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

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Posts about Wild game coverage

In a shocking turn of events, the power play lifts the shorthanded Wild to a road win

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 14, 2014 - 12:29 AM

For a change, the Wild power play helped win a road game.

After entering with one power-play goal on 44 chances in 14 previous road games, the Wild went 2 for 3 tonight at Arizona, the last coming off Zach Parise’s slam dunk with 5:53 left in regulation to force overtime en route to a 4-3 shootout win.

Playing against a team that is now winless in nine straight at home, the Wild was forced to play a man short with 17 skaters because Jared Spurgeon left warmups sick. He was actually sick beforehand and tried to take some IV’s, but it didn’t work. It sounds like he has a similar stomach virus that forced Charlie Coyle to miss a practice last week at Ridder.

Spurgeon’s absence coupled with Marco Scandella serving the final game of a two-game suspension really put the Wild in a tough spot tonight. Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin took a lot of the responsibility, logging 33:47 and 31:54, respectively (Brodin’s first time over 30 in his regular-season career).

On the second pair, Christian Folin moved to his off side and was paired with Nate Prosser. Justin Falk was paired with Stu Bickel, who was supposed to play forward for injured Ryan Carter, but Bickel only played 10 shifts. So in a lot of ways, the Wild played with 16 skaters.

But after Coyle, who played a strong game despite lots of struggles lately, kept a power play alive, Jason Pominville set up Parise.

Then, in the shootout, Parise and Mikko Koivu each scored their 38th shootout goals for the win. That’s a tie for first in the NHL in career shootout goals, and Koivu used the same move he has scored on three times this season (including the preseason) and several times in his career.

I’m planning to write on Koivu for Monday’s paper and I’ll have another real cool story in Tuesday’s paper that you’ll want to check out too, I think.

Back to Koivu, he has been real good for two or three weeks. I talked to him about “Angry Mikko,” which you know what I mean if you follow me on Twitter, his early season point struggles and leadership.

Jason Zucker had another fine game. He scored on the same breakaway move he scored on in October against Tampa Bay – basically the Koivu shootout move. He also scored with his dad and big bro, Evan, in the crowd. He said it’s the first time Evan has seen him play live, and coincidentally, I talked to Evan for my hockey in Vegas column that is running in Sunday’s paper. Here’s a link.

Suter two assists tonight, four hits, four blocked shots. Brodin, six blocked shots. Folin four blocked shots. Coyle four shots, (eight attempted) two drawn penalties and three hits.

Brodin has been ridiculously good lately. Plus-8 in seven games since returning from the mumps. His plus-14 was tied for fourth among NHL blue-liners. I wrote about Brodin and Coyle in my game notebook.

Yeo praised all the defensemen for stepping up in the absence of Scandella and Spurgeon. First time in the NHL Yeo said he coached a game short a player. He also praised the leadership for helping leading the way after Friday’s “stern” message Yeo provided.

Again, the hope is the power play is a start tonight. Parise said it all started with good entries, a net-front presence, a shot mentality and retrieving pucks, all stuff the Wild doesn’t do when it doesn’t feel good about itself on the power play. He said when you’re feeling good, it’s instinct.

That’s it for me. Just filed for the paper. Short blog, I know, with not a lot of detail about a fair unimpressive game despite the comeback win, but I wasn’t in the locker room long after the game because of a problem I had to deal with out of the blue. So apologies, but I need to get going.

The Wild flew back to Minnesota after the game and is off Sunday. I’ll blog if there’s news. Like I said, I plan to write about Koivu for Monday and a cool story for Tuesday. Kent Youngblood is covering Monday’s practice in Minnesota. Matt Cooke, who has missed 20 games, is expected to practice. We’ll see if Spurgeon or Carter practice as well.

On the blog, I may not be talking to you next until after the morning skates in Chicago. I'll will be on KFAN at 9:35 a.m. Tuesday when our very own Lavelle E. Neal The Third fills in for P.A.

If the Wild can manage to win at Chicago, it'll be .500 on the road after starting the season 2-6 away from St. Paul.

Maddening odd-man rush and power-play execution doom Wild in San Jose

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 12, 2014 - 12:50 AM

Very winnable hockey game for the Wild tonight, yet just 45 seconds after Christian Folin’s first NHL goal tied the hockey game 63 seconds into the third period, the Wild gave up the eventual winning goal to Joe Pavelski.

