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

Slip-sliding Wild humbled, exposed in St. Louis

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 28, 2014 - 7:19 AM

EDITED, REVISED FRIDAY MORNING

Just 2 ½ weeks ago, the Wild took a moral victory from a home shootout loss against the St. Louis Blues, claiming it proved it could play with St. Louis, that it made a statement.

“I think [the Blues] thought they were going to take it to us physically, and our guys responded,” coach Mike Yeo said after that game. “I’ve seen this from our group a lot. When people try to play like that against us, usually we’re able to find another gear.”

It’s safe to say the Wild was brought back to reality Thursday. The Wild suffered its ninth straight loss to St. Louis (0-6-3) and after a strong start that didn't result in a goal, the game in St. Louis resembled most of Minnesota's games in St. Louis - a decisive beatdown from the Blues. The Wild has struggles in a number of arenas - Dallas, San Jose, Vancouver off the top of my head. But almost every time the Wild goes to St. Louis, the losses are painful. It's been 12 games now since a regulation win. 

The Wild has lost 9 of its past 12 games (3-5-4) since the trade deadline and this has the feel of a team very capable of blowing its season.

The Wild had a good start to tonight’s game, jumped out to an 8-1 shot lead, took five shots on its first power play, naturally couldn’t score and then boom, T.J. Oshie scored an easy one.

The Wild continued to play well, but then on a late double minor that was a gift because the refs missed what looked like an elbow by Cody McCormick on Kevin Shattenkick, the Wild not only didn’t register a shot in the entire four minutes of power-play time, Jared Spurgeon, for the second game in a row, coughed up the puck and Oshie scored a back-breaking shorthanded breakaway goal (the second of his three) in the waning seconds of the first.

It was the second time in two games Spurgeon “assisted” on the second goal of a game by the same player (David Booth) in the final seconds of a period. Talk about momentum-turning. The one against Vancouver wasn’t officially shorthanded, but it may as well have been.

As disconcerting as Spurgeon’s gaffe was the play of Dany Heatley before the turnover.

Mike Yeo, who has to know he will undoubtedly go down with this ship if the Wild misses the playoffs, continues to let Heatley play and play and play. Heatley has no goals since Feb. 27, 12 in 74 games and is a team-worst minus-18. He was on for both first-period goals Thursday. He is a minus-7 the past five games. But Yeo continues to put him in the lineup despite the fact that he’s not able to function in a third- or fourth-line (four shots in the past 11 games).

But he plays him because he can paint it like he’s a power-play contributor (more PPG’s than anybody in the league since 2001). But not only has Heatley not had a power-play goal since Feb. 1 or a power-play assist since Feb. 6, tonight he twice didn’t get the puck deep on entries. The first time, he didn’t catch Ryan Suter’s pass, the second he turned it over. Moments later, Spurgeon gave the puck to Oshie.

Yeo keeps saying that if Heatley’s not going to score, he’s got to be responsible defensively, get in on the forecheck, be physical because he’s a big body, be strong on pucks (he wasn’t on this particular power-play shift). This is not Dany Heatley’s game. He cannot function in a third- or fourth-line role, and as much as it pains me to say because I like Heatley and I’ve long admired him as a player (I used to watch him light up opponents in Atlanta as a writer in the Southeast Division), he’s not the Dany Heatley he used to be.

So, at some point, Yeo’s got to pull him from the lineup. And Yeo did make it sound before the game that it is coming. After the game, Yeo didn’t want to talk about individuals and said it was a “team loss.”

Here's the thing: Phoenix just pulled off five of six points on its road trip, including consecutive wins at Pittsburgh and New Jersey with a backup goalie in net. Dave Tippett, Yeo's mentor, scratched veterans with long pedigrees - Mike Ribeiro and Derek Morris - in those 2 wins. Sometimes as a coach, you have to make difficult decisions with veterans. My guess is Yeo is worried if Heatley handles it poorly and it becomes a soap opera. Heatley is a proud vet, a popular teammate and nobody wants to embarrass him at this stage of his career. But guess what? The Wild has lost nine of 12 and its season is on fragile footing. 

