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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After acquiring Sean Bergenheim, Wild suffers disappointing loss to West's worst

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: February 25, 2015 - 12:21 AM

Obviously, a very disappointing 2-1 loss by the Wild tonight to the Edmonton Oilers. Judging from my Twitter mentions, holy geez, did one loss make much of the Wild population forget about the 11-1-1 streak and leap off the bandwagon.

My goodness, the anger and nastiness and downright meanness and, well, what you’d expect on Twitter.

Bad loss for the Wild, no doubt, and it’s something coach Mike Yeo said afterward was “what we were afraid of.”

Jason Pominville, who has no points and 11 shots on goal in the past six games after scoring goals in three straight, said Yeo warned the team not to let down after getting into the top-8 and this could be a classic trap game after the Oilers said they were embarrassed by the Wild last Friday and were booed by their fans and even had one knucklehead throw HIS KID’S jersey onto the ice.

So the Oilers were bound to be motivated Tuesday, and Wild players didn’t help matters by playing as bad as we’ve seen them in some time, particularly at home, where they had won six in a row.

The Wild had one shot in the first 11 ½ minutes.

To the Oilers, a defensively-poor team (albeit much better defensively under quality coach Todd Nelson) that had four wins all season in 36 games against the West.

Benoit Pouliot, whom the Wild swung and missed on at fourth overall in 2005, scored twice, including 32 seconds after Jordan Schroeder set up Thomas Vanek for the tying goal.

The Wild recovered from the bad first period by controlling the final two periods, but the Wild aggravatingly couldn’t finish (Ben Scrivens stopped all 28 of Minnesota’s shots in the last two periods) or had shots blocked (24 in all, including 18 in the final 40 minutes).

The Wild came so close so many times to scoring, but either had it stopped by Scrivens, had it blocked or had pucks bounce off sticks or get shanked.

Yeo mixed up his first two lines to create a spark and it definitely led to pressure. But no goals.

Some guys like Coyle at least worked hard. But despite so many battles and chances with the puck in front of the net, he ended up with one assist and two shots. Just no production like everyone else.

Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin were all minus-2. Vanek scored a goal but exasperated the crowd a couple times by passing up shots or a feeble attempt on a breakaway with a chance to tie.

The power play also failed twice in the third with a chance to tie.

“Some guys were able to find their game, some guys couldn’t recover,” Yeo said. “The last couple periods, we had good pressure. We had good zone time, but we didn’t finish. We put ourselves in a hole that we shouldn’t have been in.”

Erik Haula, who hit the post on a first-period shorthanded breakaway, only played six minutes tonight and one shift in the third. My guess is he’s in the doghouse again, although to be honest, because I was writing the Sean Bergenheim story for the first two periods, I missed many of shifts. But second goal, largely his fault and he showed his frustration bigtime after.

But perhaps Kyle Brodziak moves to the middle in Nashville and Haula comes out for Bergenheim.

Bergenheim was flying from Chicago to Florida on Wednesday, then onto Nashville, where he’ll meet the team and maybe debut Thursday. He’ll wear No. 23.

Yeo, whom I don’t think knows a ton about Bergenheim because he called him a “big body,” said he’s a “playoff-type hockey player” (which he absolutely has been) who plays the game responsibly and hounds puck on the forecheck. Maybe Yeo just thinks he’s a big body because he is indeed a straight-line, forechecking, go-to-the-net speedster.

Rachel Blount is covering Wednesday’s practice and will also be on the Bergenheim conference call, so she’ll blog afterward and you can follow her on Twitter at @blountstrib.

As I wrote in my Sunday column, the two forwards I knew it inquired about was Bergenheim and Antoine Vermette. It would still love to get Vermette, but right now I’m told the price is way more than GM Chuck Fletcher is willing to pay. But Vermette is a guy with skill who can play the third line and win draws (he’s seventh in the league) on one of the more average faceoff teams in the NHL beyond Mikko Koivu. Although, like last year, Mikael Granlund is improving as the season goes along in that department.

