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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Good day from partly cloudy, mostly humid Minneapolis. Here's a Wild update:
1. Preseason schedule has been announced: Six-game schedule with home-and-homes (so to speak) with Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
Training camp is expected to begin Sept. 18.
Sept. 22 at Winnipeg, 7 p.m.; Sept. 25 at Pittsburgh, 6 p.m.; Sept. 27 vs. Winnipeg, 7 p.m.; Sept. 29 vs. Pittsburgh, 7 p.m.; Oct. 2 at St. Louis, 7 p.m.; Oct. 4 vs. St. Louis, 7 p.m.
Tickets will go on sale later this summer.
My guess is the Wild then heads to Duluth on Oct. 5 for a few days of practice. Just conjecture, but it fits before the opener later that week and the Wild loves the facilities and ability to do some team bonding up in UMD Country.
2. Last I heard, the NHL plans to release all schedules Sunday. Weird day to do so, but that's always a fun day. As I mentioned the other day, no outdoor game this year. The league is scaling back to one stadium series game. Also, for a change, I heard the Wild's on the road New Year's Eve!
3. I plan to host a draft/free agency live chat on startribune.com next Friday (Round 1 is later that night). Time to be announced.
4. The Wild's expected to sign undrafted free agent defenseman Guillaume Gelinas on July 1. The signing was first reported (I believe) by TVA Sports in Quebec. It's a verbal commitment right now because as of June 1, there was a freeze for undrafted North American free agents (the Wild signed undrafted forwards Brady Brassart and Zack Mitchell in March) until July 1.
Gelinas, 21, was named the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's best defenseman this past season after scoring 23 goals and 92 points in 67 games for Val-d'Or. He scored another 34 points in 24 playoff games for a team that lost the Memorial Cup to Edmonton.
Wild's trying to put an influx of skill on AHL Iowa after a very tough season in which the Baby Wild lacked skill, health and was probably too old.
Gelinas is skilled and competitive but 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, so initially the AHL will be a decent step.
So, it's a flier.
Maybe Gelinas turns out to be Jared Spurgeon, who also had a terrific junior career (139 points in his last three years; harder to score in the W than the Q, so apples and oranges in terms of stats) before not being signed by the Islanders and then going untouched through another draft.
Maybe Gelinas turns out to be Michel Periard. Who? He's just a name that kind of jumped into my head because he was of similar stature and had similar stats in the Q (100 points his last year, I think) to Gelinas probably 15 years ago. Chuck Fletcher's Florida Panthers took a flier on him and he never played North American pro hockey beyond the A.
My point: Risk-free move, but let's be realistic with expectations. Maybe he turns out to be a player. Maybe he doesn't. When the Wild signed Spurgeon, I probably put a single line into the paper. Same thing with Brassart and Mitchell. Heck, when the Wild signed Niklas Backstrom as the first-ever European free agent under the previous CBA, I put a single paragraph. All he did was become the Wild's all-time goaltending leader in games and wins.
It's just hard to know with undrafted players until the Wild gets its grip on them and has a chance to develop them.
5. The salary cap is expected to be close to $70 million when it's announced next week. The Wild's will be a shade under after a slight bonus overage. Fletcher told me during the playoffs that Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula and Jonas Brodin hit bonuses. Capgeek.come has it as Niederreiter and Haula earning each $212,500 for plus-minus and Brodin $425,000 for time on ice.
That's $825,000 in bonuses. But I'm told the Wild didn't go over the cap by that much, so the overage on next year's cap will be less. Either way, the overage shouldn't impact the Wild in its offseason business because Fletcher will always try to be at least $2 million or more under the cap so the team can make in-season injury callups and potential trades.
6. Lot of questions as to whether the Wild may pursue Cup champ Willie Mitchell in free agency. My guess: It makes sense if the Wild's unable to re-sign Clayton Stoner. Stoner and Mitchell seemingly would play the same role (third-pair, left-shot, physical D). As I mentioned last week, the Wild will try to re-sign Stoner, but maybe his solid postseason will allow him to cash in as a UFA more than the Wild's willing to commit. Stoner will have to decide that.