The Wild, since the trade deadline, looks like a slow team for many reasons, so it’s time to get Justin Fontaine back into the lineup. Fontaine scored a hat trick last time the Wild went to Phoenix, so put him in there. And maybe get Stephane Veilleux and his speed and energy into the lineup. McCormick did suffer a bad cut over his left eye and missed the second half of the game after the Shattenkirk, Max Lapierre (Alex Burrows Jr.) retaliation).

But the Heatley turnovers were unsettling because the Wild talks on and on about getting pucks deep and going to work.

Even Zach Parise said after tonight’s game of the Blues, “They’re very disciplined. They don’t turn the puck over at the blue line. I mean, every time they’re making our D go behind and get it and they’re finishing them every single time. They’re very disciplined like that. They wear you down.”

Parise’s eyes were looking right at me when he said this. This was a subtle message that the Wild has not been committed to doing the same, and that’s something Yeo has been preaching.

The Wild’s power play was 0 for 6. It gave up a shortie and another two power-play goals. If you’re counting at home, that’s 11 power-play goals on 31 chances in the past 12 games.

“Our special teams have been terrible,” Suter said. “We have to figure that out, or we’re not even going to make the playoffs.”

The Wild is now one point up on Phoenix going into Saturday’s clash. The Wild is six up on Dallas and the Stars have two games in hand and a much easier schedule than Minnesota down the stretch.

This is not trending the right way.

The Wild, believe it or not, has no practice Friday even though it has not had a full practice since last Friday. Remember, even after Monday’s day off, Yeo gave eight big-minute players the day off.

Suter said Yeo’s done a great job giving guys a chance to recharge their batteries, but he almost wishes they could practice Friday in Phoenix just so the Wild players can get feeling good about themselves.

Unfortunately, there’s no ice at Glendale Arena. If I’m Yeo, I get these guys together for some team activity. I joked in the postgame maybe ball hockey. Hey, it worked for Canada in the Olympics (kidding).

The deal is the Wild needs to do something to relax, get rid of the tension and as Suter said feel good again. Because this team is walking on pins and needles right now. It is so palpable when you stroll through the locker room.

Tonight, the Blues sent a painful message to the Wild. If the Wild does make the playoffs and backs into the Blues, the Blues wanted to let them know how quick and painful that series could be.

There were unbelievable battles tonight, scrums, David Backes trash-talking Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper from the bench after Kuemper cross-checked him in front of the net.

“I haven't had a lot of rookie goalies with disrespect like that in front of the net,” Backes said. “That's where I've played a long time. When I feel disrespected, I'm going to stand my ground and see if there's any response. The result was our guys scored I think like three, four minutes after that. Schwartzy (Jaden) puts one in the top corner and that's enough talking for us. We'll keep playing and keep going and great job by our guys to respond.”

That’s it for me. I wrote about Darcy Kuemper in my game notebook, so please give that a read, and of course the game story for more details. I get why the Wild started Kuemper, and I think it was an organizational decision. BUT, as I wrote after the Vancouver game and said on the radio before the game, I didn't like the move. I would have given Kuemper a few mental days off to get his mind and body ready for the Phoenix game. The Wild was bound to lose in St. Louis game no matter how well it played and who was in goal. Now the Wild threw him to the wolves and his confidence may be further shaken. This kid has won twice in the past nine starts now, has allowed 3+ goals in six of eight starts now. 

I have a crazy travel day Friday and a wakeup call in 4 ½ hours, believe it or not. No practice Friday, so likely no blog as I work on my advance for the big Phoenix tilt.

Wild better figure out a way to get its game back. A “W” would be nice, too.