But Bergenheim makes sense because the price came down from a second and a third and he is the classic depth rental guy Fletcher had been hinting at the past few days. Similarly, before Monday, look for Fletcher to acquire a depth defenseman.

You can read more on Bergenheim on the below blog, but Koivu has played with him in the world championships.

“Good speed. His work ethic, he’s an honest player,” Koivu said. “Had lots of success in this league earlier on good teams. He has some playoff experience. He’s been on winning teams, and that’s always an important thing. Good two-way player. He can help in a lot of areas.”

Parise didn’t buy that this was a classic letdown game. He just said the Wild had a bad first period.

“We’re going to lose. We’re going to lose before the season ends,” he said. “Unfortunately tonight was a game that one not good period cost us the game. That’s the reality. Their goalie was good. But, we’ll be fine.”

Vanek felt the Wild deserved better because it outplayed Edmonton in the final two periods, which the Oilers agreed with wholeheartedly after the game.

“End of the year you hope those games even out that you earn the other of one of those games,” Vanek said. “At the stage, where we’re at in the standings, it’s a tough to two points to lose.

“Once they got the lead, they sat back. We made enough good plays to get around those five guys there in the middle and [Scrivens] made some great saves.

“As much as this one hurts and it’s frustrating, we’ve got good character in here. We’ll forget about this one and have a good day of practice and just get ready. This is a team that doesn’t take anyone lightly even though we lost to one of the worst teams in the league. We played hard, we played well, had chances. Could have been 5-, 6-1. But we lost 2-1.”

The Wild, still clinging to eighth but four back of Winnipeg (which beat Dallas) now heads to Nashville and Denver. The Preds are the NHL’s best team and have lost three games in regulation all year. The Wild doesn’t have a lot of success in that arena either (2-4-2 in its past eight there).

“Big road trip ahead of us,” Koivu said. “You can’t think about this too long. We’ve got to learn from it. But we’ve got to face the best team in the league in their building, so we have to put everything we have on that one.”

Rachel’s on Wednesday as I travel. I’ll be next with you Thursday from Nashville.

I’ll also be doing another live podcast with columnist Jim Souhan at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at souhanunfiltered.com. I’ll be coming from the Alive&Social Network studio, Jim from spring training in Ft. Myers.

Wild gets ahead of rental market, acquires Sean Bergenheim from Florida

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild trade news Updated: February 24, 2015 - 8:25 PM

The Wild got out in front of the rental market.

Just prior to Tuesday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, the Wild and Florida Panthers consummated a deal that brought veteran winger Sean Bergenheim to the Wild along with a 2016 seventh-round pick for a 2016 third-round pick.

“Sooner the better. No sense waiting to [Monday’s] deadline,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “Looking for a guy with some experience, looking for depth with three forwards out. We were looking to find a proven guy with playoff experience who’s willing to compete, go to the net and pursue pucks. Sean brings all those attributes.”

In 489 career games with the Islanders, Lightning and Panthers, Bergenheim has scored 95 goals and 179 points. He has especially produced in the playoffs with 12 goals and 17 points in 23 games.

He skates well, is strong defensively and can play up in a top-6 role if needed. He loves to shoot the puck.

Bergenheim, 31, frustrated with his lack of ice time and a string of healthy scratches in Florida, asked to be traded recently. The price all month had been a second-round pick.

Fletcher, who has been adamant that he won’t trade his first-round pick, top prospects or second-round pick after trading three in the past two years, traded this year’s third to Arizona for goalie Devan Dubnyk.

So Fletcher offered next year’s third and counterpart Dale Tallon finally took it for Bergenheim, who last played Feb. 12 at Minnesota.