Just a terrible shift after the tying goal, after supposedly getting the momentum back.

Darcy Kuemper fell on the knife for misreading Joe Thornton and thinking he was going to throw the puck at the net. But Thomas Vanek’s lack of defense was costly when he first hit the brakes and didn’t check Pavelski when he had the puck along the boards, then let him skate into the faceoff circle all alone.

Thornton crossed a perfect pass to a wide-open Pavelski and he nailed the open net. Kuemper said by the time he recovered from the misread, Pavelski had the puck.

But the story of this game was an atrocious 0 for 2, shotless power play (I know, what else is new?) and maddening inefficiency on four shotless 2-on-1’s. So, in total, six shotless 2-on-1's and power plays.

On three 2-on-1’s in the first period and one in the second, the Wild didn’t register a single shot on goal.

Minutes in the game, Zach Parise flubbed a Mikael Granlund pass with virtually the entire net open. Later, Kyle Brodziak rang the crossbar on a shorthanded rush. After that, Granlund led Vanek on an odd-man rush, but they fouled each other up with a miscommunication. Actually, it was no communication when Granlund expected Vanek to go left down the wall, and he instead crossed to his right in front of Granlund. Granlund just coughed up the puck almost like he was passing to an official.

In the second period, Parise set Spurgeon up on a 2-on-1. Despite a point-blank chance, Spurgeon seemed stunned by an aggressive Alex Stalock and his pass back for Parise was broken up by Logan Couture.

Earlier in the period, Couture’s extended reach denied Vanek of a wraparound goal.

“That’s the story of the game to me,” coach Mike Yeo said. “You get one or two 2-on-1’s, you’re thrilled. You get four 2-on-1’s and don't get shots on them, it's tough to generate those type of opportunities, especially on the road. You've got to capitalize.”

The Wild also failed to register a shot on two power plays, one with a chance to tie in the third, and the Wild is now 1 for 45 on the road on the power play.

Yeo said it’s simple. The Wild’s goals the past few games, particularly Tuesday against the Islanders, have come by getting pucks to the net and crashing it. The Wild didn’t attempt to do either on those power plays.

The one thing the Wild was good at was dumping the puck and watching the aggressive Stalock come out each time to ruin the forecheck. The other thing the Wild was good at was failed passes on one-timers.

The power play setup of the first unit is bizarre. I think it’s supposed to be an umbrella or something, but Mikael Granlund just seems miscast up top and when he got the puck tonight, he was either sending soft passes or … not shooting. Vanek on the second unit turned over three pucks on the power play.

On the penalty kill, the Wild gave up a goal to former Wild defenseman Brent Burns, who leads NHL blue-liners with nine. It came after Stalock came out to nearly the blue line to stop Erik Haula’s soft clear. That trapped Ryan Suter, Spurgeon and Brodziak, and their 55-second shift ended with a Burns deflected shot and goal.

Stalock, the second Minnesotan to ever play the Wild, got the win with 18 saves. Barely tested in my opinion with the missed chances on odd-man rushes and shockingly little sustained pressure in the offensive zone, but he did rob Spurgeon with 2:40 left.

Yeo liked the way the Wild defended, but offensively, he wants more to the inside. And when I say harder, those 2-on-1’s are basically what I’m talking about where we’re looking for the nice play. I look at how we scored our goals last game and when we score goals, we’re a team that’s hard to the net and that I think opens up plays to our skill more often. If we’re not aggressive to the net, it’s too easy to defend.”

Disappointing because of Folin’s bomb through a Jason Zucker screen to tie the game early in the third.

“I just remember getting the puck on the blue line and I shot it,” he said. “I got it pretty good and it just went in. I’ll take that as my first goal. It’s very exciting to score your first goal. I’m not really a goal scorer, so it’s always fun to get a goal here and there.”

Only 19 shots on goal by the Wild. Nino Niederreiter had none and Charlie Coyle just continues to, well, not get points and only had one shot.

In the meantime, the Wild, which yes has played fewer games than every team ahead of it in the standings, is now five points behind eighth-place San Jose in 10th place.