Shaky goaltending, scoring woes lead to another Wild home loss before critical road trip

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 26, 2014 - 11:22 PM

As they say in pro sports after a bad defeat, it’s a good thing the Wild can push this one aside and get right back at it the next night.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, the unenviable task of putting a 5-2 home defeat to Vancouver in the rear view mirror is by walking into one of the most intimidating arenas in the NHL and beating one of the most intimidating teams, the St. Louis Blues, on Thursday night.

Good luck with that.

The Wild has not only lost eight in a row to St. Louis (0-5-3), it is 3-6-2 in its past 11 at St. Louis. Those three wins? All shootout, meaning the Wild hasn’t won in regulation in St. Louis in 11 games since Oct. 20, 2007, having been outscored 34-19 in that stretch. In the past 11 visits, the Wild’s power play is 3 for 37 (8.1 percent).

And you thought I couldn’t make you feel worse after tonight.

Biggest concern after tonight?

Goaltending. We’ve seen signs lately of Darcy Kuemper of wilting. It’s not that he has been bad, but there have been bad, untimely goals, like the first one in Boston, those third-period ones to Edmonton, not holding a 2-0 shootout lead to Columbus.

Tonight, he gave up three goals on 12 shots through 40 minutes until getting the heave-ho by coach Mike Yeo. Now, it’s not like they were terrible goals.

The first, David Booth made something out of nothing by chipping a puck out of the zone, getting by Marco Scandella and then not only using Jon Blum as a screen, he used a charging Canucks player up the middle as a decoy and blew a shot through Blum’s legs.

But, Kuemper was in the middle of his crease, not on top. Second goal, he can’t be faulted. Came out of nowhere again when Jared Spurgeon “felt [the puck] roll over the heel of my stick too late.” Booth gobbled up the puck and blew it by Kuemper.

Then, third goal off a faceoff, Charlie Coyle was outmuscled to a loose puck by Zack Kassian and he blew it by Kuemper, who was blinded by a screen. Again though, Kuemper was in the middle of his crease instead of on top. I don’t proclaim to be a goalie expert, but Kuemper is 6-5. He’s challenging, and those pucks may hit him by default. Also, all three goals went glove hand.

Now, Kuemper wasn’t happy with his game obviously, but he says he still feels good about his game technically. He has won two times in the past eight starts and has given up three or more goals in five of his past seven starts. He says tonight was a bad game. He said the other games, after watching video, he felt good about his game, but it seemed every one there was just a bad bounce that was ending in his net.

But here’s the thing: the Wild doesn’t score enough to handle ordinary goaltending. That’s what made the job Kuemper did this second half and the job Josh Harding did the first half so impressive.

But, on the other hand, even though eight goals have somehow gotten by Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov in the past two games on only 35 shots, Yeo says there’s another level the Wild can get to defensively.

“I’m not saying we can’t be any better between the pipes, but there are some quality chances we’re giving up,” Yeo said.

The sigh in the soldout Xcel Energy Center, which turned to boos in the third, after Vancouver made it 3-1 was audible. At that point, the Wild trailed by 2 despite a 24-12 shot lead. At 2-1, it was 23-9.

Kuemper says he’s still confident, but he did look rattled after Kassian scored. Yeo said it’s up to the coaches to help rid that from Kuemper’s melon and Yeo reminded how earlier this season, Kuemper gave up eight goals at Colorado (pulled in that game, too) and Calgary. The Wild returned home and Yeo called this the “biggest challenge” of Kuemper’s season.

Kuemper responded by making 34 saves in a 2-1 win over Tampa Bay, the first of five wins in a row.

Of course, those came against Tampa Bay, Nashville, Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary.

The Wild now heads to St. Louis, Phoenix, L.A., Chicago and come home to play Pittsburgh. Gulp.

Yeo didn’t say whom the Wild will come back with – Kuemper or Bryzgalov – Thursday in St. Louis.

Honestly, I usually have a good gut feel. I honestly don’t know whom the coaching staff chooses.

Yeo talked like he wanted to see how Kuemper would respond, but to me, what if he gets shellacked again? What will his mental state be going into the mammoth Phoenix game on Saturday?