“Sean was frustrated with his lack of ice time and came to me,” Tallon told Florida reporters. “He was injured a lot, injured a lot his whole career. But when he was healthy, he played hard, he played well. We had that big playoff run for us a couple years and had a good year that year and he had been injured ever since.”

Bergenheim filed a grievance against the Panthers in 2013 after the team claimed he sustained a sports hernia playing in Finland during the lockout and didn’t play him. Bergenheim said the injury occurred during that 2011-12 playoff run, and he won the grievance and got his salary.

Bergenheim, a 2002 first-round pick by the Islanders, is the Wild’s sixth Finn on the roster and is expected to meet the team Wednesday afternoon in Nashville, where he may debut Thursday. He had eight goals and 18 points in 39 games with the Panthers this season.

It would not be shocking if Bergenheim’s acquisition opens the door to trading veteran Kyle Brodziak, a center who has been playing wing the past few weeks and who’s in the last year of his contract.

The Wild has also inquired about Arizona skilled center Antoine Vermette, but the price is high right now. Fletcher is only looking to trade lesser assets, but the Wild has struggled all year in the faceoff circle beyond Mikko Koivu and Vermette’s seventh in the NHL in the circle.

The Wild is also in search of a depth defenseman, preferably a left-shot one.

Jared Spurgeon placed on injured reserve; My ever-changing trade deadline thoughts

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: February 24, 2015 - 3:02 PM

Afternoon from Xcel Energy Center.

Late update from practice, I know, but I made the mistake I thought I learned a lesson from years ago: Don't write in the blog platform. Write is MS word, then copy and paste. This time I wrote in here, my Pandora script needed debugging or something and it froze my Firefox. Lots of computer jargon I know nothing about, but long story short, my blog needed to be rewritten three-quarters the way through.

As you can imagine, I handled it well. angry

Devan Dubnyk vs. Ben Scrivens tonight as the Wild wraps up a two-game homestand with the Edmonton Oilers.

The Wild is 20-2-1 in its past 23 at home vs. the Oil and Dubnyk is 5-0 this season with a 0.79 goals-against average against his old team. He has allowed four goals in those five games.

Dubnyk has allowed 27 goals in 17 starts with the Wild, which is 13-2-2 since his arrival and 11-1-1 since the break.

Jared Spurgeon is getting better according to coach Mike Yeo, but he won’t go on the upcoming road trip to Nashville and (most likely) Denver. He has been off the ice since getting hurt in Calgary last Wednesday.

Spurgeon has been placed on injured reserve. He can be taken off anytime he’s ready to return. He was placed on IR to open up a roster spot in case of a callup or a trade. Nothing is imminent, I’m told. Just a paper move to buy a roster spot if needed.

Nail Yakupov is out tonight with a groin injury. I went to dinner last night with the Oilers scribes by the way, and I got to meet Matt Hendricks’ parents at the team hotel as they traveled in from Blaine to have dinner with their boy. How did I know it was Hendricks’ parents?

Matt’s dad’s face is identical to his son. Very nice folks, just like their son (well, nice off the ice. Don’t mess with him on the ice. He’s the type of player the Wild needs, but I digress).

Jeff Petry, who missed the past few games with a rib issue, is returning tonight, which is a little surprising since the Oilers will likely trade him by Monday’s deadline … and why risk injury?

As Hall of Fame hockey writer Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal tweeted, it’s not like other teams need to scout him. Hey, maybe he’s trying out for the Wild. I kid, I kid.

In all seriously, I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission tonight to talk trade. As GM Chuck Fletcher told me in today’s Star Tribune here, his main objective going into the deadline is to improve the Wild’s depth with all these injuries. And when he says depth, it could very well mean depth.

On defense, the Wild is one Nate Prosser injury away from having to recall Justin Falk as a left-shot D or miscast right-shot rookie D's Matt Dumba or Christian Folin on the left side (the Wild hates doing that because as young D, the team wants them in the best situation to succeed) or put Jonas Brodin on the left side (and my opinion is the left-shot Brodin is never as good strangely at left D as he is as right, especially next to Ryan Suter. Just my opinion though. Not sure the organization agrees with my belief).