Saturday’s game at Arizona is big. The Coyotes are reeling. They have lost seven of eight, are in the midst of a franchise-worst eight-game home losing streak and were smoked at home tonight by Nashville. The Wild needs to go in there and get itself a confidence win.

If not, things could get pretty stressful heading into Tuesday’s game at nemesis Chicago.

On to Arizona. 6:01 a.m. flight, so adios and talk to you after Friday’s practice.

Wild responds to Keith Ballard injury with a big comeback win over the Islanders

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 10, 2014 - 12:18 AM

As of now, there’s no further update on defenseman Keith Ballard beyond the team’s original report that Ballard was conscious when he left the arena via ambulance tonight and that he was taken to a local hospital for evaluation and observation.

Scary scene on the ice here tonight when Ballard’s head was driven into the red dasher on top of the boards at the visiting bench in the second period. Ballard was bleeding from the face (Nate Prosser said there was blood on the dasher) and players said Ballard initially looked unconscious and was convulsing.

 

Athletic therapist quickly turned Ballard on his side to open up his airway and doctors surrounded him and called quickly for paramedics. After a few minutes, Ballard was assisted to his feet and helped slowly off the ice.

The Wild responded, storming back from a 3-0 deficit en route to a 5-4 win. Ironically, the Islanders did the exact same thing by the exact score to the Wild in this very arena last December. Remember, that was the loss most everybody thought could result in a housecleaning the next day. It never happened and the Wild soon would turn around its season.

Tonight, the Wild rallied from three goals down to win in regulation for the first time in franchise history. It was the first time the Wild rallied from three goals down to win at home since (overtime) since Oct. 6, 2009, vs. Anaheim.

First, the hit. I’ve watched it a dozen times and every time I watch it, I think it was more and more needless by Matt Martin. Whether Ballard was dodging the check or not, it was an absolutely needless hit, plain and simple, and came well after Ballard dumped the puck into the corner. Just look at the replay. There is nobody else in the screen but Ballard and Martin because the puck was long gone.

Yes, Ballard turned to avoid the check, but it was Martin that drove Ballard recklessly into the red dasher in my opinion.

“It was really scary,” Erik Haula said. “I saw [Martin] had a lot of speed going into that hit. Keith’s just trying to get the puck in deep. Their bench was yelling that he’s dodging, but I don’t think it matters. If you come in with that much speed, he can’t protect himself when he’s probably on one leg trying to get the puck in. I just don’t understand. I don’t think that’s necessary.”

Thomas Vanek, a former Islander and teammate of Martin said, “We’ve showed before that we don’t give up and we’re resilient, and then obviously with what happened to Keith, it was all pretty sickening to us. We took it in a positive way and took the emotion in a good way and started playing real hard and it was a great comeback win for us.

“I was actually on the forecheck and the next thing I know he was in a lot of pain obviously. It’s something I don’t wish upon anyone. Obviously I played for those guys and I don’t think Martin’s a dirty player and [he] wasn’t penalized, but from what I heard of it, to me, it’s a dumb decision. Again, I didn’t see it. I just heard about it. The puck’s in the corner and you finish your hit. I heard it wasn’t dirty, but still, we’re all playing this game because we love it and we shouldn’t hurt each other, but I’m sure it wasn’t his intentions. It was sickening, but we took the emotions the right way and deserved to win and we played hard for him.”

I’m sure I’ll get more into this as we go along, but as the Wild opens a three-game road trip at San Jose on Thursday, the Wild will obviously be without Ballard. We’ll see if it’s also without Marco Scandella. Late in tonight’s game, he was given a minor for illegal check to Brock Nelson’s head. On Nov. 29, he also got an illegal check to T.J. Oshie’s head and was fined, so we’ll see what the league says about two in 10 days.

The Wild scratched Christian Folin, so he’ll play Thursday. If Scandella is in trouble, the Wild would either have to play Stu Bickel on the blue line or call up a defenseman like Justin Falk, Jon Blum or Matt Dumba.

The Wild, for a third time in five home games, came out of the gate awful. For the third time in five home games and second in a row, it fell behind at least 3-0 (I say at least because it was 4-0 vs. L.A.).