I still think if the Wild’s going anywhere, it’s going to have to be Kuemper who leads them there. I’d give Kuemper a few mental days off, come back with Bryzgalov in St. Louis and plan on Kuemper starting at Phoenix and Los Angeles, where he was so superb Jan. 7 in that shootout win. If for some reason Bryzgalov walks into St. Louis and performs incredibly, then maybe you change it up.

Goaltending isn’t the only issue, of course.

The Wild again had unbelievable chances tonight, but frustratingly offensive-challenge team managed two goals, and one of those was a meaningless goal by Nino Niederreiter, who was demoted to the fourth line, scored with the Wild trailing 5-1.

The Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu-Coyle line buzzed the first two periods and got a Koivu to Coyle goal. Moulson was robbed a few times.

“We just couldn’t put the puck in the net,” Koivu said. “That’s the difference. When you fall behind like that, you just can’t get the momentum back for some reason. It’s a tough way to play the third especially. It’s tough to find a reason right now why we didn’t score. But we can’t allow five goals either. We have to be better in front of our goalie.”

The Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund (minus-3, with Marco Scandella)-Jason Pominville line couldn’t buy a goal either.

Parise had a tying goal robbed from the goal line on a power play in the second by Alex Edler.

“We’ve got to score. Our line in particular, we had some good chances, some good looks,” said Parise. “We have to be better, we have to score.”

This game did have a different feel than the overtime win in Detroit on Sunday, a game the Wild forechecked like no other game this season. The Wild is 1-2-3 in its past six, unacceptable for a team that’s supposed to be good at home.

Look at the first period tonight. The Wild was attempted all these fancy plays around the net, quite astonishing from a team that ranks 26th in the NHL in scoring.

“There’s no question that we’ve almost approached these [home] games with, I want to say a bit of an arrogance almost,” Yeo said. “We talk before the game about the need to establish momentum, to get pucks behind their defense early in the game and we come down pretty much three of the first four shifts and turn a puck over just inside their blue line [for] … odd-man rushes.

“We come into these games sort of just believing in the outcome. Part of that is good. But you better understand what it takes to make that happen.”

Yeo said that the urgency level from the Detroit game “slipped back.” Offensively, the team was missing that fight around the net.

“We have to have a mentality that we will not be denied,” Yeo said.

Tonight’s power play was terrible. It was 0 for 4, and the second Booth goal off the Spurgeon turnover came at the end of an ugly power play.

“Coming into a game like this, every power play is an opportunity to be a game changer,” Yeo said. ““We sort of went out there with the idea that we were just sort of going to grab the puck and make a couple plays and shoot it in an empty net.”

Also reflective of the urgency drop, Yeo said the Wild’s defensive game was poor after giving up 16 shots in Detroit.

He said the good news is “it’s hard to imagine we’d go into a game in St. Louis without the urgency level that we need.”

So, the Wild is six up on Dallas. The Stars have a game in hand. IF, the Wild loses at St. Louis and Phoenix wins in Jersey, the Coyotes will be one point back of the Wild going into Saturday’s clash in Glendale.

Is it getting tense in here, Zach? “No. I know you guys like to make them tense and create them tense. We feel kind of down on ourselves right now from that game, but we have to shift our mindset to [Thursday].”

Added Koivu, “We’ve got to move on and bounce back [Thursday]. Right now it’s frustrating, but the only way to get it back is play a good game [Thursday] night. Big challenge, but we’ve got to find a way to get better as a team.”

With a second of a back-to-back, availability Thursday will likely be before the game, so there may not be a pregame blog until we talk to Yeo and some players before. I’ve got to get home and pack.

Huge four-game trip coming up, to say the least. It's gut check time. The Wild, with seven of its nine final games against teams in playoff spots, have by far the hardest schedule between them, Dallas and Phoenix.