7. Some questions from you as to whether the Wild may pursue Shawn Thornton now that Boston's moving on from the rugged winger. I've heard through sources that the Wild would like to re-sign Cody McCormick, but Thornton is arguably a better, tougher player (more expensive, too), so maybe the Wild holds off on trying to sign McCormick just to see if it has a shot at Thornton. I don't see why there's a rush to re-sign McCormick, so if it were me, I'd wait to see what Thornton is thinking. I'm sure he'll have a lot of interest though.
Interesting dynamic to this year's draft. The free-agent interview period begins Wednesday. This is a new wrinkle thrown into this CBA where teams are allowed to court July 1 pending free agents, bring them to cities to check it out, etc. Well, the entire NHL will be in Philadelphia from Wednesday-Saturday night or Sunday morning, so one wonders if the draft becomes a free-agent recruiting party.
It certainly makes sense for agents to bring their free agents to Philly and line up meeting after meeting.
The Wild and Chicago Blackhawks play Game 6 tonight at Xcel Energy Center (8 p.m., CNBC).
A Wild win, and Game 7 at 7 p.m. Thursday in Chicago. A Blackhawks win, and they advance to play the winner of Anaheim-Los Angeles (Ducks are up 3-2). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Wild's looking to become the first NHL team to force consecutive Game 7s in one postseason without series lead since the 1987 Isles.
I’ll be on Fox Sports North tonight at 7:20.
The Wild has rallied from 0-2 deficits in each of the past two series only to lose Game 5. Last round, it forced a Game 7 and eventually eliminated Colorado.
“Our survival instincts have been much stronger than our killer instincts,” coach Mike Yeo said this morning. “Certainly it will be tested again tonight.”
Nobody can question Chicago’s killer instincts. The Blackhawks never want to take their chances in Game 7.
According to the Chicago Sun Times’ Mark Potash, they are 7-0 in Game 6 clinchers, including a 5-0 mark on the road.
In Game 6 against Colorado, Zach Parise had two goals and two assists.
“Just knowing that we’ve been here,” Parise said. “I think there’s a lot of similarities between the two series. The games that we’ve lost we feel like we may not have played great, but we’ve had a chance to win. I’m sure they’re saying the same things about the games here. We’ve played pretty well throughout and that was the same as last series. I think we feel good about it because we’re still pretty confident in here.”
The Wild is 5-0 at home this postseason, outscoring Chicago and Colorado 16-5, including 4-0 and 4-2 against the Blackhawks.
In the seven Game 6 clinchers according to Potash, Kane has seven goals, 12 points and is plus-6. Toews has five goals, 11 points and is plus-5.
Don't expect a big motivational speeck from Joel Quenneville tonight: "I'm not a very frilly guy with the motivational speeches. I might have tried one of those motivational speeches, and I probably blew it."
Two lineup changes for the Wild tonight:
Keith Ballard will replace Nate Prosser after missing Game 5 following the Brandon Bollig hit from behind. Darcy Kuemper will back up Ilya Bryzgalov instead of John Curry.
As for the Hawks:
#Blackhawks lines: Sharp-Toews-Hossa, Saad-Handzus-Kane, Bickell-Regin-Versteeg, Nordstrom-Kruger-Smith. That is the optimal lineup, IMO.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) May 13, 2014
Ryan Suter missed the morning skate because he had a dentist appointment, according to Yeo.
“Scheduled cleaning,” Yeo said, smiling. “So that’s why he was not there.”
Frankly, I don’t think he was kidding.
On Kuemper backing up, Yeo said, “It’s been kind of coming about for the last couple days. It’s tough between Hards and Johnny Curry and Kuemps, obviously we make sure that Bryz gets what he needs every morning, and we don’t have a ton of quality practice time right now, so when you have three guys pretty much sharing one net, it’s kind of difficult for any of those guys to get the workload that he needs. But he had a real good practice yesterday, he felt really good, so this has been coming for a couple days and happy to have him back.
Matt Moulson skated during today’s skate but won’t play. He has a lower-body injury, but like I said yesterday, who do you put him in for?
“He's close,” Yeo said. “I think it was important for him to have a good skate today and hopefully we can take care of business and make a decision based on the next game. Obviously we've got to take care of tonight, first.”
