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Michael Russo gives you complete coverage of the Minnesota Wild and the NHL

Postgame: Wild's latest loss at least allows it to gain ground

I’m nothing if not Mr. Positive, so I come with good news.

The Wild still gained ground on 7th-place Nashville and 8th-place Colorado tonight with a 4-3 overtime loss to Dallas. Both of them lost in regulation, and the Wild moved within two points.

The Wild has a game in hand on the Preds, three on the Avs. But the tricky thing about “games in hand” is they’re absolutely, utterly, entirely meaningless if you NEVER, EVER WIN!!!

But I digress.

The Wild fell to 1-10 in overtimes and shootouts with tonight’s John Klingberg dagger. The Stars star defenseman scored his second OT winner against the Wild this season and the Stars’ third overall.

After Jamie Benn fed him in the high slot, Klingberg said, “I had a lot of time to aim where I wanted to shoot, so I was trying to go high and it was nice to see it go in.”

He had a lot of time because the Wild gave up an odd-man rush because Thomas Vanek finally chose to change after a 70-second shift. He had a chance to change about 20 seconds before, but instead curled right and went back into the zone.

Finally, Mikey Reilly sent him a bouncing back in the neutral zone. Tired at the end of a long shift, Vanek probably should have chipped it and change. Instead, he shoveled it to the bench saying that he thought Reilly would continue into the offensive zone. He didn’t. He changed for Marco Scandella.

So by the time the puck was turned over, that’s when Vanek finally changed for Zach Parise and the Wild was dead meat en route to a sixth consecutive overall loss since Jan. 21 (0-4-2), sixth consecutive home loss since Dec. 28 (0-3-3) and 11th loss in the past 12 games (1-9-2).

That’s the risk of using Vanek I suppose in OT. I remember in a training camp scrimmage, Vanek scored a 3-on-3 goal and I noted it on Twitter and then commented that I wasn’t too sure how much we’d see Vanek in 3-on-3 though.

After all, 3-on-3 is about speed. I asked Yeo though, and he pointed out to me that 3-on-3 is also about skill and scoring.

Fair enough. But this is not the first time Vanek had an OT shift where you had to hold your breath this season. It’s just amazing how many of the Wild’s eight 3-on-3 losses this season can be pinned on a veteran either overextending his shift or a bad change.

When I asked Yeo about using Vanek in overtime after tonight’s game, he didn’t want to go there.

Regardless, this was a game the Wild very easily could have won. Trailing 3-2 heading into the third, the Wild had one heck of a push after Mikko Koivu’s power-play goal to snap a 17-game drought 1:44 in.

The Wild had the period’s first 12 shots and outshot the Stars 17-4 in the period.

“They got us on our heels,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “We got caught in a couple of long shifts; one time, we had three different players from three different lines. It’s why I used the timeout to try and gather ourselves and get going. I thought the last seven minutes, we got ourselves going in the right direction. But they’re a desperate team, we knew they’d be desperate. I thought they started off well, I thought we had a pretty good push in the middle of the game and they had a pretty strong push at the start of the third. That power-play goal gave them some life. Sometimes you have to survive through a team’s push and I thought we did.”

And that’s the thing. The Wild pushed and couldn’t cash in more than the once. And that proved costly yet again.

Up 1-0 and 2-1, the Wild blew a pair of one-goal leads, which I supposed is nothing compared to the 2- and 3-goal leads the Wild blew to the Stars at home in separate losses earlier this season.

But what’s concerning is even though the Wild has shown positive signs of getting out of this thing the past two games, defensively, it’s giving up goals left and right. The Wild has allowed 17 goals in the past four games and at least four goals in a game in five of the past six.

Of course, tonight was behind a very undermanned blue line with Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin hurt. Ryan Suter logged 33 minutes, 15 seconds.

The Wild outchanced the Stars for the most part, outshot them 40-30 and attempted 68 shots with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter combining for 21 attempts.

“We’re playing better,” Parise said. “We’re not getting results, so that’s a problem. I think we’re playing with a little more enthusiasm, a little more jam, and that’s a good sign.”

For a second loss in a row, Yeo went looking for the positives after this one. He feels the Wild’s taking steps in the right direction.

“It’s very easy right now to find negatives. It’s extremely easy,” he said. “But nothing easy is going to get us out of this. It’s a concern, if you look at that game, for sure there were some opportunities to point out some things that were not good enough, but it’s another step compared to the last game. Unfortunately …. We’re not all about moral victories and we’re not all about trying to just point out the positives and deflect against what’s real, but truth of the matter is, that’s the only way out of this.

“The fight that we had in the third period, that was great. That hasn’t been there for us lately. We went after it. We went out, tied the game up and obviously had great opportunities to take the lead, as well. Second period, obviously not good enough, but I think we addressed what was going wrong there and that’s what we have to combat right now. You have in a shift in your mind where you go from, ‘Let’s go win this game,’ to, ‘Oh boy, I hope we don’t lose it.’ When that happens, you start watching and you start reacting. I think that was the case in the second period.”

The Wild has been outscored 10-2 in the past four second periods.

“I put a quote on the board tonight,” Yeo said. “It kind of reflects where we’re at right now. Tough times, they don’t last, but tough people do. That’s what we have to do right now. And this is how we’ve gotten ourselves out of it before. There have been many times before where it felt like the end of the world, and I can sit here and point to a lot of different times where the season was on the line, regular season, playoffs, whatever, and we responded. That’s what we have to do again. We only got one of the two points tonight, but we gained a point on Nashville [and Colorado], and these are little things that we’ll keep building. If we can stay strong and continue to get stronger in our game and continue to have a chance and outshoot teams, we will win.”