Big guns all show up as Wild rallies past Detroit for overtime victory

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 23, 2014 - 10:49 PM

As much angst as has surrounded the Wild lately, just imagine what it must be like to be the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars these days.

Imagine what it must feel like to have to chase 7th-place Minnesota when in the past nine games, the Wild has played in five 3-point games (overtimes/shootouts) and won two other games in regulation. So that’s points in seven of the past nine games (3-2-4).

Prior to a 4-3 regulation loss at Dallas, the Wild won five in a row and was 9-2-2 in a stretch of 13 games leading into the trade deadline, so we can all say what we want about the Wild, but it isn’t making it easy on the Coyotes and Stars.

Tonight, the Wild absolutely got what it deserved – a victory by a 4-3 score on Matt Moulson’s overtime winner.

Read the gamer for all the details, but the big guns all came through.

The gist of the game if you didn’t see it, and I know this may sound like a broken record, but the Wild dominated the first period, looked better than it has in weeks, put forth an aggressive forecheck, jumped out to an 8-1 shot lead and next thing you know, it’s down 2-0 by the 20-minute mark.

It had to be unbelievably dejecting for a team with so much pressure on it.

But during the first intermission, coach Mike Yeo told his players to just stick with it, to play its game, to not let frustration change that game. They didn't. Just rewatch the forechecks, sustained pressure, the net-crashing in the third period.

Jason Pominville made it 2-1 with his 27th goal with 8:03 left in the second. In the third, Charlie Coyle tied it and Zach Parise gave the Wild a 3-2 lead just 1:45 later. Tomas Tatar stole a puck from Parise, then scored a great goal with a move to the inside that fooled Ryan Suter for the tying goal, but in overtime, Coyle made an outstanding move to exit the zone and Moulson tipped Jonas Brodin’s shot for his second career winner.

Suter had two assists, as did Mikko Koivu, who won 12 of 15 faceoffs, stole the puck and put together an incredible forecheck (just watch the replay of how dominant he was on this shift, although he got away with a slash of Nik Kronwall's stick) that led to Coyle’s goal. Koivu was tremendous in the third, looking like the old Koivu on the forecheck. At stride in the neutral zone, I think he’s still laboring on that surgically-repaired ankle. But that certainly didn’t hold him back in the third.

Coyle was plus-2, had two points, scored goals in consecutive games for the first time in his career, had three shots and five hits. Moulson has four goals and four assists in 10 games with the Wild.

The Wild allowed 16 shots to the Red Wings, the second-fewest shots Detroit has had at home since 1991, according to the Wild’s PR staff. The Wild is now 8-4-3 on the road in the past 15 games, which bodes well when one considers that after Wednesday’s home game against Vancouver, the Wild hits the road for games at St. Louis, Phoenix, L.A. and Chicago.

Ilya Bryzgalov made 13 saves. By the way, not counting the shootout, I believe seven of the nine goals he has allowed in four starts with the Wild were blocker side.

Big for the Wild to actually get that extra point past regulation. This is a team that had lost its last four shootouts/overtimes.

Also impressive, the Wild had this much energy and legs in a second of a back-to-back and fifth game in seven nights.

The Wild is off Monday, so likely no blog. I grabbed a lot of leftovers postgame to write a follow.

I’ll be on KFAN at 11:45 a.m. on Monday and on KFAN from the penalty box starting at 9:55 a.m. Wednesday.

Talk to you Tuesday.

Yeo: This is not, "Oh no, here we go again!"

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 22, 2014 - 8:19 PM

Apologies for the late blog, but I needed to speed through my game story and notebook and hustle to the airport for a 7 p.m. flight.

Greetings from the friendly skies.

One piece of news: Defenseman Clayton Stoner left tonight’s 3-2 loss to Detroit with about five or six minutes left. He limped down the runway. I didn’t see what happened, but Stoner’s been limping around the past three or four days, has had a part of his lower body wrapped with ice the past few days and probably aggravated it.