So with Spurgeon going to come back at some point and the fact that likely Folin would come out of the lineup when that happens and be the extra if the blue line is healthy (AGAIN, Prosser is needed to stay in the lineup on the left and has played great for a dozen games now), you really only need to acquire one D that can play games but maybe waits in the wings until needed. So, it wouldn’t shock me if the type of D acquired is a third-pair type of defenseman. We shall see. But I’d be very surprised if the Wild doesn’t acquire a defenseman before Monday’s 2 p.m. deadline, and probably a left-shot one.

Right now, the Wild’s not depending on a Keith Ballard return. If he ever does, it’d be a bonus body, but he hasn’t skated with the team since that one day two Sundays ago and he hasn’t decided if he’s going to return to play anyway.

Up front, same thing. Matt Cooke and Ryan Carter are coming back at some point, and with Justin Fontaine, Jordan Schroeder and Nino Niederreiter all stepping up on three different lines at least as of now, maybe Fletcher just looks for a depth kind of winger.

I was told by a GM a couple mornings ago that the prices right now for even the most mediocre of rentals is a bit ridiculous right now. So maybe the prices come down by Monday.

One thing affecting Fletcher’s decision to make a quote-unquote "hockey trade" similar to the Jason Pominville one two deadlines ago is the cap may not be rising next year. And that’s affecting a bunch of team decisions right now.

So even though some Wild fans are asking me about some of the names out there with term (non-rentals) like Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul, James Wisniewski, etc., Fletcher may not want to delve into a player with term left in the $5 or $6 million ranges. That’s pretty expensive with an uncertain cap, not to mention the fact those players cost assets in return.

We shall see. It’ll be interesting to watch how Fletcher balances the appeal of making a move to maybe put the Wild "over the top" vs. just acquiring extra bodies and allowing this team that has done so much good and been so cohesive this 11-1-1 stretch continue to mature.

Yeo is really guarding against a letdown tonight. “We’ve been harping on it the last few days.”

He doesn’t want the Wild to take its foot off the gas after finally getting into the top-8. A Wild win and Winnipeg regulation loss tonight and the Wild moves into that top wildcard spot.

The Stars are starting Jhonas Enroth though, so bet the over. cheeky

Yeo said more than being in the top-8, “What’s more important to me is we continue to perform at the level that we have been, continue to prepare for every game the way that we have. Sixty-nine points does not get you in the playoffs. The fact that we’re in the top-8 today is not really that relevant. There’s an awful lot of work to be done.

“We have to continue to march forward.”

That passage came straight from the Coachspeak 101 handbook.

That’s it for now. Highlights of tomorrow’s game notebook?

I talked to Darcy Kuemper one-on-one about how he’s dealing with this situation. Marco Scandella is now wearing the cut-resistant Kevlar socks after his scare in Edmonton near his Achilles. Mikko Koivu basically saying proof that goals don’t always show how well you played or not came the other night when he was not happy at all with his game vs. Dallas. And a Gustav Olofsson update.

Wild message for the day: Don't take its foot off the gas

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: February 23, 2015 - 3:03 PM

Afternoon from the Xcel Energy Center press room.

Apologies with the late blog, but I was working on a bunch of stuff after practice, which was a well-attended optional. Only some of the banged-up and/or big-minute players didn’t skate.

The Wild hosts the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night before heading out on a two-game trip to President Trophy-frontrunner Nashville (first of three visits to the league’s best home team; 25-3-1 at Bridgestone) and Colorado.

The Wild is a league-best 13-2-2 since Jan. 15 and league-best 11-1-1 since the All-Star break. The Wild is 20-2-1 against the Oilers at home since Jan. 16, 2007 and has beaten Edmonton twice in Edmonton this season, including two games ago, 4-0.