Erik Haula scored a goal and assist. Justin Fontaine scored his first goal since Dec. 5. Vanek had two assists. That line was going early.

Vanek and Fontaine always seem to have chemistry and Yeo told Haula the other say, “If he keeps going like this, I don’t want to take him out because he’s playing very well. I've been happy with his game – Another positive for us. The speed, obviously, and the second goal, it’s coming back and doing the right things on our end and it’s countering and that’s a little more glimpse of Minnesota Wild hockey.”

In Wednesday's Star Tribune, check out my gamer, Alex Tuch notebook, Chip Scoggins' column, Jason Gonzalez' digital inclusions from the TCF Bank Stadium move-in by the NHL and a live blog with videos he did during tonight's game with fans.

Check out the latest Russo-Souhan Show right here. Lots of honesty in here (or opinion) on the Wild.

Lastly, you will see this Wednesday, but former Wild enforcer Zenon Konopka took two big Twitter potshots at Mike Yeo after tonight's loss. It blew up after. All I can tell you is that Konopka and Yeo had a lot of issues behind the scenes and that's why he ended up on waivers two Januarys ago right before it erupted in the second half.

So, there's a lot of history there.

But, I include the tweets because it exploded bigtime on Twitter tonight and because the lovable Hoppy makes an appearance (here's a Konopka feature I once wrote).

Vanek, Zucker return tonight for the Wild vs. Stars

Darcy Kuemper vs. Kahi Lehtonen tonight at Xcel Energy Center.

The Wild has lost 10 of 11 and 13 of 16 this calendar year. The Stars have won three of four and four of six.

Last time Kuemper faced the Stars, the Wild blew a 3-0 lead at home and lost 4-3 on Tyler Seguin’s OT winner. That was back on Nov. 28.

The last time these two teams faced each other was Jan. 9 in Dallas. The Wild won 2-1 but returned home to face New Jersey – the start of a 0-3 homestand and a month of misery.

The Wild has to be disciplined tonight, both with its game and when it comes to penalties. The Stars are a team that often has four or even five guys join the rush. Won’t be easy with injured defenseman Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin out, so the Wild will need its forward to play smart, track back and play with the puck. Too often lately the forwards spring out of the zone and give their D no outs. I’m thinking specifically of two top-6 wingers when I say that.

They are the second-highest scoring team in the NHL (the highest is Thursday’s opponent, Washington) and have the fifth-best power play in the NHL (the top two are Thursday’s opponent and Saturday’s opponent, Boston).

Yeah, three dangerous opponents arrive in the homestand, which is why losing to such mediocre teams at home last month was so damaging.

As coach Mike Yeo said this morning on KFAN, the Wild’s close to save its season mode.

It needs 40 points in the final 30 games to at least get to 95. Won’t be easy for a team that hasn’t shown an ability to win the past several weeks and hasn’t had more than a three-game winning streak this season.

Today at 4 p.m., by the way, the Russo-Souhan Show returns to Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub. Stop on by or listen later at

Mikko Koivu, who left practice with an injury yesterday, didn’t skate during this morning’s optional, but Yeo said Koivu will play tonight. So will Thomas Vanek and Jason Zucker, who were scratched Saturday in St. Louis. Yeo wouldn’t say which forward would come out of the lineup, but Chris Porter skated longer than most the guys.

Vanek is happy to be back in. Asked if he could take anything out of being scratched though, Vanek said, “No. It [stinks]. There’s nothing positive from it for me. … Doesn’t take a scratch for me to realize I need to be better. … Just trying to find my game, still am and I’ll start tonight by being better.”

He said, “We’ve got to win and it starts with one win. We can’t look ahead at this week and say we need three wins. Obviously that’s the goal we want, but it starts by playing good hockey, 60 minutes and getting win the tonight and then build from there.”

You can bet Zucker will be motivated, but he said he won’t be trying to prove himself.

“You start doing that, you start thinking too much and you’re not going to play your game anyways,” he said. “For me, it’s just trying to get back to my game that I know I can get to and try to do it early.”

Yeo said he knows “those guys care very much,” but he wants to see a “response” from them and the team.

“That’s not a one game thing,” he said. “This is going forward as well. Whether it’s them, whether it’s somebody else, his is something we have to continue to be prepared to do.”

He means scratching high-profile players.

Why Kuemper over Devan Dubnyk?

“This has definitely not been Duby’s fault. When I evaluate his games, I’m not going to say he’s playing badly. He’s not. But you can tell that he’s grinding right now. You can, like everybody, the losses have gotten to him. Kuemps has been part of this, but not to that level, and I think he’s probably got a fresher mind coming into the game.”

Very undermanned blue line tonight. Ryan Suter and Marco Scandella will likely get huge minutes, and Yeo is looking for Scandella to be a “huge piece to the puzzle. We need him to be real solid in his game.”

Mike Reilly, part of an Iowa team that has shown a resurgence the past month, is back up and will play his fifth game. He debuted in Dallas on Jan. 9.

He says it’s been more fun coming to the rink every day.

Also, if you didn't see, Wild prospect scored the overtime winning goal for Boston College against rival Boston University last night to win the Beanpot:

That’s it for now.

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Local Schedule

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  • Michigan at Gophers men's basketball

    8 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Nebraska at Gophers women's basketball

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  • Washington at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Gophers men's hockey at Ohio State

    5:30 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Gophers women's hockey at Minnesota Duluth

    7:07 pm

  • Boston at Wild

    1 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Gophers women's hockey at Minnesota Duluth

    4:07 pm

  • Gophers men's hockey at Ohio State

    6 pm on 1500-AM

  • Gophers men's basketball at Iowa

    6:30 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Iowa at Gophers women's basketball

    7 pm on BTN, 88.5-FM

  • Wild at Vancouver

    9 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

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