On tonight’s must-win, Yeo said, “I'm excited. I would say that there's pressure on both teams, and if you don't embrace that, then there's something wrong. You don't coach or you don't play to play an exhibition game or Game 23 of the regular season. You do all that stuff to get yourself to this point. These are the games you dream of and, with that, we all have got to find a way to be at our best tonight and embrace that challenge. It's going to be a great one. They're going to play really well and, with that, we should make sure that we go all-in with our game. We can't play with any fear. We have to make sure that we're not afraid of anything, that we might lose. The only thing that should be entering our thought process is what's a possibility of being gained.”
Ballard is excited to be back.
“I feel fine. I felt fine for a couple days. I think we were being fairly cautious that night. By the time I got done seeing the doctors, it was in the third period. We were trying to be pretty smart about it. There was no chance that I would play if I had symptoms. I'd been through that before, been down that road a couple times, and the more you kind of learn about these things and the more information that's coming out, the long-term effects, they're not worth it to put yourself in that situation.”
On the awareness of concussions, Ballard said, “They've become more strict over the years and more aware of the effects of playing after without seeing a doctor and making sure there's no symptoms. They're doing their job.
“I think sometimes, you don't know how you're feeling unless you've been through it a couple times and understand the symptoms. You think, ‘ah, I don't have a headache, but I don't feel right. I'm a little bit out of it. I'm more irritable’ or whatever. There's so many different symptoms, and I've had over the years a couple concussions. I've become more aware of how I'm feeling and understanding what goes along with it.
“It's not an injury that you necessarily are in a lot of pain or anything. You get some headaches here and there. They can all vary, too. It's just more of when you know the long-term effects. I've got little kids at home. I don't want to be putting myself in a position where in 10 years I can't remember their names and can't get through a day functioning normally, so that's the scary part of these things.”
On Bollig’s two-game suspension, “I don't really care that much about it. I don't think it was a good hit, but I also understand the circumstances. It's a big game, and he's trying to generate some energy. I don't think it was a smart hit, but I don't think it was some of the worst things we see out there sometimes. I think sometimes the energy of the game, the emotion and the type of player -- everybody has those players -- they're out there and trying to generate some momentum and be physical, and it was just maybe a little bit over the line.
Asked if he heard from Bollig, Ballard said, “No. Too much gets made of the whole 'did he text you? … I honestly don't care. That's what happens, right? I've hit guys, and they've been injured. I don't think it was an overly malicious kind of hit. It was probably a dumb play, but that stuff doesn't really matter to me.”
The Portland Winterhawks blew a 2-0 series lead and lost in Game 7 to Edmonton last night, meaning no Memorial Cup for Matt Dumba.
He led the WHL in plus-minus with a plus-18 and led WHL defensemen with eight goals and was tied for second among defensemen with 18 points.
Today’s the three-year anniversary of Derek Boogaard’s death in his downtown Minneapolis apartment. Keep the big guy’s family in your thoughts.
Afternoon from the friendly sky, where I’m taking a quick hop over to Chicago for Game 5 between the Wild and Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday (8 p.m., CNBC, KFAN).
The Wild and Blackhawks mostly had the day off. The Wild had an optional but a good amount of players were around. The Blackhawks made coach Joel Quenneville, Marcus Kruger and Michal Handzus available, so slim pickings.
Coach Q said Andrew Shaw (lower body) is unlikely to play Game 5.
Similarly, coach Mike Yeo said Keith Ballard (upper body) and Matt Moulson (lower body) didn’t made the trip to Chicago. Ballard, two games after returning from two months off with a groin injury, was hit from behind by Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig, who got away with a head shot in my opinion on Zach Parise in the final regular-season meeting.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety got him this time, suspending him for two games. Not sure if that helps the Wild or not.
Yeo said that Nate Prosser will likely slide back into the lineup. The other option is Jon Blum, who played well down the stretch for the Wild when Clayton Stoner and Ballard were both out at the same time.
The Wild improved to 5-0 at home with last night’s 4-2 victory to even up the series. It has outscored opponents 16-5 at home, holding Colorado and Chicago to an average of 19.6 shots per game. The Blackhawks are 5-0 at home, having outscored opponents 20-7.
