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.

Email Michael to talk about hockey.

Links to today's Star Tribune Wild-Avs coverage AND a fun Russo-Dater Podcast

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news Updated: April 15, 2014 - 10:55 AM

UPDATED FROM PRACTICE:

FORWARD LINES

Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Matt Moulson-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Nino Niederreiter
Stephane Veilleux-Erik Haula-Cody McCormick
 

DEFENSE PAIRINGS


Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella-Jonas Brodin
Clayton Stoner-Nate Prosser
 

GOALTENDERS
 

Ilya Bryzgalov

Darcy Kuemper
John Curry

Extra forwards: Dany Heatley, Justin Fontaine, Jake Dowell

Extra defensemen: Jon Blum, Keith Ballard.

Injuries: Kuemper (upper body), Ballard (groin) and G Josh Harding (MS) are day-to-day. LW Mike Rupp is suspended for Games 1-3. G Niklas Backstrom (abdominal surgery) and LW Jason Zucker (quad) are out.

The Wild practices at 10:30 a.m. today, so I'll be back later with a fresher, newer blog. But, here's some morning/afternoon reading AND listening for you.

Today's Star Tribune coverage (click the links):

Wild finishes strong after desert summit conducted by leaders Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter

A year later (thanks to Dustin Brown), Jason Pominville gives Wild an added playoff weapon

Very funny notebook lead thanks to good sport/good guy Mark Parrish. Six years later, Parrish is on Wild payroll no more + more Mikael Granlund/Erik Haula talk and the Wild changing its travel schedule so it can practice in the high altitude of Denver tomorrow.

NHL playoff capsules, by Kent Youngblood

And, my predictions (scrutinize away because I may have tossed in a crazy upset or two). As for my Wild prediction, I can 100 percent see the Wild winning this series, but I had to go with my head and eyes at least in the prediction department. I think it'll be a long, intense series, but it just seems to be Semyon Varlamov's year and these Colorado forwards are as deep as any team in the NHL (especially if the Avs get Matt Duchene back at some point). BUT, at some point, somebody's got to get to these Colorado defensemen. They're young and inexperienced and are bound to crack, especially with Tyson Barrie and Jan Hejda banged up. But, nobody's made it happen yet. Maybe the Wild can if its players get pucks deep and go to work on the forecheck. The Avs will try to make this an end-to-end series, a rush-for-rush series, and if the Wild get lured into that, I promise you, it won't be on the winning end).

LASTLY, this was a fun thing to do, but last night I did a podcast with the Denver Post's Adrian Dater. Here is the link to his site, and then you hit a subsequent link I think to get to iTunes (it's free). We break down the series, but also talk about Twitter, our industry, accountability as beat writers and some cool behind-the-scenes stories throughout the years. It's an hour or so, but if you get time, it's probably worth a listen.

Follow Adrian throughout the series on Twitter at @adater.

A reminder, I'll be doing a live chat on startribune.com Thursday (GAME DAY!!!) at 3 p.m. CT from the Pepsi Center in Denver.


LOCAL BROADCAST SCHEDULE ANNOUNCED FOR MINNESOTA WILD’S FIRST-ROUND SERIES VERSUS COLORADO AVALANCHE
 
    SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild, along with FOX Sports North and FM 100.3 KFAN, today announced the local broadcast schedule for the First Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as the Wild takes on the Colorado Avalanche.
 
    FOX Sports North will broadcast the first four games, including a full hour pre-game show, as well as a 30-minute post-game show. All four games will also be available on FOX Sports Wisconsin. The broadcast schedule for Games 5, 6 and 7 is still TBA.
 
    KFAN will broadcast Wild Fanline following each playoff game. There will also be live, 90-minute pre-game shows for Game 1 (Sak’s Sports Bar in Vadnais Heights), Game 2 (Jimmy’s Food and Drink in Vadnais Heights) and Game 4 (Wild pre-game party, outside Gate 2 of Xcel Energy Center). Dan Barriero will be live from the Game 3 pre-game party from 3-6 p.m. Pre-game shows are to be determined for Games 5, 6 and 7. KFAN will also air a 30-minute “Wild Weekly” each Wednesday at 7 p.m. throughout the playoffs. Paul Allen will do his 9 to noon show in the Wild penalty box for Game 3.
 
    A limited number of single-game tickets remain for each of the three home games in the First Round, and can be purchased at the Xcel Energy Center Box Office and TicketMaster. The Wild will host a pre-game party outside Gate 2 of Xcel Energy Center for both Game 3 and Game 4. The Game 3 party will begin at 4 p.m., while the Game 4 party will start at 5 p.m.
 
