Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Posts about Stanley Cup

New fourth line for the Wild today

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 5, 2013 - 11:42 AM

We will get Mike Yeo in 15 minutes, but I am hearing the Wild will have a new fourth line this afternoon.

Zenon Konopka won't play and Stephane Veilleux will be inserted. The goal is clearly speed, energy and big hits.

Veilleux, called up twice in the past few weeks but scratched in both games, has played 460 regular-season games in the NHL and 11 playoff games for the Wild. 

More after we talk to Yeo

Wild recalls three from Houston; lineup changes coming?

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 5, 2013 - 8:41 AM

Sadly, the Houston Aeros' season and their existence came to a painful end last night in Grand Rapids as the Griffins beat them 7-0.

The Aeros relocate to Des Moines, Iowa, next year. You've got to feel for their fans and those that work around the team and cover the team. For some coverage, see the great Heather Galindo's Twitter account at @hockeygalindo and @3rdIntermission.

Aeros play-by-play man Joe O'Donnell (@aero_joe) tweeted after the game: Aeros fall 7-0...the season is over, and depressingly, the franchise is as well... #thankyoufans #thankyouAeros AND That was, without question, one of the hardest things I've ever done in 8 years as a broadcaster.......

With the Aeros eliminated, the Wild can technically recall the entire team (current NHL contracts) to Minnesota if it so chooses.

As of now, most players are heading back to Houston to pack up, but I am hearing that three players have arrived or on their way to Minnesota.

Stephane Veilleux arrived last night and Mikael Granlund and Jake Dowell are on their way here now.

So I'd anticipate we may have some lineup changes today. No, before you email and tweet me incessantly, Justin Fontaine was not one of those brought up for some reason.

As of now, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is available at noon, but he said yesterday that Dave Bolland and Ray Emery are out.

As of now, there is no pregame access to Mike Yeo. I will let you know if that changes, but you may need to wait until warmups for the lineup.

I will post another blog with the lineup before the game. Enjoy the first home playoff game in five years today folks.

We have a ton of coverage for you in today's Star Tribune and on startribune.com/wild, but here is a fun read from Chip Scoggins on the 2003 team that rode to the Western Conference Finals.

Remember, the Wild will host a pregame party from 12-1:30 p.m. along the sidewalk between Gates 1 and 3 of Xcel Energy Center. 

The party will include live music, food and drinks. Fans can meet former Wild center Wes Walz and get autographs from former North Stars Don Beaupre, Jack Carlson, Brad Maxwell and Tim Young. KFAN will broadcast live from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. 
 
Today's game is exclusively on NBC at 2 p.m. Fox Sports North plans an hourlong postgame show.

Wild excited about first home playoff game in 5 years; Veilleux on way?

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 4, 2013 - 5:30 PM
With his team fresh off a 5-2 beating in Chicago and down 2-0 in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarters, Wild coach Mike Yeo kept things status quo in practice today.
 
I’d still be surprised if things are completely status quo in Game 3.
 
Whether that means fiddling with line combinations (splitting Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu for the first time this year?) or calling up reinforcements from its minor-league affiliate, we will have to see.
 
The Houston Aeros do play a deciding Game 5 tonight in Grand Rapids. Perhaps a couple players rush up here from Michigan on Sunday morning (a Mikael Granlund or a Justin Fontaine maybe?) or maybe tonight (Stephane Veilleux?).
 
Veilleux makes sense. Mike Rupp just looks to be immobilized by his banged-up knee and the Wild could use more speed and banging. I thought Zenon Konopka played a real good Game 1, but maybe the Wild looks to change up  a few of the fourth-line forwards. We shall see. Torrey Mitchell can move to center if Veilleux slotted in and Rupp did play.
 
Of course, the Wild has recalled Veilleux twice in recent weeks and didn't play him either time.
 
On line changes, Yeo today simply said “maybe.”
 
After last night’s game, Yeo said he already had a good idea of changes he wanted to make. He said he was more talking about the Wild’s game and adjustments he wanted to make. But obviously, in the playoffs, he couldn’t want to tip his hand to the Chicago Blackhawks, so he admitted he wanted to be intentionally vague today.
 
“The bottom line is we have identified some things and we’ve discussed them and we’ve worked on some things and we’re just real excited to come back and play again [Sunday].”
 
Niklas Backstrom practiced today, along with Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper. Yeo joked that he would decide the goalie “some time before the game.” I quoted Backstrom in Saturday’s paper, but he didn’t sound like a guy that’s able to immediately jump back into the crease yet though.
 