The Wild is 1-5 on the road, having been outscored 26-17. As we learned last round against the Avs, even though the Wild held a third-period lead and nearly won Game 5, it took its foot off the gas and lost. That put the pressure back on Minnesota, and the Wild had to win Game 6 at home and Game 7 on the road in order to advance to its first second round in 11 years.
By winning two games at home, the Wild has turned the momentum in the series. The players and coach Mike Yeo know that can easily change with a road loss on Sunday night. On the other hand, if the Wild can sneak out a big ‘W’ at the United Center against a Blackhawks team that is clearly frustrated right now, the Wild will put itself in position to win the series at home Tuesday in front of its raucous crowd in an arena where it has been dominant all postseason.
“Thinking back to Games 1 and 2, I said at that time, it’s not like we were that far off,” Yeo said. “We knew we could play a little bit better and I think we’ve picked our game up since then. Certainly when you look back to those two games, there were parts of it that were going well and then it was a big mistake that came back at us. I think we’ve cut down on our mistakes the last couple games and we have to make sure that we bring that in there. But with that, there’s been sort of a little bit more of an aggressive mindset in how we executed the last couple games and that’s allowed us to get on the attack a little bit more. It’s a fine line. We have to make sure that we’re playing smart, but we can’t be playing safe. We’ve got to take that attitude into their building.”
Big game, to say the least, which is why Yeo spent the afternoon reminding his team not to let its guard down. It’ll be a challenge, but the Wild has to somehow figure out a way to carry the same type of game it has played all playoffs long at home and carry it into the Windy City.
“It’s a huge game,” Dany Heatley said of Sunday. “But I don’t feel the vibe in here that we’re too confident or over-cocky right now. We know they’re a very good team, they play well in their rink. We’ll be prepared for that.”
The Wild continues to get tremendous play from its youngsters. From the Wild game notes, the five youngest forwards -- Wild rookies Erik Haula (23) and Justin Fontaine (26), playoff rookies Nino Niederreiter (21) and Mikael Granlund (22), and sophomore Charlie Coyle (22) – have combined for 13 goals (Granlund, 4), 27 points (Coyle/Granlund, 7), 81 hits (Niederreiter, 31) and 27 blocked shots (Granlund/Haula, 10).
“They’ve been great,” Heatley said. “Obviously a huge reason why we’re here. They've been great for us all year. Whatever role they’ve played, they’ve done a great job. Awesome to see the success there having in the playoffs. They’re all real good kids, they work really hard, and it’s been a lot of fun to be around them.
“I think everyone needs to step it up to win games in the playoffs. I thought towards the end of the year those guys got better as did our whole team. We went into the playoffs playing pretty well and those guys have taken it to another level.”
We always talk about the youngsters, but we rarely include Jared Spurgeon because he has been around for four years. But he is 24 and he has been dynamite since the first couple games of the playoffs. Look at the skill plays he made last night, having his head up to make the stretch pass to Coyle for the Niederreiter winner, the settling of Mikko Koivu’s pass and the patience to score the power-play goal.
“I think as we’ve asked our team to get better, he’s taken his game to another level,” Yeo said. “This is a guy that we have so much respect for as a coaching staff. Not just the way that he executes, the poise that he has, his ability to create offense with his execution, but he’s a very good defender. He’s got a great stick, he’s very smart, he’s a great skater and he’s sneaky strong. He’s a huge part of our team but again to see where his game is at right now obviously offensively this time of year especially playing against a team like this, you need some offense from your defensemen, you need to create some offense from secondary guys whether that’s from your defense or whether that’s from third or fourth line guys. If you’re going to have any success, guys like that are usually stepping up.”
And then there’s Niederreiter, who is coming of age this postseason.
It seemed to start in Game 6 last round.
“I remember that game that even his first period was sort of OK, but then something just flipped,” Yeo said. “He flipped a switch there, and it was just an opportunity for us to say OK, there it is, that's the blueprint for what we need night after night. It's been a work in progress, but certainly that game, for me, was one where obviously, he played a great game, had all of the heroics of the Game 7, but for me, a lot of that started in Game 6.”
In Game 7, on Spurgeon’s tying goal that he set up, Niederreiter gave Spurgeon a kiss on the helmet. Last night, after Ilya Bryzgalov made back-to-back huge saves in the third to rob Jeremy Morin and keep the lead at 4-2, Niederreiter similarly pecked Bryzgalov on the helmet.
