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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Postgame: Lots of thoughts after Wild's victory in Chicago

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 27, 2013 - 12:43 AM

This is one of those games where I don’t know where to start, so instead of trying to formulate something structured, I’m just going to go in order of what comes to my mind.

Scary concept, I know, the way my cloudy mind works.

First, the particulars. Wild won, 5-3, against the Chicago Blackhawks, the model team in the NHL, winners of two Cups in four years, a team that didn’t have a regulation loss this season and had points in six straight at home. In fact, it hadn’t lost in regulation in 15 games at the United Center, spoiling their awesome fans.

The Wild has won three in a row for the second time this year and now returns home to complete the home-and-home vs. the Blackhawks. Minnesota is 4-0-2 at the X, including four wins in a row. Before tonight, the Wild was 1-3-1 on the road with seven goals total. So, a little math here, but the Wild scored two fewer goals tonight than it did in five previous road games.

My teachers at Old Bethpage Grade School would be so proud of me!!!

Before I continue, I apologize for not topping our hoops writer Jerry Zgoda’s bubble bath Wolves report with my own Wild Minute from the sauna or something, but make sure to watch Sunday’s Wild Minute with assistant to the GM Jim Mill, where I insult Blackhawks legendary anthem singer, Jim Cornelison.

Jason Pominville, in his 600th game, scored two goals for his 19th 2-goal game. He also scored the winning goal for his 23rd career winner. He also had six shots. He also buried two pretty Mikael Granlund feeds, giving Granlund three “sick” assists on the Russo “sick-assist” meter in two games. Granlund now has seven apples – one more than he had all of last season. I’ll tell you what: When Granlund learns how to bury the puck himself, he’s going to be a “sick” player. And, while that may not come consistently this season, it will come. His hands, skill and vision are too good for it not to come eventually. He just keeps getting better in every facet of the ice, and he’s so responsible defensively. His “compete,” as Todd Richards used to say, is impressive as well.

Zach Parise scored his sixth goal of the season and fourth on the power play. The Wild’s power play, which ranks fifth in the NHL, has scored in nine of 12 games. Kyle Brodziak scored 1:01 into the second. Justin Fontaine put the Wild up 5-2 before the Blackhawks scored late.

I wrote most my gamer on Niklas Backstrom, who made 33 saves and was downright awesome.

Backstrom was tested immediately, robbing Marian Hossa 21 seconds in when the star two-way forward got every ounce of a Jonathan Toews rebound. Later, Backstrom kicked out his left pad and denied Hossa again.

But his best save came 31 seconds after Parise scored. Patrick Sharp wheeled into the Wild zone to create a break. Coming from Backstrom’s right, Sharp crossed the entire goalmouth and tried to bury the puck inside the post to the left of Backstrom.

He patiently stayed with Sharp the whole way and gloved down the primo chance. Backstrom denied Sharp seven times, and they were almost all Grade A chances.

As coach Mike Yeo said, it was “great to see.” And when he said, “great,” he stressed great, as in, “GREAT!!!” to see. And you know that’s because Backstrom had a slow start to this season even before straining his right knee Oct. 8 and after Friday’s practice said he wasn’t 100 percent from his most recent injury as well as offseason abdominal surgery.

So this was big, and Backstrom’s teammates gave him props and props and more props. Backstrom, like he usually is after a win or loss, brushed everything off as no big deal, saying there was no pressure after seeing Josh Harding give up eight goals in nine games before he was hurt.

When you play against Chicago, you need your goaltender to make big saves at big times, and Backstrom did that over and over again tonight. Good to see from the true pro.

-- Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser were quite the pair tonight, and I disregard the late Scandella penalty and late Prosser mishap that resulted in Chicago scoring a meaningless goal in the last minute. When you play against Chicago, the Hawks are going to get their chances, and there were several tonight.