Round 1 Stanley Cup Playoffs Local Broadcast Schedule (all times central)
Game 1 – Thur., 4/17, Minnesota at Colorado, 8:30 p.m. – FOX Sports North, FM 100.3 KFAN
Game 2 – Sat., 4/19, Minnesota at Colorado, 8:30 p.m. – FOX Sports North, FM 100.3 KFAN
Game 3 – Mon., 4/21, Colorado at Minnesota, 6:00 p.m. – FOX Sports North, FM 100.3 KFAN
Game 4 – Thur., 4/24, Colorado at Minnesota, 8:30 p.m. – FOX Sports North, FM 100.3 KFAN
Game 5 – Sat., 4/26, Minnesota at Colorado, TBA (if necessary) – TBA, FM 100.3 KFAN
Game 6 – Mon., 4/28, Colorado at Minnesota, TBA (if necessary) – TBA, FM 100.3 KFAN
Game 7 – Wed., 4/30, Minnesota at Colorado, TBA (if necessary) – TBA, FM 100.3 KFAN
 
 

Wild turns page on regular season and looks toward playoffs vs. Colorado

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: April 13, 2014 - 11:46 PM

I’m going to do my best to look ahead to the playoffs because that’s exactly what the Wild did during tonight’s 7-3 regular-season ending loss to the Nashville Predators.

I’ve been warning on here and on the radio the last few days that I expected tonight’s game would be like a glorified exhibition game and that’s exactly what it was. Wild players were in do-not-get-hurt mode. They dodged checks, dodged blocking shots, and from that standpoint, mission accomplished, coach Mike Yeo said, because the team got out of it healthy.

May sound like an excuse, but it’s reality. Yeo said the Wild will reset, start from scratch after a 6-1-1 end to the season and really begin prepping Tuesday in practice.

The one highlight was Jason Pominville having his second 3-point night in three games and becoming the third Wild player in history to hit the 30-goal mark. He also hit the 60-point mark. Marian Gaborik and Brian Rolston scored at least 30 eight times with the Wild.

Rookie Erik Haula scored a goal and an assist for his first career multi-point game and had seven points in seven games since replacing Mikael Granlund as second-line center. The Wild has Monday off, and the expectation is Granlund will ramp it up with the rest of the team Tuesday and Wednesday and get into more battle drills as the Wild prepares for Game 1 of the playoffs Thursday in Denver.

If Granlund can play, Yeo made it clear that Granlund will reassume his No. 2 center spot.

“I think that Haulzy deserves an awful lot of credit for what he’s done, there’s no question,” Yeo said. “But when it comes to Granny, we’ll see how practice goes this week, but we are talking about a guy who led our team when Mikko [Koivu] went down playing against No. 1 D pairings and No. 1 centermen. You look at what he did in the Olympics playing against the best players in the world, … this is a pretty good player. So it’s great what Haulzy’s done, and we haven’t made any decisions yet, but we’re getting a pretty good player back if Granny’s able to come into our lineup.”

Said Haula: “[Granlund] deserves it. He’s had a great season. He’s played well with Pommer all year long. I jump in when he gets hurt. When he’s healthy he’s going to come back and take that spot on that line, I’m sure. I’m ok with that. Whatever the role, I’m ok with it.”

A reader brought up an idea on Twitter that somebody in the hockey industry mentioned to me in the press box tonight: It’s clear Yeo understandably wants to have a Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak shutdown line in the playoffs. Maybe an option is to put Haula on right wing at that line. This way he can take draws on his strong side instead of Brodziak at times and also it creates more of a scoring threat for that line and he would get more minutes than he would as fourth-line center. In addition, it seems like Cooke (by the way, he was in playoff form tonight getting under Shea Weber and Rich Clune’s skin) and Haula have had chemistry for a lot of the second half when they’re on the ice together, particularly shorthanded.

Then, you go with a fourth line of Cody McCormick centering Stephane Veilleux or Justin Fontaine and Nino Niederreiter. If there are times Yeo wants elevate Niederreiter’s role, he has got that option.

As for the Avs, Matt Duchene is still working his way back from a sprained MCL. Defenseman Jan Hejda injured his hand tonight and Tyson Barrie got hurt in San Jose. They’re day-to-day. Patrick Roy also announced tonight that John Mitchell has a concussion. That’s a big loss. He plays the Wild well and is their second-line center.

