechecking, creating turnovers, going in straight lines, finishing checks, those are things that are important to us. That’s the kind of stuff that we’re looking for, especially at home here. We know the crowd’s going to be buzzing. We can get in there, we can bump them a little bit. In order to make that happen, you’ve got to be able to execute up the ice as well. And that’s where a guy like Fonzie comes into play. His execution on the wall and has very quietly has become one of our top penalty killers as well.”

On Brodziak, Yeo said, “If you’ve been watching us closely, … the way that he’s been playing the game, certainly a much different confidence that he has right now as far as making playing, creating plays in the offensive zone, just how solid he’s been in his own zone, that’s been a big factor as well. He’s been a real solid player for us for quite a long time here.”

Scratching Cooke can’t be easy for Yeo considering Cooke’s playoff pedigree and their history together here and previously. And as you know, Yeo often defers to the veteran in these decisions (I know Bergenheim is a veteran, but Yeo also usually goes with the guy who has been here and who may be here in the future; Bergenheim is a UFA, Cooke has another year left).

On how tough it was, Yeo said, “Yeah, absolutely, and just a guy who first off has a lot of playoff experience, a guy who is not an easy guy to play against. I thought that he played a good game. Again, those are tough decisions, but I give everybody credit. Whether it’s a guy like that coming out of the lineup or guys that haven’t gotten into the lineup, everybody’s had a great attitude. The team atmosphere is very good right now. Everybody is all-in for each other and obviously we’re hoping to make this a very long run here, which means they’ll factor in.”

On playing in front of the home crowd, Yeo said, “I think that we have to make sure that we understand that there’s a process that has to be followed here. We have to be ready from the drop of the puck. We have to be ready for what follows through the course of the game, both good and bad, every situation. That said, you don’t want to go over the line but let’s get close to the line. They’re going to be loud, let’s give them a reason to be loud here tonight to start the game. I think we should come out with a lot of energy.”

On Jordan Leopold’s play: “Been really impressed with his game, probably even exceeded expectations of what we thought we were going to get from him. I’ve coached him. I know what he’s capable of. Wasn’t sure where he was going to be at, at this point in his career, but the way that he’s going back, retrieving pucks, moving his feet, the defensive side, everything. We’ve been really pleased with his game.”

On Matt Dumba: “You cannot put a value on this experience for a kid like that. For him, just really pleased with how he’s handled up to this point. Just the message is similar to what we gave him during the season as he was having good nights and whether it was a bad shift or a good shift, it’s always about the next one. That’s our mindset with him. Just because things went well the last game doesn’t mean you should rest on that. He’s playing well right now, but we have to make sure that he understands every night’s a new challenge. Like I said, this experience is very important for him.”

The Blues were the third-best road team in the NHL.

The Wild expects a loud rink.

“It’s always exciting, especially at playoff time,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “We talked earlier the way the fans are more into it. The building is loud and you can really feel them when you go out there and play the game. We’re excited for that and want to enjoy it.”

Here’s Paul Stastny, who played the Wild in the playoffs previously with Colorado, yesterday: “It’s going to be a loud building, but it always is. But that’s the fun of it. Basically it’s 25 of us, and our coaching staff, against 20,000 fans and their team. We have to do everything we can to take the emotion out of it because we know they will be emotional.”

Here’s Patrik Berglund: “We've got to obviously maybe play a bit more simple on the road. Obviously they're going to come out and play really physical and have a lot of energy in the beginning of the game. I think it's really important that we stay really calm and we play the simple north game and let that (emotion) kind of die down a bit, and then we go to work. To win series and stuff like that, you've got to steal some wins on the road. Obviously, it's a big two games here.”

Why keep it simple on the road: “I don't know why. We should do it at home, too. When we play our best, I think we do keep it simple at home, too. But it's more of maybe the other team's home barn, they come out with a little more energy and their crowd is helping them out. It just kind of helps us out, too, if we not feed their transition instead of for them to go home and get their own pucks.”

I got Blues coach Ken Hitchcock talking a lot today about his best bud, Wild assistant coach Rick Wilson and former player Darryl Sydor, and I’ll write about that in the next couple days most likely.

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