But Scandella and Prosser were always a safe pair for Rick Wilson to send over the boards. They were each plus-2. Scandella assisted on Brodziak’s goal and drew the Hossa penalty that led to Parise’s goal. And Prosser was just a rock and assisted on Fontaine’s goal. He was chippy, got into faces and was tough in front of the net. He made good first passes, and it’s just so impressive that a guy can be scratched almost every night and he just steps into the lineup and plays this way. You know it has to be frustrating for Prosser to be scratched all the time. Yet, he never shows that frustration publicly. He just shows up with a smile on his face and works his tail off while waiting for Yeo to write his number on the lineup sheet. It’s why his teammates respect him so much,

-- 5-on-3. Gawd awful. This is two games out of four now that the Parise-Suter-Pominville-Dany Heatley-Mikko Koivu fivesome couldn’t score on a long 5-on-3. Only two shots. Yeo says the Wild’s got to figure it out. I’m not fond of three lefties down low. I wish they’d go with a setup of Koivu in the middle, Pominville and Parise on the sides and Suter and Jared Spurgeon up top. The best 5-on-3’s work it low and score off goalmouth passes. If you have Pominville on the left side of the cage and Parise on the right, I think the Wild will get its chances. The Wild practiced 5-on-3’s a lot in camp and Parise to Pominville was a constant goal in that setup.

Yeo says it’s not the personnel, it’s the execution.

The power play did get this game rolling though five seconds into the first PP.

-- PK, much better tonight. Killed 6 of 7 and all the big ones in big spots.

“Starts with Backy,” Yeo said. “But I just like the way we were on our toes, were aggressive, we had good sticks, good reads. This is a game that our guys should feel good about.”

-- Big props to referee Kelly Sutherland. I’ve always been fans of Sutherland and tonight’s ref sidekick Chris Rooney, but Sutherland was real good tonight in one area.

After an eight-minute review that could have been accompanied by the Jeopardy theme music, he basically conducted a press conference on the ice over the PA system to explain why Andrew Shaw’s goal was disallowed. Video review determined that Shaw's stick was above the height of the crossbar when he deflected Jeremy Morin’s shot. The puck then deflected off defenseman Clayton Stoner and into the net. According to Rule 80.3 "When an attacking player causes the puck to enter the opponent's goal by contacting the puck above the height of the crossbar, either directly or deflected off any player or official, the goal shall not be allowed"

Sutherland explained that since Stoner never “regained possession” for the Wild, Shaw’s touch was illegal and thus the goal was.

-- Suter, 2 assists (great one where he does what so few Wild d-men have done throughout history; WALK THE BLUE LINE and shoot en route to the Parise tally). He logged 26:58 (slacker) but still has led all Wild and opposing skaters in ice time in all 12 Wild games this season).

-- Career-best plus-2’s for Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Prosser. Granlund, Pominville and Scandella also plus-2’s.

-- Wild blocked 19 shots tonight.

-- Heatley looked better tonight. He had a great shift with Niederreiter and Granlund in the first period and won a puck race to help set up the Brodziak goal even though he didn’t get an assist on it.

-- Tough night for the fourth line, which was minus-2.

-- Yeo says the Wild will need to be better Monday, and he was impressed with a lot of things tonight.

That’s it for me. Obviously, please read the gamer, notebook and Sunday Insider, too, on www.startribune.com/wild. I’ve got a 7 a.m. flight back to MSP. Talk to you after Sunday’s practice.

Question for Chuck Fletcher? Come to State Fair today; More on Brunette and the power play

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: August 29, 2013 - 8:21 AM
 
If you’re a Wild fan and down at the State Fair today, please stop by the Star Tribune booth at 12:30 p.m. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher will be joining me for a Q and A. We will open it up to the audience, too. If you can't come, please leave questions in the comment section and I will ask a few. The Q and A will also be live-streamed on the web site and highlights will appear on the site later on.
 
In today’s newspaper, I have an article (can be read here) about former Wild left wing Andrew Brunette, the Wild’s advisor to the hockey operations department who will add power-play consultant to his repertoire this upcoming season.
 
Nobody has been on the ice for more power-play goals in Wild history, so coach Mike Yeo called “Bruno” an “invaluable resource.”
 
In concert, Brunette and Yeo will come up with the power-play units. Several will be tried in training camp, which begins Sept. 11.
 
