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

No Dubnyk, Parise, Nino, Vanek, no problem. Kuemper, Wild rallies in Nashville

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 9, 2015 - 11:54 PM

Not that we condone gambling here at Russo’s Rants, but once it was announced Devan Dubnyk would be getting the night off tonight and that the Wild’s three top goal scorers heading into this evening – Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter and Thomas Vanek – wouldn’t be playing, the Predators went from -125 to -166 favorites.

What’s Vegas know?

The Wild has been road warriors for two months, and tonight, it didn’t matter the goalie or the lineup, the Wild won in Nashville for the third time since late February by rallying from an early 2-0 deficit to win 4-2.

It was the Wild’s 12th consecutive road win, tying the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings for the longest road winning streak in NHL history. If the Wild wins out Saturday in St. Louis with a 13th in a row, the Wild will stand alone atop that record in the NHL Guide and Record Book.

That would be pretty cool, said Mike Yeo, the coach who has coached the Wild to its second 100-point year in franchise history.

OK, the scenarios (which hopefully I don’t have to correct in the morning): The Wild clinched at least the top wildcard spot tonight.

-- IF it beats St. Louis on Saturday AND Chicago loses in regulation at Colorado, the Wild finishes third in the Central and returns to Nashville for the start of the playoffs.

--This one is complicated-sounding: The Wild would play Anaheim if the Blues get more points than the Ducks, who play at Arizona on Saturday, or if St. Louis beats the Wild in regulation or overtime and the Ducks win in a shootout.

--Any other outcome, the Wild would face the Blues in the first round.

So, there’s like a 65 percent chance the Wild faces the Blues, I believe.

Gutsy effort by Darcy Kuemper tonight, who gave up two goals on the first five shots he saw in his first start since Jan. 6 and first action since Jan. 20. The first goal by Filip Forsberg skipped on the ice and hopped. The second goal sailed through traffic.

But Kuemper put it behind him, got better as the game went along and was at his best in the third period when the Wild most needed him. He stopped the final 29 shots he saw for 32 saves. Not easy given his lack of play the past three months, the pressure he was facing and the fact in the first period I thought the Wild wasn’t getting into shooting lanes and dodging checks left and right.

“Real happy for him,” Yeo said. “And I’m happy with the way our guys played in front of him to give him that chance, but when we needed him most, he was at his best. Some good mental toughness by him the way the game started. That first puck bounced and that would be difficult for any goalie. That second one he didn’t see it, so for him to be able to collect himself and stay in the game the way he did and for our guys to keep fighting, that’s story No. 1. What’s No. 2?”

Depth. The Wild’s deep. Seventy-seven goals were out of the lineup tonight with no Parise, Vanek or Niederreiter in there, yet Jason Zucker and Marco Scandella scored 31 seconds apart late in the second, Jason Pominville scored the winner with 2:03 left and Zucker added an empty-netter that also earned Mikko Koivu his 500th point.

Zucker’s goal snapped the Wild’s 0 for 22, 13-game road power-play-goal drought. He scored his 20th and 21st goals to become the fourth Wild player to hit that mark this year. Scandella’s highlight-reel, spinorama goal (described in the gamer) was his 10th and first since Dec. 29.

“That’s big,” Yeo said of the depth, before talking about guys like Sean Bergenheim and Jordan Schroeder and Matt Cooke. “I would also say the guys we brought into the lineup, that’s a good sign when you talk about the depth. Those guys did what we were expecting them to do. They all made a statement for themselves tonight and certainly we’ve got some tough decisions ahead.”

Cooke and Schroeder assisted on the Scandella goal.

By the way, Mikael Granlund keeps winning big draws since he fell on the knife a few weeks ago with his faceoff weakness. He won a draw in Chicago that led to his goal and tonight, Pominville dug a puck out for a Granlund faceoff win and then buried the winner on a Jared Spurgeon setup. That goal also allowed St. Louis to win the division.

Kuemper felt reassurance that he can win in an actual game after so much traffic. He said it felt great to be a part of it again and Yeo said he’s confident he can be a safety net to Dubnyk in the playoffs.

“He did it last year for us,” Yeo said. “He came in and helped us win a series last year. We’ve never lost confidence in him. Between him and Backy, those guys have not not been playing because we don’t believe they can win. It’s because Dubey didn’t give us a choice with the level of play that he was at. So we’re real happy for him and obviously it’s a good thing for us.”