Jason Pominville, who has practiced once in two weeks and we know that didn’t go well, didn’t practice today, nor did Clayton Stoner.
 
On the loss of Pominville, Yeo said, “I wish we had him in the lineup for sure. He’s a good player for us -- especially his experience, his leadership -- but we’ve got enough in the lineup.”
 
Sunday at 2 p.m. (NBC exclusive on TV, KFAN on radio and Fox Sports North on the postgame show) is the first home playoff game in five years. The Wild finished the year 1-5-1 in its past seven at home and last time it was in this arena was the 6-1 whipping against Edmonton – the one that forced Minnesota to have to win in Denver to make the playoffs and the one that cost Minnesota the opportunity to face Vancouver, down 2-0 to San Jose, in the first round instead of Chicago.
 
Will the fans be excited or equally ready to jump on the Wild at first sign of trouble?
 
“I think this place is going to be rocking [Sunday] and we’re excited for that,” Yeo said. “We wish that it was a different scenario, instead of coming back down 2-0. But the reality is we’re going into tomorrow’s game with the opportunity to play a first home game in five years and we should be excited about that. Just because we’re down 2-0, it doesn’t mean that this series is over. I myself have been a part of series where we’ve come back from being down 2-0 (both in the minors and twice in Pittsburgh when the Pens won the Cup in 2009) and I know there are other people [in the locker room] that have as well. But certainly the importance of [Sunday’s] game probably doesn’t need to be discussed a whole lot.”
 
(Editor’s note: Pens had a few more gamebreakers than the Wild).
 
I asked Yeo if he would consider splitting Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise (no goals): “We’ll consider everything. If we think that that’s what we need, then that’s something that we would be willing to do for sure. Again, we’re coming home. It’s a little bit of a different situation now. The first game was a good game, so I think because we played one game that wasn’t good, I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel here either.”
 
At home, Yeo will get last change, which means if he wants to avoid the Parise-Koivu head-to-head match vs. Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews, he would have an easier ability to do so. But Yeo noted that in Game 2, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wasn’t overly concerned with matchups and he threw out a number of lines against Parise and Koivu.
 
Parise pointed out to me that Hossa and Toews and Brandon Saad haven’t scored 5-on-5 either. If it’s because the Wild’s top line is doing a good job neutralizing them, the danger of avoiding that matchup then becomes that maybe Hossa and Toews light up the Wild.
 
This is why playing Chicago is so problematic. The Hawks have tons of weapons. The Wild does not.
 
On the potential of splitting Koivu and Parise, Parise said, “Two ways you can look at it. I think we’ve gotten some good opportunities. We haven’t given one up to Toews’ line either 5-on-5. Unfortunately they’re the ones that are up 2-nothing. So you look at our line and we haven’t scored yet. On the flip side the line we’re playing against haven’t scored either. But that’s obviously not good enough. So we’ve got to find a way. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, we’ve got to find a way to get some offense. I think we’re playing good away from the puck in limiting their chances when we are out against Toews’ line, but we have to do a better job protecting the puck and getting some zone time and capitalizing. We have to capitalize on our chances.”
Parise said, “There’s always a way [to beat a better team]. I think this game right now is about taking advantage of weaknesses and I think we have to do a better job of exploiting some different things that they do and that they do well, we have to do some things to counter them. And I don’t think we did a good enough job of that from game 1 to game 2.”
For instance, in Game 1, the Wild did a great job gapping up at the blue line and continually poke-checking pucks and breaking up entries by Chicago. The Hawks seemed to adjust with stretch passes last night to get pucks behind the Wild D.
“Yeah, I did notice that,” Parise said. “I did notice that they started to do that a little more and they were able to hop behind our D. I think that’s something that we’ll have to at least be aware of.”
That’s it for now. I will talk to you Sunday – or I will update the blog tonight if I become aware of possible callups.

Niklas Backstrom in Chicago, but Josh Harding getting the Wild start

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 3, 2013 - 1:23 PM

Niklas Backstrom, who did not accompany the team to Chicago, flew commercial to Chicago last night and was on the ice sharing the cage with Darcy Kuemper this morning.

Josh Harding had one to himself and will get the start for Game 2 tonight at United Center. Darcy Kuemper will back up.

Yeo would only say the plan was for Backstrom to always fly to Chicago. Regardless, he'll be in street clothes tonight and will accompany the team back to Minnesota after the game.