“We can’t figure that out because we don’t know who will be here yet,” Yeo said. “We’ve got to find out if [Mikael Granlund’s] going to be here, if [Jason Zucker] is going to be here and so on. [Nino] Niederreiter, too. A [newcomer] like him, we don’t really know enough about yet.”
 
As of now, Brunette says he doesn’t plan any dramatic changes. For instance, the power play won’t be quarterbacked from, say, behind the net, which was Brunette’s specialty.
 
He plans tweaks and he plans to sit down with some of the key power-play guys on the Wild and kick around ideas with them.
 
“The power play is a finicky thing,” Brunette said. “It seems if it’s not scoring, it really gets bashed and if you are scoring and still not doing the right things, it’s let go. It’s one of those things where it’s hard to explain what makes a good and bad power play. You can talk about shots on goal, puck possession, but at the end of the day, if the puck’s in the net, it’s valued as successful.”
 
Last year, the Wild’s power play improved from 27th in the NHL in Mike Yeo’s first season to 16th. However, it went 0 for 17 in the playoffs and despite being the second-best power play on the road during the regular season, it ranked a lowly 28th at home.
 
Brunette has some ideas. So does Yeo. They’ll be looking to generate more quality shots, get more shots through without being blocked and improve on the overall net-front presence of the team.
 
“I think our whole game can be better, but especially [our net-front play] on the power play,” Brunette said. “It has to be a mentality everybody has to take. It can’t just be one guy that stands in front of the net.”
 
Brunette still has several duties for hockey ops, like scouting and heading to Des Moines to work with the prospects. So Brunette won’t take over the power play as a whole because sometimes he won’t be around.
 
But Yeo said everything about the power play will be discussed with Brunette and when he’s in town and Yeo feels it’s time to work the power play significantly on the ice, Brunette will take the ice.
 
At July’s development camp, Brunette donned a coach’s track suit with director of player development Brad Bombardir to work with the prospects. He had a blast.
 
“I really enjoyed that, and it was very fulfilling working with the kids and trying to find things to help them out and be a little bit better,” Brunette said.
 
Yeo first talked to Brunette about taking over the power play around the draft in June. They talked more about it a few weeks ago to determine how it would work.
 
Assistant coach Darryl Sydor used to run the power play, but Yeo wants to use Sydor in other areas.
 
“I really want to concentrate on individual work, skill work, getting on the ice early, video or even spending more time with the players this year,” Yeo said. “I can’t do everything. As much as I’d love to, the head coach doesn’t have as much opportunity to do the one-on-one work that quite often you wish to do.
 
“A lot of that falls on the assistants, so this is about freeing up time for Syd to spend more time with the players. It’s something that he’s really strong at.”
 
Below is a chart that wound up not squeezing into today’s newspaper. Also, see you at the Fair. Please stop by!
 
Lastly, Avery Peterson, the Wild's sixth-round pick and Grand Rapids native, has committed to Nebraska-Omaha, the Duluth News Tribune reports. He was recruited by St. Cloud State, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio State. As of the draft, he planned to play at Sioux City of the USHL this upcoming season.
 
Also, Bjorn Krupp -- Uwe Krupp's son -- will clear unconditional waivers today so the Wild can officially terminate his contract. Paper move.
 
WILD POWER PLAY
 
Andrew Brunette, who has been on the ice for more power-play goals (216) in Wild history and ranks second in Wild history with 55 power-play goals, is the team’s new power-play consultant. Brunette scored 114 career power-play goals, and his 108 from 1998-99 to 2011-12 ranked 15th in the NHL during that span. Here are some facts about the Wild’s power play:
 
Power play under coach Mike Yeo:
 
2011-12: Ranked 27th overall (15.1 percent); ranked 13th at home, 30th on the road)
2012-13: Ranked 16th overall (17.9 percent); ranked 28th at home, 2nd on the road)
 
Dany Heatley: Since 2001-02, the Wild right wing leads the NHL with 139 power-play goals. (Ilya Kovalchuk 138, Teemu Selanne 133, Jarome Iginla 128 and Alex Ovechkin 127). The Wild scored five power-play goals in 17 games after he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury April 3.
 