Either he didn’t make the trip to Detroit or is a question mark, but defenseman Jon Blum didn’t play the third period for Iowa tonight and is being called up (Remember, Keith Ballard is hurt). I think the plan was to call up Steve Kampfer, but he actually got injured in tonight’s Iowa game.

Tonight’s loss to Detroit was so typical of the Wild. Play an even first period, leave 1-1. Outplay Detroit in the second, leave down 2-1. Stoner turned the puck over, then reacted by taking a high-sticking penalty. Kyle Brodziak actually makes a great play to get a puck on the PK and promptly hands its back to Detroit with a slow clear. Not long after the giveaway, David Legwand scores a goal that Darcy Kuemper had no chance of stopping. Third period, Charlie Coyle, who had a great game today, draws a penalty shot and ties the game 15 seconds in by using the same slick move he used to win that shootout in Winnipeg around Thanksgiving.

And five minutes later, Gustav Nyquist, the hottest goal scorer in the NHL since Jan. 20 with 16 goals, makes a great play to skate through the Wild’s defense before ripping a shot off the post and in.

Wild draws a power play late, can’t score on it and falls 3-2. It has now won 2 of 9 games since the trade deadline (2-3-4).

After the game though, I think Mike Yeo made a big mistake. He came to the press conference ready to paint a rosy picture on what’s going on. He’s well aware fans and media always pin late-season swoons on Yeo’s Wild. He’s very sensitive to this analysis, especially since if you actually look at the Wild’s history, late-season swoons preceded him.

Nevertheless, Yeo opened the presser with the statement: “We’ve got to find a way to win that game.”

That opened the door for me to respond, “But you’ve got two wins in your last nine. You’ve got to get some wins here, right?”

He responded, “How did I know that was coming?” and proceeded with a two-minute soliloquy about how this is not another late-season stumble and this is a different team and had some NHL-style math on a yellow sheet of paper to show that things aren’t as bad as they seem.

“You could also say we’ve got a point in nine of our last 11 games,” said Yeo, staring at a yellow piece of paper. “You could also say that was our first regulation loss in 11 games at home (7-0-3 since Jan. 14). You could also say that we’re 7-3-4 in our last 14 games. So, of course, are we sitting here and saying that we’re completely on top of it? No, definitely not.

“There’s a lot of things that we have to do better. [Penalty kill] is number 1 on our list. And finding ways to win a lot of these one-goal games. … We’re not completely happy or satisfied, believe me. But at the same time, what I hope is we don’t try to turn this into a big story of, ‘Oh no, here we go again.’ Because I can tell you that inside the room, we don’t have that feeling. I can tell you that we’re a different team.”

Basically though, he turned the narrative of a tough loss game story into an entire game story reminding folks of the late-season stumbles the past two seasons and how what’s going on now should not be considered, “oh no, here we go again.” I can honestly tell you, I wasn’t going this route with my gamer until his spiel.

I just don’t know what he was trying to accomplish. Convince the fans? Convince the media? Convince himself? Convince the players? If his intention was to stop the outside noise of a potential late-season implosion, to me, he made it a focal point, he made it the story.

And frankly now, he better hope his players prove him right.

We’ve written so much lately about young kids like Coyle and Nino Niederreiter and how they need to step up. They did tonight. Niederreiter was better. Coyle was tremendous, and in fact, to me set the bar about what he can bring every single night. He was a force tonight and was elevated back to the Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu line because of it.

But Yeo has given tons of rope to veterans, especially Brodziak. Tonight, Brodziak was on the ice for all three goals, losing the faceoff on Detroit’s first power-play goal and turning it over before Detroit’s second.

We can all accept that despite the glorious chances Brodziak gets almost nightly that he is not a scorer. But if you’re not going to score, you certainly can’t be costing goals. His turnover in Boston three games ago led to the Bruins’ winner in that game.

Dany Heatley, one game after being a minus-2 in New Jersey, had one shot and was a non-factor.

The Wild needs more from those guys.