Devan Dubnyk will make his 18th consecutive start Tuesday. That’s two from tying Niklas Backstrom’s team record, which was set in 2009.

Dubnyk is 5-0 with a 0.79 goals-against average and .970 save percentage (128 saves on 132 shots) against his old team this season. He is 13-2-1 with the Wild with a 1.64 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.

Wild left wing Zach Parise now ranks 10th in the NHL with 25 goals. He is one of three players in Wild history to hit the 25-goal mark twice (Marian Gaborik, 5 times; Brian Rolston, 3 times).

Captain Mikko Koivu has 12 points in the past 10 games. Defenseman Jonas Brodin is on a career-best four-game assist/point streak and is tied for eighth among NHL defensemen with a plus-17. Defensemen Christian Folin has three assists in the past two games and Matt Dumba two goals in his past three. Defenseman Ryan Suter is a plus-9 his past 13 games and continues to seem much more effective in the 26-minute range nightly. Defenseman Nate Prosser is a plus-8 in his past 13 games and an even or plus in each one of those 13. The accolades go on and on for players throughout this 11-1-1 streak particularly.

The Wild will be without defenseman Jared Spurgeon for a third consecutive game Tuesday. Spurgeon was hit by a Mark Giordano shot on his second shift last week in Calgary. He remains day-to-day. Coach Mike Yeo said today there’s no update and no change.

“Just continue to monitor it and consider it day to day,” Yeo said of Spurgeon, who by all indications has concussion-like symptoms.

Yeo said he’s not ruling him out for the road trip, but if Spurgeon doesn’t practice Wednesday, I’d guess he’s out for the trip because the Wild has a scheduled day off Friday in Denver (although it does have ice reserved in the burbs if it chooses to change that schedule)

On Ryan Carter (upper body believed to be shoulder) and Matt Cooke (sports hernia surgery), Yeo said, “I need to get more on Carts. I was talking to Cookie this morning and we’re still a little ways away here, for sure, on both guys. I would say they’re still week to week, both of those guys, but I don’t have a firm timetable.”

I chatted a little with Jason Zucker in the press box last night. He’s in good spirits for a guy that just had his clavicle snapped. He was in sweats in the locker room today, so it appears he has started working out. But again, the timetable given was three months, which takes the Wild into mid-May.

On being in the top-8 (Wild can move into the top wildcard spot if it beats Edmonton and Winnipeg loses in regulation to defensively-terrible Dallas on Tuesday), Yeo said, “Well, I think our backs are still against the wall. It’s a logjam in the Western Conference. The message today is pretty simple: it’s nice to be in the top-8, but 69 points is not going to get you into the playoffs. We’re going to have to continue at a real good pace. That’s the challenge right now. I think that we’ve had a real urgency to our game and it hasn’t been real difficult to have it, the fact that we’ve been outside looking in and the fact that we knew we had to catch teams; knowing the importance of every game, every point in the standings and that hasn’t changed. Just because we’re in a better spot today, that stuff hasn’t changed. I think that our guys have a pretty good understanding of that, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be good there.”

Good philosophy, and let’s be honest: I’m not taking anything away from the admirable job the Wild has done since Dubnyk arrived, but the Wild has had a cupcake schedule for the most part. The schedule toughens up in March with much more difficult opponents and four sets of back-to-backs.

Yeo talked today about the way some guys like Justin Fontaine, Jordan Schroeder, Nino Niederreiter, Folin, Dumba, Prosser, etc., have stepped up: “We felt like they had the potential to [step up]. It’s always difficult when you lose guys. And certainly the way that you’re making up your lines, there’s a lot of things that change and guys have stepped up. And with that, it’s not just those guys stepping in, it’s how they affect the players that are playing with and I think those guys have done a good job incorporating the new lines or incorporating new players onto their line. It’s been a relatively seamless transition.”