Mikko Koivu: Scored no power-play goals last season  but 13 power-play assists. Ranks fourth in Wild history with 36 power-play goals, first with 109 power-play points and tied with Marian Gaborik for first with 145 power-play points. Has been on the ice for 191 power-play goals, fourth in Wild history.
 
Zach Parise and Jason Pominville: Combined for 101 career power-play goals.

Ryan Suter: In his first season with the Wild, he had 12 power-play assists and 15 power-play points.
 
 
 

Wild ends Dallas skid and extends win streak to 6 games to retake division lead

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 26, 2013 - 3:12 PM
For the first time in my eight seasons as the Wild beat writer, I witnessed the Wild win in Dallas.
 
I’m hanging up my laptop now.
 
Ginormous victory in the Big D tonight as the Wild three times rallied from one-goal deficits and one time surrendered its first lead in 10 games in this rink of doom only to recover. The Wild scored a season-high seven goals on a season-high 42 shots to win 7-4 and take a W out of American Airlines Center for the first time since March 21, 2003 (16 losses ago).
 
“Thank God it’s over,” said Kyle Brodziak, whose fourth career shorthanded goal was the Wild’s first of the season to break a 4-4 tie with 7:22 left – 20 seconds after Mike Rupp tried to lift Ray Whitney’s stick and instead clipped him for a 4-minute power play.
 
Then, after Brodziak gave Minnesota a 5-4 lead, the penalty kill – like it has done so much this season – went to work and extinguished both minors en route to the Wild’s sixth consecutive regulation victory – the first time in team history the Wild’s done that. The Wild has now won 11 of 14 and is 15-5-1 in its past 21 to retake the top spot in the Northwest.
 
Big win because the Wild figured out a way to win in a game Niklas Backstrom clearly wasn’t at his best. He gave up some cheesy ones, but hours after getting NHL Second Star of the Week honors, Backstrom found a way to leave a winner thanks to some big saves on that third-period PK.
 
“It was a funny game for him too I think,” said coach Mike Yeo. “At the end of the day, he won. That’s what it’s all about.”
 
Backstrom is 14-3-1 in his past 18 (You can read Backstrom’s quotes in the gamer, and there are some other real good ones in there as well on www.startribune.com/wild).
 
Frankly though, Backstrom doesn’t play well in this building. I’d start him at home Wednesday vs. Phoenix and leave him home Friday to rest up for Saturday’s home game vs. Los Angeles. Why travel him? You can start rookies Matt Hackett or Darcy Kuemper in Dallas on Friday. Backstrom deserves the rest. He’s been that good in starting 15 of 16. He is tied for the NHL lead with 17 wins. You have backups for a reason.
 
By the way, as an aside because that’s the way my mind works, the Wild left its road whites and a ton of equipment here in Dallas instead of bringing it back to Minnesota. (As a friend of mine would sarcastically say, good story, tell it again).
 
Zach Parise scored two goals and an assist and had five shots. Mikko Koivu had a goal and assist on six shots and won 10 of 16 draws. Parise, who has a team-best 14 goals, was great on their chemistry, and I’ll put that in the follow for Wednesday’s paper because the Wild isn’t practicing Tuesday. Koivu and Parise have combined for 31 points the past 14 games.
 
Matt Cullen became the 37th American and ninth Minnesotan to score 200 goals. The 36-year-old also had an assist. Brodziak and Pierre-Marc Bouchard also had a goal and assist, Cal Clutterbuck brushed off a broken leg (kinda, sorta, OK not really) for two assists (created the Brodziak winner) and defense partners Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon each had two assists and were plus-5’s – tying Todd White’s team record and setting a team record for defensemen.
 
Dany Heatley iced it with a goal the way the Wild scored all night – attacking the net.
 
“I love the way that we’re scoring goals,” Yeo said. “Obviously there’s skill involved. But it’s matching our identity that we’re a hard team. We’re physical. We defend hard. Offensively we’re going to be hard the way we get to the net and wear on teams.”
 
What else?
 
Cue Yeo: “Just real impressed with our guys to stick with it. It was one of those feelings at least behind the bench that you were like, ‘oh man, is this not our night.’ It felt like things weren’t bouncing our way even just giving the history in here. But they found a way to win.”
 