Kuemper said, “I told myself going into the game I just wanted to get better as it went along and just working on getting my game feet wet again. How about the guys sticking with it tonight? We go down 2-0, it would have been pretty easy to start feeling sorry for themselves, but they kept battling for me. Hats off to them.

“It was easy to move past that and just keep working on things. The speed started coming back to me the more we went. By the end of the first period, I was feeling pretty good in there.”

Koivuhttps://owa.startribune.com/owa/14.2.390.1/themes/resources/clear1x1.gif said, “Both him and Backy, the way they’ve been handling not playing in a game for a long time – all the credit to them with the way they’ve been working and practicing. I think it’s a little bit easier on Darcy as a younger goalie, but Backstrom also, the way he’s been handling that, skating with us and working hard and getting those pucks every single day. You’ve got to give them credit. Obviously happy for him. It’s a big win.”

Zucker said, “We had a lot of different line combinations with guys that hadn’t played together much. So I think there was a little bit of an adjustment in the first period. But Kuemper played great, out D core played great, and as far as the forwards there was a bit of an adjustment but we just had to battle back and the guys did that tonight.

The Wild is two goals from breaking the team record for goals of 226 set in 2005-06.

Other tidbits:

34.4 goal pace for Jason Zucker had he played a full season

34 third-period Wild goals since Feb. 22 (22 games, most in NHL)

9 third-period goals allowed by Wild since Feb. 22 (fewest in NHL)

That’s it for me. 6:40 a.m. flight. Practice is at 2 p.m. Follow me on Twitter.

I will say, late, late blog will be coming Friday barring news because not only do I have a ton of phone interviews to do in preparation for playoff previews, I’m sitting down with a few players after practice.

So make sure you follow me on Twitter at @russostrib if you want instant stuff.

Road sweet road: Wild clinches playoff spot with 11th consecutive road win

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 8, 2015 - 12:17 AM

Road sweet road.

There were almost a dozen scenarios, some more complicated than others, that could have clinched the Wild a playoff spot Tuesday night. That’s how it works in a league where there are shootouts, regulation/overtime tiebreakers and three-point games.

By the far the simplest scenario involved the Wild just taking care of business once and for all. It was a win-and-in prescription, and the Wild got it done with a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Please check out the gamer here because there’s some good scene-setting stuff from the postgame locker room.

Eleventh consecutive road victory for the Wild. That stands alone for second in NHL history. If the Wild can beat Nashville in Nashville on Thursday, the Wild will tie the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings for longest road winning streak in NHL history (12).

“A little bit of stress here the last week, a little bit of tension, but the fact that we won 11 straight road games to get ourselves in the playoffs, I mean, that’s unbelievable,” Yeo said.

What was also unbelievable?

The fact I was standing in the same locker room that Jan. 10 that caused me to lead my game story with this:

CHICAGO – The Wild’s in full-scale, five-alarm, DEFCON 1 crisis mode.

“I was talking with Zach [Parise], and we’ve never been through, … we’ve never seen anything like this,” defenseman Ryan Suter said after the Wild’s 11th loss in 13 games, a 4-1 whipping Sunday night from the Chicago Blackhawks. “I don’t know what the heck is going on, but every day’s a bad day right now.”

When I noted to Yeo the irony that the Wild was experiencing the season’s highest point in the same spot it experienced the season’s lowest point three months ago, Yeo pointed out that two nights later in Pittsburgh was probably a little lower.

But three days after that Blackhawks loss, the Wild acquired Devan Dubnyk, and here we are – a postseason berth for a third consecutive season after being 12th in the West in January and getting smoked seemingly nightly.

“This was only one step. We have bigger plans,” Yeo said. “Very, very proud of our guys for what they overcame, the way that everyone dug in together.”

Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker (yes, that Zucker) broke a scoreless tie less than four minutes apart midway through the third period. Zucker’s goal became the winning goal in his first game since Feb. 9. If he scores in the final two games, it’ll be his first 20-goal season.

Zucker said it wasn’t his best game by any stretch, but he got better as the game went along, made plays and scored a huge goal. He also took a mammoth hit from Brent Seabrook two shifts before his goal to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead.

“As the game went on, he got better every shift,” Yeo said. “Things were happening a little quick early in the game, he was rushing a few plays. But a guy like that, with his speed, he has the ability to find his game through the course of a game in a tough place to make that happen. That’s what he brings. His speed, his hockey smarts find him in those positions and he’s obviously got the finish.”