Photo courtesy of Star Tribune photographer Carlos Gonzalez
“Yeah, that was such a big save. I was just so happy,” Niederreiter said, smiling. “It happened so quickly. Just being thankful I guess. I did that to Spurg when he scored the tying goal in Game 7. It’s silly but you appreciate stuff like that.”
The Wild leads the NHL with 16 goal scorers this postseason. Quite amazing for a team that lacked scoring depth during the regular season.
"Are you saying that we didn't see it during the year?" Yeo said, laughing, when I asked in probably a bewildered tone. "I feel like we're all improving. Everything's kind of cyclical, there's no question, but everybody's going out, everybody's contributing in the same way, but they're all doing it in their own way, too. The roles have been identified, guys have really bought into them, but just the team game, I think we've been very strong in that regard. Like we've asked of our guys, we've gotten better as a team, and that's what we want to keep doing here."
Talk to you after the morning skates Sunday. Enjoy your weekend.
Game 7. Wednesday night. 8:30. Denver.
Nothing better than a Game 7 and the Wild will play in its first since 2003 after beating the Colorado Avalanche, 5-2, tonight in front of a raucous crowd at the X.
The Wild is 2-0 all-time in Game 7’s. In 2003, the Wild rallied from two 3-1 deficits to beat Colorado and Vancouver in Games 7s. The one in Colorado ended Patrick Roy’s goaltending career. Wednesday, the Wild will try to end the coach’s season.
“We fought all year to be in that position if there was a Game 7,” said Roy, who coached the team that won the Central “It's in our building, in front of our fans. I think it's going to be exciting. It's great for our team. It's going to be a great experience. We're not happy to lose tonight but I thought both teams played really well, and it was a great hockey game. That game could have gone either way.”
The men with the letters on their chest – Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter – helped lead the Wild to a big Game 6 win.
Parise scored the winning goal with 6:29 left as part of a career-high four-point (two goals) night. That's also a Wild playoff record. He has points in all six games of the series and leads the Wild with 10. Koivu had two assists and was sensational on the winning goal, winning two board battles, pressuring Jan Hejda into a turnover and shooting the puck that Parise deflected.
“I knew we had someone in front of the net, I didn’t know it was Zach, so I just threw it in from the point,” Koivu said.
Koivu also won 17 of 28 faceoffs. And Suter recovered from a bigtime boo-boo by having two assists in a solid 26 minutes, 41 seconds.
The Wild got early goals by Parise (fastest playoff goal in Wild history 49 seconds in) and Mikael Granlund for a 2-0 lead. But with a chance to make it 3-0 on a 67-second 5-on-3, Suter shanked a shot and Ryan O’Reilly hit Paul Stastny for a shorthanded breakaway goal.
“I kind of fluffed that shot, and it ends up in our net,” Suter said.
The Avs tied the game on an early second-period power play, and that made for a tense rest of the second and third period.
But with the fans in the lower bowl standing the entire third, Parise scored the winner. And, for a change, Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella scored empty-netters. Remember, in the two overtime losses in Denver, the Wild failed to score with the net empty and it came back to bite them both times (a lot more on that in the game story on startribune.com/wild).
“There was a lot on the line for us, I thought for the most part we played a pretty solid game and dictated a lot,” Parise said.
When the game turned in the second, Mike Yeo shortened his bench and scrambled his lines. In the third, he reunited the Parise-Koivu-Charlie Coyle line. I wish I could go back to Twitter to see how many fans have to eat their words after Koivu and Parise teamed for the winner.
“I wanted to get Mikko and Zach together,” Yeo said. “The season was on the line for us and kind of the way the game was going, both of those guys were leading the charge up front, and for me, their determination, their kind of get-after-it attitude, I wanted those guys going out together, and I thought that everybody else did a real good job of it too. We didn’t have enough of a spark, and we can’t just ask them to change mentally, we got to do something on our part to help them along.”
Most impressive about tonight is how the Wild did recover from that shortie.