Starting in Calgary, Yeo astutely broke up his top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville so No. 1 D pair Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie, with last change, couldn’t play the entire night against that line. That line was completely bottled up in Vancouver and that was with the Canucks’ best two D injured.

Since the line changes, the Wild has gotten more balanced scoring than it has all year. All four lines have contributed on the scoresheet.

“It was something we were looking at before the Vancouver game, to be honest,” Yeo said. “Just as far as, spreading the wealth or balancing things out and with the pieces we have right now, we just felt it was something we were capable of doing as far as, not necessarily having two scoring lines or loading up a top line. We felt that we had with the group, the possibility of, and certainly you look at the line of Brodzy, Haulzy and Steph Veilleux, it’s great that they scored a goal last night, but we’re not counting on them to score a goal every night, that’s not their role. If they create that, that’s the way they should do it, going to the net, creating off shots, creating off the forecheck in the offensive zone play. But the other three lines have the ability to create offense on a nightly basis. And in doing so, making sure they’re playing well responsibly and playing well defensively as well.” 

Yeo has talked lately about how Niederreiter and Schroeder seemed to change their game when they’re in top-6 roles. We saw that again last night with Niederreiter, who did seem to be throwing pucks away left and right. But Yeo loves the fact that Fontaine, a guy who has been in and out of the lineup, always seems to be able to step into a top-6 role and not alter his game.

In fact, if you think about it, considering he has been a scorer his entire life at UMD and for the Houston Aeros, it was probably a bigger transition changing to a bottom-6 role for Fontaine. So because he has the skillset, he looks the part whenever he plays in a top-6 role. I talked to Yeo and Fontaine about that and will write more about it in Tuesday’s paper.

On Fontaine, Yeo said, “He’s a smart player. I think that’s the biggest thing for me. He’s got skill. I think that’s why he’s an adaptable guy who can play on different lines, play on different roles. Whether it’s maturity, whether it’s the fact that he’s a little bit older, he’s been doing a good job of not changing his game. If you move him up to the first or second line, he’s not going to change his game. He’s going to play the same game. And if you move him to the third line – even though that line might have a different role he’s going to continue to play the same game and be effective in it. And I think that’s been the biggest thing for me.”

On Dumba’s improved play, Yeo said,  “More consistency. That’s the biggest thing. Coming off a bad shift, he’s able to get back to his game. Coming off a good shift, he’s able to remember what he did well and likewise from game to game. The power-play goal last night’s a great play and it’s a great shot, and he has the ability to make those plays and has the ability to make very impactful plays through the course of the game, especially on the offensive side of things. But we need him to be, when those home-run plays aren’t there, we’ve got to make sure you’re not making mistakes trying to make those plays. He’s been managing the game better that way.”

Yeo was asked about the trade deadline and how he balances the way the team is playing with maybe the need to add players, and he said, “If my opinion is asked of [by GM Chuck Fletcher], then for sure I will give it. But right now it’s just looking at our group and operating the same way we have been the last three weeks. Right now I’m just going over our video again against Edmonton and just doing what we can to get ready for that game.”

I ran into Fletcher this morning (truthfully ran into him, not my usual “run into” when I’m actually stalking) and took the opportunity to check in on the trade deadline, which I’ll write about Tuesday. And he basically confirmed what I sorta wrote last night. If he can upgrade he will, but the way the team is playing and the way certain defensemen like Folin, Prosser and Dumba are playing, the most important thing may be for him to add a depth defenseman and forward at the deadline.

Before, it seemed like the Wild may have to go out and make a bigtime rental defenseman move. But now, it may be most important to at least get a depth guy in here in case of injury. As we’ve seen the past two games, there have been scares with Brodin and Marco Scandella, who did get banged up late in the second yesterday but is fine for the Oiler game.

More on this in the paper. OK, I better write for the paper now. Also, Chip Scoggins is doing a column for Tuesday.