“This is a good team, a really good team,” Yeo said of the Avs. “Winning their division the way that they’ve gone from start to finish, this is a team that we have to have a lot of respect for. Skill level, very dynamic, very creative, so defensively it’s going to be a challenge for us. With that, they’re an in-your-face team and how we execute is going to be very important, too.”

The Wild can’t get into a run-and-gun game against them.

“We can’t play that type of style against them, there’s no question,” Yeo said. “It’s not one element. This is a very good hockey team and there’s not a lot of areas where you can look at them and say they’re really weak there. They’ve defended well this year, they’ve been very creative and skilled, especially with their forward group. And obviously they’ve had the goaltending, so we’re going to have to be ready to be sharp in all areas of our game.”

“I feel like against them, we have to keep the puck going forward,” said Zach Parise. “That’s where they struggle. When we didn’t do well against them, we tried to do a lot of cross-ice passes and they broke up a lot of plays in the neutral zone. When we did well against them in spurts, we just kept putting pucks behind them and making them turn. That’s when we got a lot of odd man rushes against them.”

I wrote an abbreviated advance on the series in Monday’s paper, so check that out on startribune.com/wild. Also, there’s the game story on Ilya Bryzgalov’s concerning game tonight. Yeo wasn’t concerned, saying, “You look at tonight, and we were brutal in front of him. It’s got to be a team effort. Bryz has done a fantastic job since he’s been here and his teammates have done a fantastic job in front of him to give him that opportunity. That’s the mentality we have to have. It’s got to be top to bottom because [the Avs] have too many weapons over there.”

That’s it for me.

Monday is off. I’ll be on KFAN in studio from 9-9:35 a.m., then I’ll start pounding the keyboard. Lots of playoff coverage coming up in the Star Tribune. I’ll also be on a Podcast tomorrow night at some point on the Denver Post’s site, I believe, with Avs beat writer Adrian Dater.

I’m planning a live online chat Thursday at 3 p.m. CT.

Wild, NHL playoff series schedules

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news Updated: April 13, 2014 - 7:02 PM

Local TV announced soon, all times in Eastern Time

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Date         TIME (ET)        #1 Colorado vs. #4 Minnesota        Networks
Thursday, April 17        9:30 p.m.        Minnesota at Colorado                CNBC, TSN
Saturday, April 19        9:30 p.m.        Minnesota at Colorado                NBC Sports Network, TSN
Monday, April 21        7 p.m.                Colorado at Minnesota                NHL Network U.S., TSN      
Thursday, April 24        9:30 p.m.        Colorado at Minnesota                CNBC, TSN2
*Saturday, April 26        TBD                Minnesota at Colorado                TSN
*Monday, April 28        TBD                Colorado at Minnesota                TSN        
*Wednesday, April 30        TBD                Minnesota at Colorado                TSN    

Date        TIME (ET)        #2 St. Louis vs. #3 Chicago        Networks                
Thursday, April 17        8 p.m.                Chicago at St. Louis                NBC Sports Network, CBC
Saturday, April 19        3 p.m.                Chicago at St. Louis                NBC, CBC
Monday, April 21        8:30 p.m.        St. Louis at Chicago                CNBC, CBC
Wednesday, April 23        9:30 p.m.        St. Louis at Chicago                NBC Sports Network, CBC
*Friday, April 25                8 p.m.                Chicago at St. Louis                NBC Sports Network, CBC
*Sunday, April 27        3 p.m.                St. Louis at Chicago                NBC, CBC
*Tuesday, April 29        TBD                Chicago at St. Louis                CBC

Date        TIME (ET)        #1 Anaheim vs. #4 Dallas        Networks        
Wednesday, April 16        10 p.m.                Dallas at Anaheim                NBC Sports Network, TSN
Friday, April 18                10 p.m.                Dallas at Anaheim                NBC Sports Network, TSN
Monday, April 21        9:30 p.m.        Anaheim at Dallas                NBC Sports Network, TSN
Wednesday, April 23        8 p.m.                Anaheim at Dallas                CNBC, TSN
*Friday, April 25         10:30 p.m.        Dallas at Anaheim                NBC Sports Network, TSN
*Sunday, April 27        TBD                Anaheim at Dallas                TSN
*Tuesday, April 29        TBD                Dallas at Anaheim                TSN