The Wild’s penalty kill is killing them lately. Yeo even volunteered that the penalty kill is 68 percent over this stretch. Can’t win games like that, not when you’re as offensively-challenged as the Wild continues to be.

The common theme is not winning draws and not getting clears when they get the puck. Yeo said that needs to stop.

I thought the power play looked much better today. Mikko Koivu was even shooting the puck for a change and scored a goal. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t score on the last one, but it definitely had a different look and feel on the man advantage than it did in recent games.

Kuemper has given up three or more goals in four of his past six starts. In one of those other two, he blew a 2-0 shootout lead. Hopefully he’s not cracking here (there have been some stoppable goals allowed lately, like those goals in the Edmonton game, the first goal in Boston, arguably the third tonight), because again, the Wild doesn’t score enough to absorb average goaltending.

Anyway, big game Sunday in Detroit. The Wild needs to rebound, to get some W’s. But they’re going into a building where Detroit is 8-0-2 in the past 10 games since Jan. 20.

Yeo reminded again, that this is a team that doesn’t want to just eke into the playoffs, they want to do damage once they’re there.

“We’re in a different spot, we’re a different team, we’re a confident team, and we feel good where we’re going,” he said. “We just have to jumpstart things.”

Dallas is six points back now.

Wild steals point out of New Jersey; Parise on his return; Prosser booted from game

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 21, 2014 - 5:40 AM

Honestly, I’ll have to watch this game again to try to figure out how the heck the Wild clawed back for a point. I still didn’t get a chance to watch every goal or much of the third period and overtime in the first place because I was punching frantically at my keyboard trying to rework my file-at-the-gun story.

But needless to say, to get a point out of game where you could play that poorly in the first two periods is quite the coup. Big point, too, because Dallas, which is suddenly struggling, lost in Philly, so the Wild’s now eight up on a playoff spot.

If Phoenix hangs on to beat Florida, the Wild’s lead on the first wildcard spot will be down to four. Big three-game stretch coming up. Home and home with Detroit, which is ravaged with injuries, and then Vancouver, which is in a tumble.

The Wild then hits the road for a tough trip: at St. Louis in the second of a back-to-back, at Phoenix (massive game), at Los Angeles and at Chicago.

OK, where to start?

Just a terrible first two periods. The Wild couldn’t get anything accomplished. Its execution was terrible, it turned pucks over, it was in chip-it-out mode. Other than on the power play, the Wild couldn’t sustain any offensive pressure.

So many players had tough nights. Dany Heatley was minus-2. Nino Niederreiter was minus-1 and showed why the Wild is not yet comfortable putting him on the power play on a consistent basis. His wall play on the power play needs so much work, and he flashed that in the offensive and defensive zone on Mark Fayne’s shortie (although let’s be honest, that was a collective effort because five guys were on one side of the ice).

Jason Pominville’s six-game point streak came to an end and something was bigtime off with him tonight. From start to finish, he was fighting the puck, whiffing on them, shanking them, etc. Mikko Koivu, very tough game on the power play, and on the play that led to the OT winner, Koivu and Pominville teamed up by swinging and missing on pucks in the offensive zone. That led to Jersey’s quick counter and then mayhem before Andy Greene lost Koivu for the winner.

BUT, the Wild somehow rallied for a huge point. Zach Parise scored 21 seconds into the third on a power play (13th, which is tied for second in the NHL). Then, after Jared Spurgeon, who rarely takes penalties (26 PIM in 218 career games), took a minor, Jaromir Jagr made it 3-1.

But the Wild stayed with it and Mikael Granlund and Matt Cooke scored 4:50 apart, Cooke’s tying goal coming with 4:32 left on a deflection of Marco Scandella’s rocket.

On the difference between the first two periods and the third, Parise, who knows a thing or two about the Devils, said, “That’s the style of hockey they play. They keep the puck along their walls. They grind, they grind, they grind, they don’t put the puck in the middle of the ice, so they play low-risk hockey. In the first two periods, we didn’t skate, we didn’t chase down the puck. We kind of played right into their hands into a slow hockey game.”