I’ll be on KFAN from 10:15-10:45 a.m. Tuesday and on Fox Sports North during the next three FSN telecasts. It must be sweeps week!

Wild (11-1-1 in the past 13) scores six in the third, blows out Dallas to move into top-8

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: February 23, 2015 - 12:06 AM

Remember the lede to my game story seven games ago in Feb. 11’s paper after the overtime loss in Winnipeg?

Of course you do because I know you don’t only read the blogs and my prolific Twitter account (please follow at @russostrib)!

The lede was, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”

That’s what the Winnipeg Jets had to be feeling with the Wild surging from the rear … since the All-Star break.”

I think it’s OK if I recycle my own material, right?

The Wild’s right on the Jets’ back now.

Inside the top-8 for the first time since Nov. 24 courtesy of tonight’s six-goal, third-period eruption and 6-2 win over Dallas, the Wild is two back of the Jets for the top wildcard spot with two games in hand. The Wild’s also potentially eyeing a top-3 spot in the Central, which would be an automatic playoff berth. The Blackhawks are slumping and the Wild’s suddenly six behind Chicago with one game in hand.

“It’s a good feeling because we never could kind of break that plane,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “We kept winning and we’re always one point back, it seemed.”

The Pacific is a nutty logjam with three teams – Los Angeles, Calgary and San Jose – tied one point behind the Wild’s 69. But the Kings are inside that top-3 Pacific Division threshold with 68 points. The Canucks won today and are second in the Pacific with 71.

Crazy game tonight.

The Wild got off to a decent start, couldn’t score and the Stars had to love getting out of the first period scoreless after playing the night before and because we all know the Wild loves playing with the lead, outscoring opponents 20-6 in the past 17 Dubnyk first periods.

Jason Spezza then snapped the Wild’s 32 for 32 penalty kill streak in the second period with the first power-play goal against the Wild in 13 games (Jan. 20). The Wild got itself in penalty trouble with three penalties that period, including back-to-back ones by Mikko Koivu.

The Wild also was frustrated because it couldn’t buy a call despite spending long stretches in the offensive zone. It’s bizarre that you can have the puck as much as the Wild, yet it has drawn eight power plays the past six games, four the past four.

Normally when you spend 90 seconds in the offensive zone buzzing and get hooked or held, refs will give you the benefit of a whistle and award you for the effort. But that hasn’t happened lately, the Wild started to show its frustration, especially coach Mike Yeo, who lost it on Brian Pochmara. Yeo said the Wild did his best to get his team’s concentration back on the task at hand and not the officials after the outburst.

During the second intermission, it’s almost like the Wild realized it was playing an opponent that played the night before at home (a wild 7-6 overtime loss to Detroit). Oh, and that the goalie was Jhonas Enroth.

In November, Enroth gave up five in a 6-3 Buffalo loss in St. Paul. On Jan. 15 – Dubnyk’s debut in Buffalo, Enroth gave up seven goals in one of the worst home losses in Sabres history and the most lopsided win in Wild history (7-0).

Tonight, Enroth, one of the goalies the Wild inquired about when it was beyond desperate and since traded to Dallas, stopped 20 of 20 after two periods. Most hit him in the Stars logo though. Finally, the Wild attacked in the third and beat him six times, a franchise record for goals in a period.

Zach Parise scored twice and Koivu, Stephane Veilleux (fifth career winner), Matt Dumba and Mikael Granlund once. Granlund had three points and Christian Folin registered his first career multi-point game. Dubnyk made 18 saves, has now allowed 27 goals in 17 starts, is 13-2-1 and the Wild is 13-2-2 with him in goal and 11-1-1 since the All-Star break.

The proverbial four-point game hit Dallas hard. The Stars are now six back of Minnesota with the loss. Would have been two with a win.

So, a lot of words and numbers, but long story short, Enroth has given up 18 goals in three games this season against the Wild.