Backstrom took shots this morning and still looked to me like he was having some issues. But the fact he was on the ice so soon is obviously a good sign. I haven't talked yet with Backstrom. I can only imagine how disappointed he has to be. You wait all year for the playoffs and minutes before Game 1, you get hurt? Ugh. If you know Backstrom, it has to be an awful feeling.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville on Harding and Backstrom: "One's a lefty; one's a righty."

It'll be interesting to see how Harding plays tonight. Completely different mentality when you're a last-second emergency substitution to knowing for three days you're probably starting Game 2. Today's a long day, too, with the odd 8:30 puck drop, so that's a lot of time to think.

Clayton Stoner and Jason Pominville are out tonight and didn't make the trip to Chicago. 6-foot-5 blue-liner Justin Falk will play for Stoner.

"He actually has played some good hockey," coach Mike Yeo said of Falk. "It's nice to insert him into a place where we feel we can give him a good chance to succeed, too. You'll see him out there more against more of their third and fourth lines -- bigger lines, a little bit more physical. That's the type of game that he should be playing. ... With his size, we're looking for him to bring a physical element to the game, too."

David Bolland and Ray Emery are again out for the Blackhawks.

Tonight feels like Game 1 all over again with two off-days oddly in between. Jonathan Toews expects a better playoff pace at the beginning of the game. The Blackhawks have been talking over and over again about a better start tonight, so the Wild will need to weather the storm or better yet look to dictate this pace.

I'd expect a much more physical game than Game 1, one more emblematic of the playoff games we've seen around the league thus far.

"I hope so," Yeo said. "I think that serves us well. I think we're comfortable playing in those type of games. Against a team like that, if we can get engaged in a game like that, then I think that it helps us. That said, we have to make sure we're doing it the right way, doing it within the structure of our game."

More on this, Yeo said, "I know that our guys are emotionally engaged in this and I think it will increase as the series goes on. I'm not comparing us to any of the other series' that's going on."

On the 8:30 start, Yeo said, "It makes it a longer day. That's about it. But these players are professionals."

I will be on KFAN at 4:35 p.m. with Dan Barreiro.

I will be on the Fox Sports North "Wild Live" pregame show at around 7:40 p.m. tonight.

Wild injury updates from practice

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 2, 2013 - 1:45 PM

Goaltender Niklas Backstrom, right wing Jason Pominville and defenseman Clayton Stoner all missed practice today for the Wild.

Coach Mike Yeo said all are day-to-day. Pominville definitely won't play in Game 2. While Yeo said Backstrom and Stoner will travel to Chicago with the team, we obviously saw what Backstrom looked like when he left the ice during warmups in Game 1 and Stoner only played eight minutes the other night -- two shifts in the first period after getting hit hard by Chicago's Andrew Shaw.

So I'd suspect Josh Harding starts in goal and Stoner is doubtful to say the least.

Justin Falk took Stoner's spot on the Tom Gilbert pair. Only change to the power-play units is Charlie Coyle replaces Tom Gilbert on the No. 2 unit and Pierre-Marc Bouchard plays the point.

INNESOTA WILD ANNOUNCE PLANS FOR PRE-GAME PARTY
THIS SUNDAY, MAY 5 BEFORE GAME 3

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League (NHL) announced plans for a pre-game party between 12-1:30 p.m. Sunday, prior to the team’s 2 p.m. faceoff against Chicago in Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The party will take place along the sidewalk between Gates 1 and 3 of Xcel Energy Center.

The party will include live music, food and drink, including a beer garden, an appearance by the FOX Sports North Girls, as well as face painting and a Hockey Lodge tent with new playoff merchandise. Fans can meet former Wild Captain Wes Walz and find out about the Minnesota Wild Hockey School summer camp. There will also be autographs from former Minnesota North Stars Don Beaupre, Jack Carlson, Brad Maxwell and Tim Young. In addition, KFAN 100.3 FM will broadcast live from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

The Wild encourage all fans who will be attending the home games to download the official Wild app for iPhone and Android to be a part of the special in-arena pre-game show. To download the app, search for ‘MN Wild NHL’ in the App Store or the Google Play Store.

The Wild will face the Blackhawks on Sunday at 2 p.m. in a nationally televised game on NBC. Game 2 is Friday night in Chicago at 8:30 p.m. on FS North (locally) and NBC Sports Network (nationally).

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