On National Beer Day, Yeo vowed to honor the tradition on the Wild’s flight to Nashville.

“The leadership tonight was just amazing,” Yeo said, talking about his veteran’s composure on the bench, in the dressing room and their play on the ice.

Zach Parise was extraordinary, assisting on Granlund’s goal and really setting the tone in the second period with some crazy, Parise-like effort on a penalty kill.

Ryan Suter saved a goal in the third by winning a puck battle with Andrew Shaw.

Dubnyk made 32 saves and improved to 15-1-1 on the road with a 1.42 goals-against average and .953 save percentage and 5-0-1 in his past six second of back-to-back games with a 1.14 goals-against average and .968 save percentage.

“What a great story, the fact that he comes in here and plays that game tonight, what he’s done for us,” Yeo said. “This is all new for him too, dealing with the pressure of making the playoffs and this is great experience going into the playoffs.”

Yeo said the Wild has “bigger plans” than just making the playoffs.

He said he hasn’t yet thought about how he’ll handle the last two games. My guess is Darcy Kuemper plays the season finale in St. Louis, especially if you’re going to play the Blues in the first round. The last thing you want is the Blues taking runs at Dubnyk.

Yeo would like to go after this consecutive road win streak record, but he also wants to give guys like Matt Cooke a chance to get in and to get guys rest. On the other hand, you don’t want guys getting stale before the playoffs start next Wednesday or Thursday. The Wild just had four days off and we saw what happened.

You want guys to stay sharp.

Also, Dubnyk said, while he imagines he’ll get one of the two final games off, “I wouldn’t expect to have a week and a half off. I don’t think that’d be very good. We want to continue the winning feeling going into the playoffs. These are both teams we could be facing in first or second round.”

Suter said, “We’ve gone through a lot this year. A lot of ups and downs and mumps and different injuries, sicknesses, it’s very rewarding to know we’re on to the next round here.”

On reflecting on what this team accomplished this second half, Suter said with a laugh, “We tried that the last week and that didn’t work too well. The four days, I think guys were starting to think about how good we were and it didn’t help us. Hopefully we don’t reflect too much here.”

On this team compared to the one in January that was in Chicago, Parise said, “We’re a different team than we were then. We’re playing just better as a group. From goaltending out, we’re playing a better team game.

“It’s rewarding. We made it interesting the last few games, but it’s rewarding to get in.”

Check out the gamer and the Jason Zucker notebook here.

FYI, from the Wild: Ticket availability for all 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff home games at Xcel Energy Center is expected to be extremely limited due to incredible demand and priority access given to Wild Season Ticket Holders.


    "Fan support for the Minnesota Wild has always been awesome, but this season it's reached a whole new level," said Wild Chief Operating Officer Matt Majka. "Our Season Ticket Holders are renewing in record numbers and more are joining the 'Team of 18,000' each day. Many have been with us since day one and we are thrilled to be able to once again offer them the playoff experience they so rightly deserve."


    The Wild is currently in the process of fulfilling Season Ticket Holder playoff ticket requests. Should single-game playoff tickets become available for the general public, they will be released the day prior to each scheduled home game. Information regarding ticket availability will be announced as soon as it is available. 

No practice Wednesday. I’ll blog if there’s news. Otherwise, it’s work ahead time and check out Chip Scoggins’ awesome story on Chris Stewart in Thursday’s paper.

Wild never does anything the easy way

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 7, 2015 - 12:09 AM

Here we go again: The Wild is incapable of doing things the easy way.

Two years ago, all the Wild had to do was beat the awful Edmonton Oilers in Game 81. Niklas Backstrom was 17-0 all-time at home against the Oilers. The Oilers had won once in the past 20 visits to Xcel Energy Center.

Naturally, the Wild got pummeled 6-1 in its home finale and needed to win Game 82 the very next night in Denver to make the playoffs.

The Wild did.

Last year, the Wild had to rally from 2-0 and 3-2 first-round series deficits and win Game 7 to advance to the second round.

The Wild did.

This year, all the Wild needed to do was get a few more measly points in its final three home games. All it needed to do was win tonight in regulation or overtime to clinch a playoff berth.

Instead, the Wild lost 2-0 to the Winnipeg Jets for its third consecutive home loss in what has been a pretty average 22-13-6 home record this season (22 wins, 19 losses). Remember, the Wild started the season 7-1 at home, meaning it lost 18 of its final 33 home games.