“We have an opportunity to go up 3-0 and they score a shorthanded goal,” Yeo said. “It gave them an awful lot of life, and eventually we started to get a little bit of fear in our game, not necessarily afraid of them, just afraid of what we were losing, and with that we weren’t dictating, we weren’t on our toes, and we were kind of letting them come at us, so for me it was a shift mentally that we had to recognize that what we have to do here is win a period, and if we win a period at home, we give ourselves a chance to go play in a game 7, so seize the opportunity.”
On Game 7, Yeo said, “We have to be excited about this opportunity and go in there and play our best game of the series. We are going there with a real purpose in how we play that game. And so it’s going to be fun. The way we played the third period was really big for me. I looked at the overtime losses we had and when something happened in the game that shifted the momentum we were able to get it back. And certainly having the intermission helped with that. The other team is going to have a push, that’s a skilled group, they are going to make some plays, there is going to be a point in the game where they come at you and for me, this is kind of the one game in particular where we did a good job pushing back. We said not tonight.”
The home team has won all six games in the series.
“You’d like to think the road team has a chance to win a game. The only thing that matters is we get ready to play our best game of the series,” Yeo said.
Yeo didn’t let matchups dictate tonight. He had no problem getting anybody out against Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Stastny. Landeskog and MacKinnon were each minus-3.
“It's all or nothing now,” said Matt Duchene, who returned from a knee injury tonight. “Win or go home. I think it's a great opportunity for a lot of us in here, a great experience. It's been a homer series so far. I think our home fans are going to be outstanding, and we can't wait to get back in front of them.”
Said Roy (I didn’t fact-check this yet), “In my Game 7, I might be wrong on a few numbers here, I think on the road I'm 0-6 and at home I'm probably 7-1, something like this. It is tough to win on the road Game 7, it is tough. When the home team is playing solid hockey, the fans, it's tough to win Game 7 on the road. I'd rather have it at home.”
The Wild practices in Denver on Tuesday afternoon. Talk to you afterward.
Nobody has won on the road in this series. The Wild knows that if it wants to advance to the second round and play the winner of Chicago-St. Louis, it must win one in Denver.
After the way the Wild played at home these past two games – the latest being tonight’s 2-1 victory in Game 4 to even the series, you know the Wild’s feeling confident heading back to Denver for Game 5 on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. CT).
And you know the young Avs are feeling the pressure now.
If you watched the 125 minutes, 8 seconds of hockey played in Games 3 and 4, you know the Wild played two of the most dominating 1-0 and 2-1 games ever played.
There was barely a minute of these two games that the Wild didn’t dictate or at least control. The Wild almost always had the puck. The Wild almost always won the battle or got to the loose puck first or spent time in Semyon Varlamov’s end.
The Avs wasted two dominating performances by Varlamov.
“You just have to keep shooting and getting traffic and making it tough on him,” Zach Parise said. “I like our chances if we’re throwing 35, 40 on him a night. We’ll get a few by him.”
Monday, Varly stopped 45 of 46, beaten on the last shot of the game by Mikael Granlund. Tonight, the Avs were outshot 32-12, 14-3 in the first period. Between Ryan O’Reilly’s goal with 6:35 left in the second on Colorado’s seventh shot of the game, the Avs went the next 14 minutes without a shot.
The 12 shots against were a franchise-record by the Wild in the playoffs.
Jared Spurgeon scored his first career playoff goal. Charlie Coyle, with his pops in the crowd, scored his third goal of the series, first career power-play playoff goal and first career winning goal in the playoffs. And Darcy Kuemper only had to make 11 saves for his second career playoff win. His biggest came in the final minute with the Avs on a 6-on-4 power play (extra attacker, Jonas Brodin in the box).
He denied O’Relly from point-blank range.
Most my gamer centers around the play of Granlund, who assisted on Spurgeon’s goal, drew three power plays, won 8 of 12 faceoffs and blocked three Erik Johnson shots in the final minute of the game, including one without his stick and one with four seconds left to even up the series 2-2.
"He’s one of those guys you want to have on your side," said buddy Erik Haula.
It says everything about the respect level that coach Mike Yeo has in Granlund that three nights ago, he’s scoring a highlight-reel goal in OT and tonight Yeo has him on the PK with a minute left to win a game.