“We were able to collect ourselves after the first period,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I thought we came out with much better focus, much better mindset. It’s hard to pinpoint why we’ve started two games like this but the feeling is, I don’t know if we’re apprehensive or waiting for the next bad thing to happen instead of going and getting it.

“What I appreciate is when you mention that to the group and use the words pride and character, we know we have too much pride and character to allow that to continue, and I thought we showed that the rest of the game.”

After the Ballard incident, Mikael Granlund stepped up on Kyle Okposo and drew a retaliatory slash. Jason Pominville deflected Ryan Suter’s shot (three assists for Suter in his first game back from the mumps) to make it 3-1.

Then Kyle Brodziak fought Martin in response to the Ballard hit. Brodziak took a beating but got points from everybody in the locker room.

“When it’s right in front of your bench (the Ballard injury) and you see what’s out there and then you also see what Kyle did after, backing up his teammates, I think that was the turning point for our hockey club tonight and that’s something that’s great to see when you’re defending one another.”

Yeo said, “There were a number of guys that were engaged physically and emotionally after that point. I thought that we came out really well to start out the second period, but I thought that took us to a different level. I’m really hoping this is something we can build off as a team. When you see guys band together like that, that’s what we need going forward.”

The Wild controlled the rest of the period but couldn’t buy another goal. Then on the Islanders only shot of the period, Josh Bailey scored on a breakaway. That should have been the dagger, but Erik Haula said everybody went back to the locker room, collected themselves and internally (not out loud) all got a “win one for Bally attitude.”

Koivu took Jason Zucker’s pass, stepped in front of the net, fired and scored. Then, Haula deflected a pass off Thomas Hickey’s skate and in. Then, 45 seconds later, Zach Parise shot and Thomas Vanek crashed the net and tied the game. Finally, with 4:33 left, Nino Niederreiter jammed away at a Vanek rebound and scored the eventual winner and his team-leading 12th goal on his third stab at the puck and from his belly.

Niederreiter said, “Obviously you never want to see something like that happen to your teammates or in general in the league and it obviously was a scary moment at the time, but I felt like we carried it in a positive way and made sure we don’t focus about what’s going on with Ballard, which obviously was scary, but at the same time we gave everything to try to get better.

“Such a great comeback. When Haulzy got the tying goal, we were just buzzing and trying to get the next one before regulation ends, and that’s what happened and obviously we’re very happy about it.”

Yeo said he will provide a Ballard update Wednesday. The team leaves in the morning and practices in San Jose. I’ll come to you afterward. Apparently there’s some crazy storm coming to the Bay Area on Thursday, so wish us all luck.

I’ve been tweeted by several people and haven’t caught up on what this thing will entail.

Obviously, the Wild shouldn’t need a Ballard injury to make them angry and wake them up.

“You can draw up x’s and o’s, skill is no question a big part of the game, but passion and emotion has to be there for us, no question,” Yeo said. “We have to make sure that we find a way to bring that. We shouldn’t have to have something like that to bring it out of us. That’s whe we’re at our best, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s part of our identity. We need to bring that every game.”

On Suter, who was great, “Nice to ease him into it. 29 minutes,” Yeo said sarcastically. “I mean, I thought that as the game wore on he was starting to find his game more and more. We knew it was going to be tough for him to get it going 100 percent right from the start…from penalty kills to power play to every aspect of his game, he just kept getting stronger and showed you how important he is to us.”

On Vanek’s goal and assist and Niederreiter responding after a few poor games, Yeo said, “Yeah, I’m very happy for those guys whether it’s against a former team or not. We want to get to a point where everybody is feeling good about their game and that’s been difficult to make happen. I think everybody contributed to this win tonight ,and that’s what I think makes us a great team. We have good players, but we want to be a great team. In order for that to happen we need different guys stepping up, but every guy going out and playing the same way. For the last two periods we had that.

“You want to win, and you get wrapped up in the score, but we have to make sure that our game is going. If our game is going and everybody is firing on all cylinders then the score will take care of itself. The biggest thing to me more than anything…and obviously I’m ecstatic that we won – but we needed to respond. We needed to respond after that first period, and I was very pleased with the way we were responding, and it’s good for the players to get rewarded for it.”