When the schedule came out last summer, I pointed to this final stretch of games this season, particularly the final road trip to Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis as a potential landmine.

Well, here we go starting Tuesday night in Chicago on a second of a back-to-back.

Now, the Wild still controls its own destiny. It has a three-point cushion on a playoff spot.

The Wild has won a franchise-record 10 consecutive road games. Devan Dubnyk is 4-0-1 in the second of back-to-backs with a 1.17 goals-against average and .967 save percentage since being pulled Jan. 20 at Detroit.

But the Wild has to find its game again. Just not the same team.

Tonight, the Jets, who will be a tough out if they make the playoffs, showed how big, fast and skilled they were. They were first to most pucks early and had the majority of the first-period chances.

They also struck 4:12 into the game on Blake Wheeler’s lucky bounce goal – a pass that deflected in off Marco Scandella’s skate.

The Wild wasn’t happy about the call by Justin St. Pierre. Scrum. Mark Stuart swipes at Chris Stewart’s goatee and Stewart retaliated with a punch. St. Pierre only took Stewart, and Dubnyk said he was confused by the call in a game of this magnitude with these implications.

Regardless, Yeo said even though it may have given the Jets a “headstart,” that power play shouldn’t have been the different in the game.

Yeo felt it was a tough, hard-fought game, a “pretty even game,” but the Wild just didn’t do enough to win. The Wild couldn’t buy a goal.

Yeo also felt there was some tension in the Wild’s game.

All the players said they were really amped up for the game and Yeo felt that, too, but he said it’s imperative to handle that emotion the right way.

“This wasn’t a game we lost because they weren’t excited to play or they didn’t want to win or they weren’t ready to put in everything they needed to do,” Yeo said.

“I know we have the group to do it, I know we have the leadership most importantly that will steer those guys in the right direction,” Yeo said. “There’s certainly no reason why we shouldn’t be still very confident here.”

Yeo didn’t have an update after the game on Nino Niederreiter, who was nailed by a Matt Dumba slap shot late in the third. He needed help from assistant athletic therapist John Worley getting down the tunnel.

My guess is Matt Cooke returns against the Blackhawks regardless and probably Jordan Schroeder. Yeo said he doesn’t think Jason Zucker will be ready. Zucker is supposed to take contact from teammates in full equipment in the morning with the hope of returning Thursday in Nashville.

Dubnyk said, “We’re certainly not looking to lose our way in. … We’ve got to win in Chicago and that’s all that matters. We’re a confident group. We’re comfortable with the way need to play.

“I know tensions are high around here and questions start flying around pretty quick after a couple losses. I don’t think we’re too worried as a group.”

Zach Parise said, “They’re all big from here on out. Tonight was big, two games ago was big. They’re all going to be big now

“Compared to where we were four months now, … we still control where we finish. I think we’ll all take that.”

Vanek said, “We were ready to play. We talked about having a better start. We get a so-so call against us. … They got break there.

“We generated enough to score. I had three, four good chances, which I’ve got to at least bury one to get the guys going. I didn’t do that.

“We’ve got to win. We know that. Sometimes I think this team’s better in must-win situations. I think it’s good for us to get back on the road where we, I don’t know, don’t get so pumped up before. It’s a tough road trip. But we know we have to do.”

Vanek said, “It’s important to play the right hockey at the right time of the year. We were there, we were close, we slipped a little bit and now we have to find it again.”

“We just have to take a deep breath and be a lot better [Tuesday].”

Talk to you Tuesday from Chicago.

Wild's shootout loss to Detroit not "the end of the world"

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 5, 2015 - 7:54 AM

Mike Yeo did his best in the postgame to calm down the masses after the Wild’s 3-2 shootout loss tonight to the Detroit Red Wings.

The message after the second period was “that’s not the type of game we need to be playing right now and going into the playoffs. We need to be better than that. But I also don’t think it’s the end of the world here.

“… The third period was a much better indication how we need to play. The guys responded.”

Where do things stand? The Kings beat Colorado, so the Kings are back in a playoff spot and four points behind Minnesota for the top wildcard spot. The Jets, Monday’s opponent, also won but was knocked back to ninth. However, a win over Minnesota on Monday in regulation, and they’ll be two back. Wild win in regulation, Wild's in because even if Wild went 0-3 and Winnipeg went 3-0, Wild has the regulatio overtime tiebreaker.