This isn’t your garden-variety, smallish, perimeter playmaker. He doesn’t shy from physicality, traffic, the front of the net or oncoming shots from sharp-shooters.
Great job by all the penalty killers in the end. First group was Haula-Mikko Koivu-Ryan Suter-Spurgeon; Second group was Granlund-Parise-Marco Scandella-Nate Prosser.
You’ve got to love the job Nino Niederreiter-Haula-Justin Fontaine did tonight. They were solid, especially Haula on the 4 for 4 PK that is now 13 for 14 in the series. Parise now has five assists in the series.
The Wild dominated this game so much, Patrick Roy broke up his top two lines by the end of the first.
Please read the game story on www.startribune.com/wild for more details and quotes, but (most quotes courtesy of Rachel Blount because I had to run back upstairs after working the Wild room and write) …
Yeo on the incredible crowd, who stood for a lot of this game and made noise with sustained energy throughout: “Obviously we’ve had some exciting games since I’ve been here in this building, but I’ve never heard anything like that tonight. That was fun.”
On Granlund’s blocks at the end: “This is sort of the attitude our whole group has. Everybody’s committed to playing a certain way. When you go out and you do that, then a different guy has that opportunity. A guy like that has an opportunity to create a great goal last game, but being out in a penalty killing situation like he was at the end of the game and knowing how important that is and knowing what his teammates need from him, that’s what we've seen from everybody. We want to get better as the playoffs go along. When you’re playing games like that and you get used to playing in moments like that when the game’s on the line and you have to execute or you have to make a play or you have to defend, whatever the situation calls for, and you have to do it when the stakes are that high, those are growing moments for your team and that’s what we have to look at. We saw a lot of that late in the season to help us get ready for the playoffs. And obviously it’s a new level now, so to continue to go out and do that hopefully these are growing moments.”
Yeo on the home games: “We were able to play a more complete game the last couple games. You can’t get rattled and that’s the tricky part right now when the stakes are so high. To be able to stay in the moment, to focus on our game and execute, the good part for me is that our habits, the structure in our game is so consistent from game to game to game that as long as we fall back on that we should be able to do that at that time.
On the Avs, Yeo said, “We still have an awful lot of respect. That’s still a very skilled group over there. It’s not a team that won the division by accident. This is a team that they’ve got a lot of very creative players and a lot of very skilled players. Whether its penalty kill or taking care of the puck or defending we have to make sure we respect that.
“We should feel good about tonight. We're 2-2 in the series, to be in this situation after being down 2-0 that’s obviously a really good thing, but at the same time we have to make sure that we continue to have that focus. The next challenge is the big one. We find ourselves now in a best of 3 and we like the way we're playing, but we can’t hang our hat on what we've done. Gotta make sure we're ready to go out and continue to take the fight to them.
“I feel like we're a better team in game 4 than we were in game 1. That’s the goal, we have to continue to get better.”
“The way I’ve been all year, I’ve been very positive and I’m gonna continue to be today. I’m looking more at how our goaltender played, again very solid. I’m thinking that offensively, it's gonna come. I think our guys know that they gotta be better offensively, there’s no doubt about it.”
(young players nervous?) “It could be, but think about it, one power-play goal and we could have won game 3. Tonight one power play we might be still on the ice. When we get the type of performance we got from our goaltender, there’s no reason to not believe in ourself. Coming back home, we’re gonna have our fans. Offensively we're gonna need more from some of our forwards and they’re gonna have to chip in and be more involved.
“I honestly think the strategy is good. We just need to be involved. We just need to make those plays. Hey, it’s possible if you put a puck on net you're going to receive a body check, and you're gonna have to take those hits. And offensively we have enough talent to find ways to generate more chances and more shots on net than what we had today. In the start of the second period, Ii thought we had 2-3 good shots that missed the net. And these shots need to hit the net. Just look at O'reillys goal. It was in the middle of the net, went through the legs.
“These are the type of shots, we have to hit the net. We have to force their goalie to make the saves. And then our confidence is gonna come back. The thing I'll say is our execution is not quite there. We seem to rush on plays, we're not [being] patient with the puck and these are the things we're gonna have to do a little bit better.”
Duchene come to the rescue? “He won’t play game 5 for sure.”
Talk to you after Friday's availability and before my flight to Denver.
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