Yeo ain’t kidding. Parise had one sure-looking goal bounce off Derek Roy’s stick. Before Parise’s second-period goal, it looked like Brenden Dillon put one into his own net, but video review couldn’t find evidence it went in.
 
“I give them credit all game long continuing to push forward and stay with it and finding way,” Yeo said.
 
Yeo on not having to answer questions on The Streak before Friday’s game here: “Really glad. Are we done with this?”
 
Koivu on the game: “Usually when it’s fun to watch, it’s not the type of game you want, especially on the road.”
 
But as Koivu and then Parise said, “Every time they scored, we responded.”
 
Love this quote on Antoine Roussel from Mike Rupp (Rupp got a misconduct after the double minor on Whitney when he came together with Roussel and he fell: “Lot of smoke and mirrors with that No. 60. Where I’m from you don’t lay on the ice unless you’re hurt.”
 
Heck of an effort by Clutterbuck, who couldn’t put any weight on his right leg as he skated off the ice following a violent first-period collision with the net. He returned in the second to assist on two goals. He still was limping badly after the game.
 
Lastly, here’s some tweets on the game from @mnwildpr (PR stalwart Ryan Stanzel):

Wild with 1st 7 goal outing since 8-4 W 4/10/09 vs NSH. Last time w 7 on road was 11/16/06 in SO win at NSH...

 2nd time in team history with 7 goals in regulation on road, 3/25/04 at CHI an 8-2 win
 
Wild just the 4th team to score 7 goals in Dallas since 1997-98 season. Chicago did it March 16 of this season
 
4th all-time Wild win streak of 6-plus games. 1st time w 6 straight in regulation. Team record is 9 wins (3/8-3/24/07)
 
Wild has 5 straight road wins - 2 off team record. 4 straight in regulation on road ties team record
 
Stoner/Spurgeon join Salo/Gonchar as lone nhl players at +5 this ssn. 1st teammates at +5 in 1 game since EDM Peckham/Petry vs CHI 11/19/11
  
Wild had combined to score 7 goals in last 5 trips to North Texas
 
2nd win for Backstrom since Dec '09 when allowing 4+ goals. Other came 9 days ago in Denver
 
OK, that’s it for me. Wild doesn’t practice Tuesday. My editor, Chris Miller is covering Wednesday’s 8 p.m. game for moi. Treat him nice. Follow him on Twitter at @cmillstrib. Kent Youngblood has Thursday’s practice and I’ll be back with ya Friday from Dallas.
 
I plan to make my Sunday column another blog Q and A where you can ask me some questions and I’ll answer those selected in my Sunday column. Look for that blog to enter questions sometime Wednesday.
 
Anyway, crazy night. Wild win in Dallas for the first time since 2003 and James Sheppard scored his first NHL goal since 2009.
 

Wild looks to vanquish Dallas demons, makes roster moves, sends down Zucker

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 24, 2013 - 4:59 PM

UPDATED

The Wild had a fun, quick practice at St. Thomas Academy this morning and is about to hit the friendly sky for a southbound flight to the Lone Star State.

Most the Wild's practice today was a small area 3-on-2 game where both nets are on the same goal line. Gloves are lined up vertically in the middle of the zone, and when the puck crosses to that side, a new 3-on-2 begins aimed at one of the nets. It's fun to watch.

Causes quick plays in tight spaces, communication, players are basically unaware as to how hard they're actually working because they're having so much fun and it triggers lots of hooting and hollering -- mostly from assistant coach Darryl Sydor, who seems to love whatever team Mikko Koivu is on.

Left wing Mike Rupp, who missed the past three games with a lower body injury, practiced today and will be on that plane for the quick trip to Dallas. He was oddly the only player to wear a white helmet today. I figured it must be his version of the yellow "Do Not Touch Me, I'm Hurt" jersey, but he simply made a faux pas and packed the wrong helmet for the dress and drive.