Zach Parise tied the score with his second goal of the game, a power-play goal, his team-leading 10th and team-leading 32nd overall in the third. That puts him fourth on the Wild’s all-time list for a single season behind Marian Gaborik (42 and 38) and Brian Rolston (34).

Since Feb. 22 (20 games), the Wild leads the NHL with 29 third-period goals and has allowed a league-low eight third-period goals.”

It was a very testy postgame presser, and as Yeo indicated, this is the problem with the shootout. You get that extra goal, it’s all cheery. You don’t score that extra goal, it feels like a loss and you bring up things like the Wild’s second consecutive mediocre first 40 minutes and a 1 for 6 power play that, yes, scored the tying goal, but went 0 for its first 3, including a shotless 48-second 5-on-3, and went 0 for 2 with a chance to win the game after Parise tied it.

The shootout went eight rounds, and unfortunately for the Wild, captain Mikko Koivu, tied with Parise for second all-time with 39 shootouts goals, didn’t play because of a scratched cornea. He lasted all of warmups, but Ryan Carter played in his place. The Wild knew about this and was expecting it to be resolved, Yeo said.

Yeo said he expects Koivu to be “absolutely fine” for Monday’s regular-season home finale against Winnipeg. It sounds like this happened off the ice.

The shame of not winning the shootout is Thomas Vanek scored an awesome around-the-world goal where he moved his blade 360 degrees around the puck and then roofed a beautiful goal over Jimmy Howard’s left shoulder. Here it is.

But Riley Sheahan, who scored a goal in the game and drew a penalty that led to Gustav Nyquist’s power-play goal, tied the game in the shootout. This was Round 4. Prior, Parise and Pavel Datsyuk didn’t score, Charlie Coyle missed. Nyquist scored but Jason Pominville tied it before Tomas Totar missed.

After Vanek, Nino Niederreiter, Henrik Zetterberg, Chris Stewart, Stephen Weiss, Mikael Granlund, Niklas Kronwall and Justin Fontaine missed before Darren Helm ended things by tucking a shot inside the post. Dubnyk got it with the inside of his left pad, but his pad was over the goal line.

The takeaways from tonight:

1. The Wild wasn’t nearly good enough or desperate enough in the first two periods.

“We just didn’t play well. They were better than us for the first two periods, no question,” Parise said. “We started to play a little simpler, a little smarter in the third and that’s when we started to feel a little better about how we were playing.”

“We didn’t play well early on,” Ryan Suter said. “We started to play our game in the third. That’s kind of been a trend lately. We have to be better.”

2. The power play continues to let this team down. It was 1 for 6 tonight and ranks 28th in the NHL at 15.6 percent.

With Koivu out, Mikael Granlund took his spot on the No. 1 unit. That also, at least early in the game, caused the Wild to move Pominville down and put Matt Dumba on the power with Suter.

On the 5-on-3 for 48 seconds, no shots on goal, Dumba missed the net and had one shot blocked. Pominville and Granlund each swung and missed at cross-crease passes to the backdoor.

My issue is the second minor came 72 seconds into the first power play. Yet, despite the long shift, Yeo and assistant coach Andrew Brunette didn’t substitute for any of the players on the ice.

Yeo explained it was because he used his timeout. But I do think some were gassed (Pominville fanning on shots has been a trend). Monday morning quarterbacking, of course.

Nevertheless, everybody was defensive about the power play after the game.

Parise: “It’s not going to do any good for me to say anything. It wasn’t good enough. We’ve got to practice it.”

Suter: “We had a tough time breaking into the zone. It’s been a struggle all year. We have to get it going. It doesn’t do any good to talk about the past chances. We have to focus moving forward. Doesn’t do any good to question all these different plays. We have to practice is it more for sure and we have to be better at it.”

Told Parise also said they need to practice it more, Suter said, smiling, “We’ll leave it at that.”

Yeo said, “Of course a player’s going to feel that and we’ve come in here and I had to answer 10 questions for the power play. We were down a goal, we got a point. We’re not happy getting one point in games here.

“We lost in a shootout. So would we be asking the same questions if we scored one more goal in the shootout? I don’t know. We gave ourselves a chance to win a hockey game. We weren’t perfect. I’m not going to deny that. … Of course, the players, it’s human nature …

“We’ve spent considerable amount of time on our power play. I will say that for sure. I will also say that because of that we’ve also lost other areas of game in that practice. Some of best times our power play has been at its best, we haven’t practiced it. That’s not the issue.”