Date        TIME (ET)        #2 San Jose vs. #3 Los Angeles         Networks        
Thursday, April 17        10:30 p.m.        Los Angeles at San Jose                       NBC Sports Network, CBC
Sunday, April 20                10 p.m.                Los Angeles at San Jose                       NBC Sports Network, CBC
Tuesday, April 22        10 p.m.                San Jose at Los Angeles         NBC Sports Network, CBC
Thursday, April 24         10:30 p.m.        San Jose at Los Angeles                       NBC Sports Network, CBC
*Saturday, April 26        TBD                Los Angeles at San Jose                       NBC Sports Network, CBC
*Monday, April 28        TBD                San Jose at Los Angeles                       CBC
*Wednesday, April 30        TBD                Los Angeles at San Jose                       CBC


EASTERN CONFERENCE

Date         TIME (ET)        #1 Boston vs. #4 Detroit        Networks
Friday, April 18                7:30 p.m.        Detroit at Boston                NBC Sports Network, TSN
Sunday, April 20                3 p.m.                Detroit at Boston                 NBC, TSN
Tuesday, April 22        7:30 p.m.        Boston at Detroit                NBC Sports Network, TSN
Thursday, April 24        8 p.m.                Boston at Detroit                NBC Sports Network, TSN
*Saturday, April 26        3 p.m.                Detroit at Boston                NBC, TSN
*Monday, April 28        TBD                Boston at Detroit                TSN
*Wednesday, April 30        TBD                Detroit at Boston                TSN

Date        TIME (ET)        #2 Tampa Bay vs. #3 Montreal        Networks                
Wednesday, April 16        7 p.m.                Montreal at Tampa Bay                CNBC, CBC, RDS
Friday, April 18                7 p.m.                Montreal at Tampa Bay                CNBC, CBC, RDS
Sunday, April 20                7 p.m.                Tampa Bay at Montreal                CBC, RDS, NBC Sports Network
Tuesday, April 22        7 p.m.                Tampa Bay at Montreal                CBC, RDS, NHL Network U.S.
*Thursday, April 24        7 p.m.                Montreal at Tampa Bay                 CNBC, CBC, RDS
*Sunday, April 27        TBD                Tampa Bay at Montreal                CBC, RDS, NBC Sports Network
*Tuesday, April 29        TBD                Montreal at Tampa Bay                CBC, RDS

Date        TIME (ET)        #1 Pittsburgh vs. #4 Columbus        Networks        
Wednesday, April 16        7:30 p.m.        Columbus at Pittsburgh                NBC Sports Network, CBC
Saturday, April 19        7 p.m.                Columbus at Pittsburgh                NBC Sports Network, CBC
Monday, April 21        7 p.m.                Pittsburgh at Columbus                NBC Sports Network, CBC
Wednesday, April 23        7 p.m.                Pittsburgh at Columbus                NBC Sports Network, CBC
*Saturday, April 26         TBD                Columbus at Pittsburgh                CBC
*Monday, April 28        TBD                Pittsburgh at Columbus                CBC
*Wednesday, April 30        TBD                Columbus at Pittsburgh                CBC

Date        TIME (ET)        #2 NY Rangers vs. #3 Philadelphia        Networks        
Thursday, April 17        7 p.m.                Philadelphia at NY Rangers               CNBC, TSN
Sunday, April 20                Noon                Philadelphia at NY Rangers               NBC, TSN
Tuesday, April 22        8 p.m.                NY Rangers at Philadelphia              CNBC, TSN
Friday, April 25                 7 p.m.                NY Rangers at Philadelphia        CNBC, TSN
*Sunday, April 27        Noon                Philadelphia at NY Rangers               NBC, TSN
*Tuesday, April 29        TBD                NY Rangers at Philadelphia               TSN
*Wednesday, April 30        TBD                Philadelphia at NY Rangers               TSN

* if necessary
TBD – To Be Determined

Wild to play Colorado in first round of playoffs

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news Updated: April 13, 2014 - 1:57 PM

For the third time in franchise history, the Wild will face the Colorado Avalanche in the postseason.

The Avalanche won the Central Division this afternoon thanks to the plummeting St. Louis Blues’ home loss against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Wild-Avs series is expected to start in Denver on Thursday.

The Avs, who are 8-1-1 in their past 10 and play a meaningless game tonight at Anaheim, has gone from 29th place to a division championship in one year with Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy in his first year as coach.

The Wild went 1-3-1 against the Avalanche this season. Since March 5, 2006, the Wild is 32-14-6 against Colorado and 13-3-3 in its past 19 in Denver.