Koivu was great. Won 22 of 30 faceoffs to go with his goal and assist. He has won 20-plus draws three times this year and in two games in a row. In fact, he has done this six times in his career and is the only Wild player in history to win 20-plus draws in a game.

On the comeback, Koivu said, “Well, you don’t want to be in that situation, but you never know what’s going to happen or what to expect. I think we have to learn from that, as well. For us, it was a very emotional night. At the end a great feeling, but still you don’t want to see one of your teammates going down like that. So, hopefully Keith is well and we’ll move on and have him back as soon as possible.”

Lastly, because of what happened to Ballard, I had to rewrite my notebook on the fly and this obviously couldn’t see the light of day. But I thought you would find this interesting. The quotes were obviously from before the game. I will talk to you from San Jose on Wednesday and will report from the plane if Martin or Scandella face hearings.

By MICHAEL RUSSO

mrusso@startribune.com

If you’re a Wild fan or somebody who has watched Keith Ballard play throughout his University of Minnesota and 10-year NHL career, the second Corey Perry tried to squeeze between Ballard and the boards last Friday, you knew what was coming.

Ballard lowered his left hip and sandwiched the Anaheim Ducks star. The difference between this hip check and so many of Ballard’s others is Perry sustained a sprained knee and will miss up to a month.

Ballard said that’s “very rare” and he’s not trying to hurt anybody with the hip check, which is nearly extinct in today’s NHL.

“I could have easily went in and put my hand up and not even hit him and let him dump it in, but what if he beats me back to the net and gets a goal?” Ballard said. “He’s a 50-goal scorer.”

On Ballard’s next shift, the defenseman fought Nate Thompson, uncomfortable because he knows Thompson. Thompson, who lives in Minnesota because he’s married to Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart’s sister, and Ballard work out and skate together in the offseason.

“He just looked at me and said, ‘Bally, we’ve got to do it,’ and I said, ‘Of course, I understand.’ It’s either him or Tim Jackman,” Ballard said, laughing, regarding the Ducks’ other tough guy who is coincidentally another friend and Minnesota resident. “That’s part of it, although squaring off was a little awkward because I don’t generally fight my friends.

“I’ve done the hip check lots of times and I end up getting into lots of fights about it.”

Even though the maneuver is legal, no player likes to be nailed by one. The perception is you’re going after an opponent’s knees. Perry felt Ballard got him low, which arguably could have been penalized as clipping.

Ballard doesn’t remember learning the hip check, only that he did it a lot in Phoenix to stand out.  Gophers assistant coach Mike Guentzel recalls Ballard deploying the hip check a lot in college.

“Curt Giles was a great hip checker, so maybe Bally remembers him doing it with the North Stars,” Guentzel said. “Bally was always good at that and always had a knack for it. What makes Bally so good is how he goes from upright to low so quick, so it just surprises people and they get mad. But you’ve got to do what you’re good at.”

Darcy Kuemper exits early again as the Wild rallies, then blows third-period lead to Anaheim

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 5, 2014 - 11:27 PM

Zach Parise could have come out after tonight’s 5-4 loss to Anaheim and said, “Told ya.”

Just kidding.

But ironically one game after the Wild’s leading scorer angered some by asking if booing fans would have preferred the Wild scored four power-play goals against Montreal but lost, the Wild’s power play nearly ripped the roof off Xcel Energy Center tonight when Mikko Koivu and Parise connected power-play goals 11 seconds apart in the second period.

Those power-play goals helped the Wild storm back from a 3-0 hole. Jonas Brodin tied the score at 3-3 late in the second period, then Justin Fontaine snapped a 15-game goal drought 2:07 into the third.

But Darcy Kuemper, pulled in two of his previous three home starts, made it 3 for 4 when he gave up the tying goal to Tim Jackman 90 seconds later, then the go-ahead goal and eventual winner to Matt Beleskey less than five minutes after that.

Now, to answer the question I received 100 times (guessing) on Twitter after the game, Josh Harding has played one minor-league game in 11 months. He is not ready. He is expected to play at Charlotte on Saturday and Monday after stopping 50 of 54 shots in a 5-4 shootout loss last Sunday at San Antonio, but it’s the Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom show right now for the time being.