On the power play, Yeo said, “Depends how you want to spin it. We go into a game and a guy who’s usually out there [isn’t there] and we haven’t had a chance to practice or prepare. I’m not making excuses but, … you can look at it that way or you can look at it that they scored the goal that tied the game up for us.”

Optional practice on Easter Sunday, and I don’t think Parise, Suter and most the big-minute guys will be there.

3. Koivu’s late absence threw the team for a loop. Guys were in different spots, and that affects not just the lines, but positioning, guys knowing where other players will be in the offensive zone in terms of puck support, guys knowing where players will be on breakouts and in their own zone, Yeo’s matchups.

Erik Haula likely played himself out of the lineup again.

Yeo was not happy with him.

He started in Koivu’s spot between Nino Niederreiter and Chris Stewart. It was a tremendous opportunity after being scratched Thursday.

By the second period, Charlie Coyle took Haula’s spot and Haula moved between Vanek and Justin Fontaine. He took the game’s first penalty for the Wild and it resulted in Nyquist giving Detroit a 2-1 lead.

By the third, he was on the fourth line with Kyle Brodziak and Jordan Schroeder and he was eventually benched.

“I thought he looked tired tonight, I’m not sure why,” Yeo said.

4. Still, as Yeo said, if the Wild win the game, everybody’s happy and there’s a different tone and different line of questioning afterward.

Of course, there’s tension because the Wild wasn’t up to snuff against a desperate Red Wings team in a game that arguably should have been the easiest of the remaining games.

Now, the Wild has four games left of the season and faces a very desperate Jets team on Monday. Then, it hits the road for three in a row to end the season at Chicago on a second of a back-to-back, at Nashville and St. Louis.

So, the Wild’s not making it easy on itself by losing two in a row for the first time since Jan. 19-20, albeit this one by getting an important point.

“I’m not worried,” Yeo said. “It’s not like we were that bad. Let’s not paint that picture. We played a pretty darn good hockey team tonight and we knew they were going to play their best game. …

“Their lives were at stake. We’ve seen ourselves do it to other teams.”

Dubnyk, too, said, “We’re fine. We’ve been playing at a really high level for a long time and that’s going to happen. It’s a long season. It’s strange for us because we have been playing so well. It’s not how we want to play. I don’t think anybody in here is worried. We’ll be fine.”

That’s it for me. Standings are squeezing. Wild better get its act together because Monday is a huge game. Talk to you after Sunday’s optional and enjoy your holiday. I'll be on Rosen's Sports Sunday on Ch. 4 if you're up late.

By the way, check out the bottom of rhe Pominville/Vanek game notebook because there's some news on some Wild prospects, including Mario Lucia and Stephen Michalek.

Feud with linesmen, wasted penalty-killing effort stand out in Wild's loss; Live chat at noon Friday

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 2, 2015 - 11:56 PM

The Wild’s five-game winning streak came to an end tonight with a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers, who as coach Mike Yeo said Thursday, is a better team than the one that went to last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.

The No. 1 team in the East that clinched the Metro tonight is from top to bottom deep and well-balanced. They’re fast and skilled and big and have dangerous guys on every line. Their top-4 is as good as it gets on the blue line and in goal, there’s King Henrik. And when Lundqvist’s off or hurt, there’s Cam Talbot.

Just a very good team, and tonight the Rangers won their league-high and franchise-record 26th road win.

Yet, this game was very winnable for the Wild.

The Wild rallied from a 2-0 first-period deficit to tie the game on Thomas Vanek’s eighth goal in the past 12 games 5:53 into the third period. But on the very next shift, speedy Chris Kreider flew into the Wild end and skated through Matt Dumba’s attempted check behind the net. When Kreider skated free, Ryan Suter picked him up.

Dumba went to the front of the net to cover J.T. Miller, but when he saw Chris Stewart didn’t cover for Suter and pick anybody up, Dumba left Miller alone. That brief moment of not boxing out led to Miller scoring the go-ahead and eventual winner on a redirection of Ryan McDonagh’s point shot. The former Minnesota. Mr. Hockey had two assists.

Evening from the press box.

On Friday, Rachel Blount will cover practice so I can write my Sunday column and conduct a live chat on startribune.com/wild, so please join me at noon armed with questions and permission from your employer/teacher/parent.