I am not sure if Rupp is going to play yet though. I hear the Wild is going to reassign Jason Zucker this afternoon, presumably because Pierre-Marc Bouchard has taken his spot on the second line and Zucker isn't suited for the fourth line. But it sounds to me like the Wild will recall a player as it reassigns Zucker. I'll update when I know.

I also think the Wild will flip goalies at some point. They'll need a backup to play next weekend, and Matt Hackett will have gone three weeks without a game by then.

Update: Zucker was indeed sent down and former Badger Jake Dowell recalled. Dowell is a former Star with a physical edge. I'd think Zucker will be back if there's an injury in a top-line role or a spot opened up. Could be very short-term. He'll be back. Blame Corey Perry.

The Wild also flipped goalies, recalling Darcy Kuemper. It's unclear whether this is temporary though. Hackett could start one game with Houston and then maybe be recalled to play Friday in Dallas or in Minnesota against Los Angeles next Saturday.

I can't see Niklas Backstrom starting both road-home back-to-backs next weekend. If it were me, I'd go with a Hackett-Kuemper duo Friday in Dallas and don't even travel Backstrom. We'll talk to Yeo in the morning to get his comments on the moves.

The big Stars news is they traded captain Brenden Morrow to Pittsburgh. I've got to think now Boston pounces on Jarome Iginla.

Niklas Backstrom vs. Kari Lehtonen -- almost definitely -- Monday.

The Wild will be searching for its first win in Dallas since March 21, 2003. I'm no math major, but I think that's a little more than 10 calendar years!. Sixteen losses in a row (0-11-5), which is tied for the longest current losing streak by one team in one opposing building in the NHL (Calgary at Anaheim). The Wild's been outscored 62-30 in this stretch.

I have to dig up last year's file I put together of tweets I got when I asked for entries to: "The last time the Wild won in Dallas, ..."

For instance: The last time won in Dallas, Sid Hartman was still a young, up-and-coming columnist.

I'll find this file and blog em Monday morning.

The good news is the Wild snapped an 11-game winless streak in Vancouver last Monday, beat Detroit in regulation for the first time on the road since 2006 on Wednesday and half the Wild players have no clue such a streak even exists.

The Wild has said over and over lately that it feels it can beat any team in any building right now. Well, we will see. Bizarrely, the Wild plays in Dallas Monday and Friday with a home game in between vs. Phoenix.

I'll be on KFAN at 10 a.m. on Monday and on Fox Sports North during Wild Live at 7 p.m. Monday and again during the first intermission.

In some NHL news, Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman fired Guy Boucher very early this morning -- strangely before the Lightning plays in Winnipeg tonight. Not often are coaches fired in the middle of a road trip, let alone after taking a plane ride with the team following a loss at Ottawa yesterday. Must have been quite the flight.

Former Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff seems destined to replace Boucher and Yzerman indicated he's got somebody lined up. The other name circulating is minor-league coach Jon Cooper.

Also, TSN's Darren Dreger reports Calgary captain Jarome Iginla has four teams he is willing to be traded to -- Pittsburgh, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Lastly, one reason why it was time for the Wild to send Mikael Granlund to Houston is he can play roles there he just wasn't able to in Minnesota. First line, first power play and even shootouts.

In Minnesota, it got to the point Granlund was either relegated to the fourth line or press box. He didn't get a shootout try because Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Matt Cullen are three of the best in the NHL (none of the Wild's four shootouts went past Round 3, Wild's 3-1 in shootouts).

In five games back with the Aeros, Granlund has one goal and five assists, and last night against Rochester scored this shootout beauty.

Red-hot Wild keeps growing as a team, climbing the standings

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 21, 2013 - 5:23 AM
Don’t look now, but the Wild has won four in a row overall, four in a row on the road, swept a 3+-game road trip for the first time since Jan. 2011 and for the first time in history won three consecutive road games by 2+ goals each.
 
Big 4-2 win tonight in Detroit. There seemed to be misinformation out there all night that this would be the Wild’s first win in Detroit in 14 games. It was the Wild’s first regulation win in Detroit in 14 (Jan. 3, 2006), but it was actually the Wild’s fourth win here in 14 games.
 