It’ll be interesting to see if Yeo allows Kuemper the net Tuesday against the Islanders because Yeo did his absolute best to tiptoe around any Kuemper questions in the postgame. He has bounced back before, but he only has to keep bouncing back because he keeps having games like tonight.

When a reporter opened the presser by noting that Kuemper didn’t seem to give up any bad goals but didn’t seem to make the key save when the team needed him to, Yeo subtly noted that Kuemper probably would agree with that.

And he did. After the game, Kuemper said he didn’t feel like he was fighting the puck (which he wasn’t) and got beat with good shots. But he said he can’t be letting in five and said it was tough giving up that tying goal to Jackman after the Wild worked so hard to rally back from a 3-0 hole and take a one-goal lead.

It was the third time in four starts Kuemper was yanked at Xcel Energy Center, and in those starts he has a .755 save percentage and 5.37 goals-against average. But he said he feels it’s just a “coincidence,” that he didn’t really have a chance to do anything against Buffalo because he was out of the net on two goals on two shots so the Wild could change momentum, that tonight he felt fine and that only the L.A. game did he feel he was fighting it.

So he said, mentally he feels fine right now.

Tonight was only the Wild’s third regulation loss in the past 11 games. But it is three points back of Winnipeg, which keeps on winning somehow. So do teams like Nashville and Calgary, so the Wild best get on a real run because it seems in this conference, you don’t gain ground when you win but you surely lose ground when you lose.

A perfect example is how the Wild was 7-2-1 in its previous 10 and not for more than a few minutes did it get into the top-8 and it actually somehow dropped from ninth to 10.

Now it doesn’t play til Tuesday when the Isles come to St. Paul. After that, a key three-game road trip to San Jose, Arizona and Chicago.

The Wild’s response came after an awful first period in which Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg gave Anaheim, the top team in the Western Conference, a 2-0 lead despite losing leading goal scorer Corey Perry to a lower-body injury after a Keith Ballard hip check.

Some Ducks fans felt it was clipping because Ballard seemed to get Perry across or below the knee, which is the definition of clipping in the rulebook. There was no call.

But how bad was the opening 20 for the Wild?  When your only two scoring chances are provided by fourth-line wingers Ryan Carter (no points in the past nine games) and Justin Fontaine (no goals since Oct. 28 before Friday), it’s safe to say nobody was running well.

In fact, other than one shot by Koivu, nobody from the Wild’s first, second or third line or any of the six defensemen had a shot.

But then the Wild rallied and got jolted by the fans before taking a 4-3 lead. Parise didn’t feel like the Wild got complacent and celebrated too early after the Fontaine goal, but he wasn’t about to single out the goaltending either.

He said the Wild played a decent game after spotting the Ducks a 3-0 lead, and he did say that with a little tongue in cheek because he’s well aware the 3-0 deficit before the team started to find its game is unacceptable.

“We rallied back, but there’s no reason that any of us should have a good feeling about that. We lost the game,” Yeo said.

The one positive of the game was Koivu and Parise scoring 11 seconds apart on the power play, so the hope is the Wild can build off of that while keeping the other parts of its game firm.

But the Wild can’t afford Ryan Suter to be out long. Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella were each minus-3 tonight, and Spurgeon has had a run of tough games lately. He is minus-8 in his past five games. Nino Niederreiter was also minus-3 tonight and Thomas Vanek was minus-2.

Talk to you after Saturday’s practice.

Despite Wild's victory over Montreal, fans voice frustration over team's poor power play

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 3, 2014 - 10:41 PM

Good win for the Wild tonight … in spite of the power play that has taken on a life of its own.

I don’t know how the Wild’s going to break out of the power-play doldrums because it’s clear it’s in the collective head of players and it’s clear the hometown fans are fed up and ready to pounce. They proved that tonight by booing virtually every second of a five-minute major in the third period with the team up 2-0 and having had the puck virtually every moment of the first two periods against a fast, good-skating Eastern Conference finalist a year ago.

The boos with the team leading created an intense Twitter debate on my feed at least between fans watching as to whether that was appropriate or not. I’ll wimp out and not offer an opinion because I don’t have to pay for tickets and the people in the building do.