I’ll also be hosting a podcast at O’Gara’s in St. Paul on Friday night at 6, so please join or listen to souhanunfiltered.com. Jim’s on vacation, so I’m flying solo with a couple Minnesota United players.

Tonight, I’m not going to repeat everything I wrote in my AWFUL gamer (I need some colorful locker-room quotes to save the gamer, and that, well, that didn't happen). I seemed to lose my desperation level, too. Save, send, move on to another day. As players say, the good thing about pro sports is there’s usually another game. I’ll get to move on to another article.

Still, please give that a read for all the ins and outs of tonight. It’s a lot on the sloppiness of tonight (the slow start, the lack of disciplined by taking five minors in 11:06 of the second period and the bad shift the shift after the Vanek goal) and maybe why. The Wild’s now got a five-point cushion with five games left. The Jets were bumped from the top-8 tonight by the Kings.

The officiating tonight was a big sore spot in the Twittersphere and by the crowd here.

“I don’t dispute those calls one bit, but I do think we did some things along the way to warrant a couple more power plays,” Yeo said of the second-period penalties. “But they saw it differently.”

I’ll tell you what though, referees Chris Lee, who seems to do every Wild game lately, and Dan O’Halloran were the least of the Wild’s problems.

Linesmen Derek Nansen and Ryan Galloway were at the heart of a lot of the booing and Bronx cheers, and it became a huge storyline late.

It started in the first period when the linesmen threw Mikko Koivu out of the circle four times, including twice on a power play.

But tonight, there were some questionable offsides calls and some dubious icings or waved-off icings. There was one waved off in the first period where there was no explanation. A clear icing, Marco Scandella goes to play it and they wave it off. There’s just no reason on video.

The one that I think caused the genesis of the Wild problems tonight?

Now, all this is my opinion. But in the second period, Nansen waved off an icing with Ryan Suter basically on the puck. The unbelievably late wave-off meant Suter couldn’t even make a play. He was just under pressure immediately and it created a mess.

It was very clear to me that Suter was angry the rest of the game. A couple times, he didn’t help retrieve pucks for the linesmen on actual icings, a common courtesy by players. He barked at them a few times.

I think they had long memories. With Devan Dubnyk pulled with 1:54 left for an extra attacker, the linesmen twice waved off icings on bang-bang plays or near ties … with Suter the one chasing.

A number of players were talking about the feuding with the linesmen after the game. There was also one icing where it looked like the Rangers got away with changing a few players.

Yeo said he was frustrated and probably got “too caught up in all that stuff. This time of year and even more so in the playoffs, whatever it is, we’re not going to change it. Frustration, it doesn’t help us. We can disagree all we want, but there’s still a game that has to be played.”

I waited for Suter after the game, but I was told finally he was unavailable. But players were very ticked because besides the fact that the non-icings ate up close, it also expended energy as players twice had to skate the length of the ice because of no whistles.

Again, these are arguable ones though. I will say the Rangers hustled on both chased and made them close judgment calls, and the linesmen in the NHL are more often right than wrong.

The Wild’s penalty kill gave up a goal in the first period, but Dubnyk obviously wanted that Rick Nash one back. He scored from the bottom of a faceoff circle by whipping a puck on net that ricocheted in off Dubnyk’s hand.

“The puck flipped up on his blade and he just went to shovel it across,” the goalie said. “It hit me on the inside of the hand. If that pucks stays flat, it’s probably not coming that high and there’s nothing in the way to get hit.”

In the second and early in the third, the Wild killed five penalties, including a double minor that turned into a 48-second 5-on-3. Just huge blocked shots in the second. Mikael Granlund had a memorable one from the ice. Marco Scandella at the end of the second. And Kyle Brodziak, back in the lineup after taking needles in his neck since sticking up for Jared Spurgeon last week and fighting Dion Phaneuf, on the 5-on-3. His stick snapped, so it was basically a 5-on-2, but he twice put his body in harm’s way to foil shots.

“Frustrating loss, Yeo said, “but it’s a group that cares about each other and is playing for each other. Brodzy’s a guy that’s been sacrificing himself all season long as far as his physical game, sticking up for teammates, the way he blocks shots. … The lift that gives the rest of the bench, that’s a huge momentum builder.”

Please join Friday’s chat. Rachel’s on for the daily coverage Friday. I’ll be back with you Saturday. We’ll see if the Wild can rebound vs. the Wings.

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