But the Avs are a different team. Semyon Varlamov, a potential Vezina winner, just broke Roy’s single-season record with 41 wins. Guaranteed Calder winner Nathan MacKinnon, 18, is already one of the most threatening players in the West. Gabriel Landeskog is a rock-solid two-way forward, as is Ryan O’Reilly.. Bloomington’s Erik Johnson has had a terrific season on the blue line.

The Avs average the fourth-most goals per game in the NHL (3.00), although they rank 14th defensively (2.63 goals against per game).

In 2003, the Wild rallied from 3-1 down to beat Colorado in the first round. Andrew Brunette scored the most famous goal in franchise history and sent Roy into retirement by scoring the series-clinching goal in overtime. In 2008, after the Wild won the Northwest Division, Jose Theodore and the Avs stoned the Wild in six games.

“They are completely different than what they were last year,” said Jason Pominville. “They only added a couple players here or there, but their coaching staff must have done a great job there. They’re just playing with really, really good confidence. They’ve got a lot of skill up front that can make you pay.”

Added Ryan Suter on playing in Denver, “It’s a tough place to play with the altitude. If you get caught out there, that really hurts you. We enjoy playing there though. It is a tough building to play with good atmosphere, but we’ve had success there.”

Kyle Brodziak's Iron Man streak ends tonight vs. Nashville

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: April 13, 2014 - 12:59 PM

The Wild closes the regular season tonight at 7 against the Nashville Predators.

If the St. Louis Blues lose to the Detroit Red Wings, the Wild will play the Colorado Avalanche for the third time in Minnesota’s five all-time postseasons (1-1). In the second period, Detroit leads 2-0. I will update this later, of course.

In 2003, the Wild rallied from 3-1 down to beat Colorado in the first round. In 2008, after the Wild won the Northwest Division, Jose Theodore and the Avs stoned the Wild in six games.

The Avalanche, with Patrick Roy in his first year as head coach, has gone from 29th place to a near Central Division title in one year. Colorado is 8-1-1 in its past 10 heading into tonight’s finale at Anaheim and went 4-0-1 against the Wild this season.

In tonight’s Wild-Preds game, Kyle Brodziak’s 231 consecutive games played streak will end. He has played every game since Feb. 25, 2011, but coach Mike Yeo said it would be “silly” to play him tonight. This way, Brodziak will be given every opportunity to get healthy for the start of the playoffs, which are expected to begin Thursday for the Wild.

NHL playoff schedules come out late tonight.

With Brodziak hurt, Nino Niederreiter will play center for the first time in his NHL career on a line believed to be with Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine. Niederreiter has played center previously in his junior career and has been so defensively responsible, Yeo feels he should be able to slide in for a game and provide a big body and good presence. Cody McCormick is expected to center Stephane Veilleux and at times defenseman Jon Blum.

That’s because Dany Heatley left today’s skate with “lower-body discomfort,” Yeo said.

Clayton Stoner, who sprained his MCL March 22 against Detroit, returns and will be paired with Nate Prosser.

Yeo said tonight may be a meaningless game, but “our goal should be to get to 100 points.”

The Predators are 5-0-1 in their past six and Yeo wants the Wild to “match their intensity.”

“We have to make sure we’re keeping our foot on the gas as much as possible,” Yeo said. “We’ve talked so long about how we feel good about our game. That can leave you in a hurry, too, so we should make sure we’re able to keep our intensity up and carry that momentum into the playoffs.”

Yeo said his primary focus tonight is to get Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville quality ice time because they were essentially “rested” last game and Yeo wants them getting enough of a workload to get them ready for the playoffs.

Pominville hopes to get Goal No. 30. "It would have been nice to get it the other night when they threw me out there with an empty net (he just missed), but at the same time, it's only a number," he said.

Yeo said Mikael Granlund had another good day on the ice. If the Wild opens Thursday, the Wild will have Monday off and then have a couple hard practices in St. Paul Tuesday and Wednesday. Yeo hopes Granlund can participate in those so he can get the green light to return for Game 1.

Josh Harding is still around. The Wild has talked about Harding having a rehab stint with Iowa (four games left), but so far that hasn’t come into fruition and Yeo said he’s not sure if it will.

By the way, good to see Preds GM David Poile in the house. Last time he was here, Poile was struck by the puck and suffered major facial damage, multiple surgeries, lost vision in his right eye and missed the Winter Olympics as Team USA’s GM.

Poile said he needed to come back here just to show himself he could.

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