But I will say, as ineffective as the Wild power play has been this season, the hisses and whistles and angry boos seemed to help cripple that one because it was as bad as it has been all year. Just look at the replay if you don’t believe me. The puck was like a hot potato. Nobody wanted it. Player after player just kept throwing it away like, ‘Here, it’s your problem.’

Hey, these guys may be professionals, but thousands of people booing your every move, it’s not exactly simple to ignore it and make a play.

Not surprisingly, the Wild barely entered the zone and didn’t manage a shot just like a second-period, 58-second 5-on-3. But the fan frustration with the power play actually began on the first one. Fans up below me were booing with the first cleared puck.

This is a byproduct though of a quarter’s season’s worth of bad power plays that have absolutely cost the Wild games and is largely the reason why the team is once again clawing around the seventh, eighth, ninth spot in the West.

The power play went 0 for 5 and is now 7 for 78, which is 29th in the NHL.

Jason Pominville actually made the point that I joked about on Twitter. At least the Wild ate up another five minutes of the third and “didn’t give up much,” Pominville said. “Didn’t get much,” but bottom line, the Wild won thanks to Pominville’s second-period winning goal, his first goal in 11 games and second in 17 – both against Montreal.

On the power play, assistant coach Andrew Brunette’s thoughts on the frustrating power play were in Tuesday’s paper. If you didn’t read it, take a look on startribune.com/wild.

Coach Mike Yeo said, “It’s up to me to figure out how to deal with it, it’s up to me to correct it. This is not easy for our players to deal with right now.

“The fact of the matter is we win a big game against a good team without Suts (Ryan Suter) and we did a lot of good things, and you almost kind of leave the game not feeling great about it. I would say the last 10 games is somewhat similar. We’re 7-2-1 in our last 10 games and a lot of times you’re leaving the rink and you win the game” and don’t have a good feeling.

“Building momentum is a little tough right now.

“I’m not going to deny it, it’s the one thing that’s keeping us from being an elite team. But we’ve got the group to do it. We’ll figure it out. I definitely commend them for keeping their focus and winning games in spite of the way it’s gone.”

Yeo is right. The PK has been outstanding. The 5-on-5 play has been real good, although it’s take a little turn in the past 10 games despite the win. If the Wild could just get the power play to click, it’ll go on a run. On the other hand, if the Wild doesn’t figure out this power play problem, it will go nowhere and be in danger of missing the playoffs.

“Everyone’s frustrated. Fans are frustrated,” Yeo said. “But trust me, I’d be willing to bet they’re not as frustrated as we are. It would be very beneficial to everybody on our side, whether it’s points, whether it’s wins, we know this is something that has to get better. It will get better. It’s not going to come easily. But the fact of the matter is it’s about winning hockey games. Again, I give our guys credit. We found a way to win. We didn’t score on a 5-on-3, we didn’t score on a five-minute major and we still won a hockey game. To me there’s character involved in that.”

Zach Parise, who assisted on Pominville’s goal and now has nine points in the past eight games since returning from a concussion, on the fans booing the power play: “We won the game. It doesn’t matter. We won the game. I mean, you want us to score four power-play goals and lose? We won the game. We beat arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference, and that’s the most important thing.”

Pominville’s goal was his first since Nov. 8, and as Parise said, it’s funny the way it goes. Pominville has been snakebit bigtime and yet “he’s able to get one not even shooting, not even looking at the puck. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Parise also praised the job the defensemen did in Suter’s absence. I thought Jonas Brodin was outstanding tonight. Same with Marco Scandella.

Christian Folin, fresh up from Iowa, assisted on Pominville’s goal, was plus-2, had two shots and survived the hit from behind from Eric Tangradi. He drew the major with a cut above his left eyelid.

Pominville laughed about his goal. Luckily it was called good goal on the ice because Toronto didn’t find conclusive evidence that the puck didn’t deflect off Pominville’s stick below the crossbar. So if it was waved off, it would have been no goal like the Parise one in St. Louis last year.

Pominville even mimicked how he scored to his teammates at the bench during the long review. He could be seen laughing showing how he ducked and the puck hit the shaft of his stick that he held vertically.

“It’s weird the way it goes sometimes,” he said. “You’re going through a tough stretch and you get some good looks and can’t find a way, but then you get one of those. Hopefully I can build off that.”

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