The Wild has won six in a row at home and won the season series with Dallas, 4 games to 1.

The gameplan tonight was simple, Yeo said. Invest in the game early by getting pucks deep and forcing the Stars’ defensemen to retrieve pucks over and over so the team tires by the third. You may not see the results early, but stick to it and it’ll pay dividends in the third. Yeo felt the plan worked as the Wild certainly came out swarming in the third.

It started with Folin making a smart play to take Parise’s exchange in the left faceoff circle and walk up the wall. Folin said he recognized that the forward had a bad gap, but he drove left as Parise drove the net from the far side. Somehow, Folin executed a backhand, cross-crease pass from those left boards to Parise for the tying goal 1:40 in.

Said Parise, “That was a really, really nice pass. Backhand, across the crease, not a lot of room. That was right on the money.”

I’ll repeat again: Folin is going to be a player. This guy has size, mobility, a big shot and smarts.

Said Yeo, “He’s typically viewed as a guy that will make his living as being a shutdown solid defensive player. But I do think there is more to him than that and it’s up to us to keep developing him that way.”

Koivu scored 1:43 later and after Veilleux scored, the rout was on.

Yeo talks glowingly about all the plays the Wild D made tonight to help offensively and defensively. They were all real good.

Amazing how well Dumba and Folin are playing. I still believe the Wild needs to acquire a defenseman by the deadline, but maybe it’s just a depth defenseman to have in case of injuries because Dumba and Folin certainly look like they can play right now. Once Jared Spurgeon returns, the Wild will have 7 defensemen up here, but as we have seen lately with Spurgeon’s injury and the Marco Scandella scare in Edmonton (skate to ankle, and he suffered another one tonight that he came back from) and the Jonas Brodin scare tonight with the puck to the head, you can’t have too many NHL defensemen and right now the only other defensemen that are around to be called up are Justin Falk and Jon Blum.

Also, you have to hand it to Yeo with these lines. These last three games, the Wild has had balanced scoring up and down the lineup from all four lines. Everybody is contributing, which is nothing to sneeze at when you consider that Jason Zucker, who was up here in the press box tonight and looking good, is out long-term. Same thing with Matt Cooke and Ryan Carter.

Again, it’ll be interesting to see how GM Chuck Fletcher handles this. You’d like to add another forward for depth, but maybe you don’t need to go add that quote-unquote Jason Zucker replacement when guys like Justin Fontaine, Jordan Schroeder and others are stepping up.

One leaguewide issue one GM I talked to this morning told me: There’s like 6 sellers in the league and 24 buyers the way the standings are shaping up. So all teams are having trouble making a trade right now (there hasn’t really been one rental trade yet; the Cody Franson-Mike Santorelli deal was more a hockey trade). The supply-demand equation is making the sellers drive up prices for mediocre players at best. And as I’ve reported to you, if Fletcher is understandably unwilling to trade his first-round pick (if the Wild misses the playoffs, you could potentially be trading Connor McDavid if you trade the first since all non-playoff teams can win the lottery) and he doesn’t want to trade his second after trading three in the past two deadlines, it’ll be hard to make a significant trade without trading prospects. The price of rentals usually cost in that second-round range (see Matt Moulson trade).

The Wild’s inside the top-8. Pretty amazing.

But the way the Western Conference jockeying goes, it may only be temporary and there is sure to be a roller coaster of emotions the final 23 games.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Yeo said. “Yesterday we were outside of the top-8 and I don’t think that it meant anything and tonight we’re inside the top-8 and I don’t think it means anything.”

He said what has made this team so good is the sense of urgency it has played with and its preparation going into every game. He said the Wild can’t lose that. “We’ve got ourselves back in the hunt and now we’ve got to take advantage of it.”

Added Dubnyk: “All we can do is win the games that we have and we'll be on the right side of it at the end. There's a lot of confidence in here.”

Talk to you after Monday’s practice.


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