In the third? Cooke said, “If you’re willing to play a slow game, then you’re feeling right into their hands.” So Cooke said the Wild began skating, getting pucks deep, got pucks to the net and they got fortunate.

“Realization that we need to skate,” Cooke said.

“When you’re faced with a two-goal deficit in the third period and you battle back to get a point on the road, you have to accept that,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I’m not sitting here saying that we’re in love with our game, but it’s positive the way the guys found a way to get that point.”

Still, Yeo was displeased with the Wild’s execution, wall play and puck support in the first 40 minutes. The lack of execution “led to a lot of turnovers, a lot of time spent in our own zone.”

Also, the Wild played with five defensemen for the final 42 minutes because Nate Prosser was assessed a five-minute elbowing penalty and game misconduct for a forearm to Tim Sestito’s face. Sestito charged in, Prosser turned with the puck out of the corner, spotted him and reacted quickly to defend himself.

The center-ice ref called it an elbowing major.

“He was taking a large run at Pross and Pross was trying to play the puck,” said Yeo, who interrupted himself and said, “I don’t like seeing anybody get hurt.”

If you go by previous NHL decisions, it probably shouldn’t result in supplemental discipline for Prosser if the NHL determines Prosser was protecting himself.

Earlier this season, when the NHL didn’t discipline Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn for launching an elbow into Cooke’s face, the league called it a “protective maneuver.”  There are times, the league says, where “defensive contact to the head” is permissible if a player skating with the puck is trying to protect himself from a check.

We’ll see Friday. Remember, Keith Ballard has a groin injury, so if Prosser is suspended, the Wild would have to call up a defenseman IF Ballard can’t play. By the way, if the NHL doesn't suspend Prosser, it doesn't mean it was the wrong call on the ice. 

The league's standards for supplemental discipline are not the same as standards for on ice penalties. 

Interesting game for Parise. Booed during warmups, and there were some cruel signs wrapped around the glass. He joked that he only read the “good ones.”

He took a penalty, only his second in the past 17 games, in the first period and was stuffed by Cory Schneider on a shorthanded breakaway.

“The first period, he’s probably thinking, ‘Man, this couldn’t go any worse,’” Yeo said. “To see him get rewarded there in the third period, for us it was great because we know what this game meant to him.”

Parise said, “I was expecting the boos. I don’t have any hard feelings toward them. I understand. I wasn’t expecting any cheers. That’s fine.”

Said Devils coach Pete DeBoer, “I understand the fans disappointment with him leaving. I also know we should all be very thankful for the time he put in. I know I feel privileged to have coached him. I hadn’t watched him in a while. You realize seeing him tonight why he’s so special. He’s always around the net, winning battles, in the crease. He’s a special player.”

The Wild is 7-2-5 in the past 14 games. So, in one sense, that’s big this time of year that the Wild has gotten points in 12 of the past 14 games. But of its past five losses, the Wild has lost four via shootout or overtime.

“Who knows, down the road, it could be important points,” said Parise. “Little bit of silver lining, but we’ve got to turn that corner and start winning some of these games that go into extra time.”

Said Matt Moulson, “Coming down the stretch, we want two points every game. You never want to lose games. You’ve got to find a way to win. These are how playoff games are played. They’re tight all the time. You have to battle for every inch.”

Said Charlie Coyle, “We didn’t start off the first two periods like we wanted to. That wasn’t our best game, or our best start either. But to start like that and come back and get that point, that was huge. But we can’t be satisfied with those late starts like that. We’ve got to come here to play and play a full 60.”

By the way, the Heatley-Coyle-Nino line, not so good tonight.

But, the Wild got the point against a desperate Devils team, went 1-1-1 on the road trip (.500, 3 out of 6 points) and keep inching toward its second consecutive playoff berth.

Early flight. Talk to you after practice Friday.

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