Nevertheless, the Wild typically doesn’t play well here, just like it didn’t play well in Vancouver before ousting the Canucks 3-1 on Monday. Could this team actually vanquish the 10-year demons in Dallas? That’s right, the Wild hasn’t won in American Airlines Center since 2003. Well, it’ll have two kicks at the can next week (Monday and Friday).
 
But, as coach Mike Yeo and player after play said after tonight’s win, this is a completely different team than year’s past. It has come together impressively since Feb. 9, going 13-5-1 in the past 19 games to sit atop the Northwest Division. It has won nine of its past 12 and is getting contributions everywhere.
 
Every line has an identity. It has scored 18 goals in the past four games. The blue line is playing great, especially effortless Ryan Suter and his ice-in-his-veins partner Jonas Brodin. Suter leads all NHL players in ice time, Brodin leads all NHL rookies. The power play has scored 11 times in the past 12 games and has climbed to 14th in the NHL. The penalty kill ranks fifth.
 
And Niklas Backstrom has just been awesome, going 12-3-1 in his past 16 starts and now sitting tied for second in the NHL with 15 wins. So much for being exhausted.
 
The best part of this team right now: The been-there, done-that attitude. Suter scores in Colorado? It’s followed up by a tiny little fist pump. Win a big game in Detroit? And player after player essentially says what Backstrom said, “It’s two points tonight. Next game comes fast. We just have to move on.”
 
Same stuff was said in Vancouver. There was no big party in the locker room after winning in Vancouver for the first time since 2009.
 
“You’ve got everybody going out and playing our game and playing hard, and that’s a good feeling,” Yeo said.
 
Asked if the Wild may look back at this road trip as a big breakthough, Yeo said, “I sure hope not because we’ve been doing a real good job at just looking at what’s right in front of us.”
 
Tonight, Devin Setoguchi scored two goals. He now has goals in four of the last five games, a five-game point streak and 11 goals and 18 points in the past 19 games. He now shares the goal scoring lead with Zach Parise after going scoreless in his first 10 games.
 
Mikko Koivu scored the eventual winner, Kyle Brodziak scored and Pierre-Marc Bouchard had two assists for his third consecutive multi-point game. Huge turnaround for Bouchard to escape the doghouse. He now has a four-game point streak since being scratched in three straight. Matt Cullen also extended his point streak to six games.
 
Brodin was great again. Charlie Coyle brushed off a dirty Niklas Kronwall head shot by helping set up Koivu’s winner with a great wall play to trigger a Brodin-led 2-on-1 with Parise. Backstrom made a season-high 36 saves.
 
The Wild was outshot 38-19, but not indicative, Backstrom said. He went 17 for 17 in the first period and said the shots were to the outside.
 
A month ago, the Wild would have said its legs were predictably mush after flying across the continent on Tuesday. No more excuses, said Suter. It’s about accountability.
 
“The main thing is everyone is ready to go from the start of the game no matter who it is,” Setoguchi said. “When you’ve got everyone going and every line jumping, it just makes it that much easier to go out there and play for everyone else.”
 
On winning in Vancouver and Detroit, Brodziak said, “Over the years, the wins in these two places have been few and far between. We feel really good about our team right now. We feel confident with any line we put out there, any d-man that we put out there, Backy obviously in the net. Everyone seems to be finding their stride. We’re playing the system well, everyone’s battling hard, our confidence is up as well.
 
“Saying that though, we can’t be satisfied. We’ve got to keep working hard and doing the things that got us to this point. We want to keep growing as a team.”
 
Anyway, read the game story on www.startribune.com/wild and also the notebook on why the Wild must be cautious adding big contracts the next little while. This, like the trade deadline story in Wednesday’s paper, are must-reads in my opinion if you want to understand as a Wild fan why the Wild can’t go out the next few years and sign and trade for every big name in the NHL.
 
That’s it for me. The Wild, which by the way had its bus break down on the way to the airport after the game, has the day off Thursday. Kent Youngblood has practice Friday. I’ll talk to you Saturday from the X before and after the San Jose game. And of course, follow me on Twitter please at www.twitter.com/russostrib. You may even see me at the X for the WCHA Final Five. Can’t wait to watch.

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