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

Postgame: Koivu delivers much-needed win

Jonas Gustavsson got a little pokecheck happy and it finally cost him.

Not long after he stopped Zach Parise in overtime for a second time in the game on a breakaway by using the good ole pokecheck to ruin No. 11’s chance, Gustavsson tried to do the same thing later in overtime against Mikko Koivu.

But the captain pulled back the puck, dance to his right and swept a backhander into a gaping net for a 2-1 Wild win and his fifth career overtime goal (first since 3-on-3 was implemented) to tie Brent Burns for the team record.

Charlie Coyle set it up with a nice little drop pass after Matt Dumba made a good play to retreat, then get the puck in the zone after a line change.

“I had just jumped out there and they were a little late seeing me,” Coyle said. “Dums passed it up over the blue line. I looked up and saw Mikko and he gave me the head nod that he was going to come over, so I tried to cut to the middle to cause some confusion and he picked it up and had a half step on the guy and made a great move. That's a big win.”

On the head nod, Koivu said, “Don’t trust what he said.”

The Wild won for a seventh consecutive time since 2013 in Edmonton and improved to 12-1 in its past 13 visits here (but its first to the new rink).

The Wild improved to 1-1-2 on the five-game trip that ends in Toronto on Wednesday.

How crazy are the standings right now? Had the Wild lost in any fashion, it would have fallen out of the top-8 in the West. With the Wild, it’s technically back in the third spot in the Central with 28 points, but the top and bottom wildcard teams also have 28 points, as does the ninth-place team in the West.

So, in other words, the Wild – like the others – are kind of on a precipice right now, although the Wild has played FOUR fewer games than eighth-place Winnipeg and ninth-place Calgary.

“I'll tell you what, the division and the conference and everything is so darn close, every win, two points, feels like a mountain,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I suspect it's going to go like that from now until April. It's nice to win a one goal game and I'm hoping we gain confidence from it.”

Turning point tonight? A shrewd fight by Kurtis Gabriel.

Wild was lifeless, sloppy and looking poor in the first period. Somehow, Zack Kassian did the no-no. Playing a out-of-sync team lacking confidence and at home, he fought Gabriel with a 1-0 Oilers lead.

Not bright. Forty seconds later, in the final minute of the first, Coyle tied the score and the Wild escaped a badly-played period tied and feeling good.

Gabriel got mad props in the locker room for the move, and the fight was definitely in response to Gabriel crushing an Oiler his previous shift. Boudreau felt the turning points of the game came in the first with Gabriel’s hit, then Gabriel’s fight, then a Chris Stewart big hit.

Boudreau felt it gave the team confidence.

Something else happened. With Gabriel in the locker room after the fight and a few shifts left in the period, Boudreau took the opportunity to take Zach Parise off the top line with Eric Staal and Coyle. He reunited Nino Niederreiter, who was on the line before Parise’s return from a knee injury last month, on the line and Niederreiter immediately set up Coyle on their first shift back together.

Niederreiter flew in on the forecheck, Staal passed to Niederreiter, Niederreiter took a shot from the side of the net, gobbled up the rebound and found Coyle when things opened up.

Boudreau said the line change worked good for everybody because Parise had a ton of scoring chances – he was snakebit, hitting a post, missing a goal on a delayed penalty and not scoring on two breakaways, but it was the most active he’s looked since the Pittsburgh game – and Coyle played “outstanding” the final two periods.

Another turning point?

Connor McDavid was pulled from the game by the concussion spotter after his chin hit the ice in the second period on a Jared Spurgeon tripping penalty. Then, Nate Prosser took a delay of game penalty that led to another power play, including a 9-second 5-on-3. The Oilers were forced to play without their best player for the final 8:14 of the second.

McDavid was held to three shots and Devan Dubnyk, who made 28 saves, also denied McDavid on a 2-on-1 with 3:16 left. Boudreau said comically he could not wait to get the two defensemen off the ice on that shift (don’t remember who they were).

“Not the play I want to see coming for sure,” Dubnyk said. “I kind of prepared for a shot. He had made some pretty crazy passes on some rushes that just missed all game. So I figured that he was probably tired of that and was going to rip one at me. He can shoot the puck so it was nice to get that save.”

Dubnyk fell back like the puck got by him. It didn’t.

“I was like 95 percent sure that I had it,” he said. “It was in my armpit and I could feel it. It was better off to turn around on that in case it does trickle out.”

Dubnyk leads the NHL with a .946 save percentage and is second with a 1.63 goals-against average.

Koivu, who has four goals and seven points in his past seven games, was rock solid, winning 21 of 23 in the circle (91 percent). Boudreau said he’s never seen a percentage that high for that number of draws and said Koivu controlled the game all night when he was on the ice and was a true leader tonight.

“Some nights it’s always better than others,” Koivu said. “It’s like anything, when you feel good, there’s a good rhythm when you go in there. There were a lot of faceoffs tonight. Defensemen and my wingers have been great all year. They did again tonight. It’s not just the centers.”

On the win, it relieves some pressure with the team finally getting a win on this endless trip.

“We definitely wanted it,” Coyle said. “We wanted to redeem ourselves here and get back to playing our way. It wasn't a perfect game by any means. At the end of the day we get two points and that's huge on this road trip.”

That’s it for me. The Wild has a travel day Monday to Toronto and isn’t practicing. Same with me.

I’m shadowing the NHL Situation Room for the third time Monday night in Toronto, so maybe I’ll tweet from there. Otherwise, talk to you after practice Tuesday. Also, pay attention to Twitter for questions for Tuesday’s Russo-Souhan Show. Later.

Wild looks to stymie McDavid and the Oilers

The Wild makes its first visit tonight to the brand-spanking new Rogers Place, which I gushed about on yesterday’s blog and got to watch the Oilers win in overtime here last night on a pretty Andrej Sekera to Leon Draisaitl goal.

As Oilers coach Todd McLellan even said to me, it had to be nice to sit and actually enjoy a game for a change and not have to work. And, that’s so true. It was weird actually getting to watch every second of an entire third period and overtime without my face being planted in my laptop for a file-at-the-gun gamer.

I’ll be interested to see how the very desperate Wild (0-1-2 on this five-game trip, 5-6-3 in its past 14) plays against a big, skilled, fast Oilers team that’s feeling mighty good about itself for a change. Usually by this time, as Bruce Boudreau said, the media’s telling them how bad they are and forecasting what type of lottery pick they’ll get (which four of the last seven years has been first overall).

“I think they’re one of the best teams in the league now,” Boudreau said. “I’ve watched them a lot, maybe because Connor McDavid’s fun to watch. They’ve got a bit of everything. They’re big and strong up front, … they can move the puck and Todd’s a good coach, so you add those things together and the fact they’ve had a taste of winning now, …”

I wrote about McDavid – the NHL’s leading scorer -- today, by the way, and you can read that Sunday column here. He may already be the best player in the NHL, and he could be hungry tonight now that his seven-game point streak ended last night.

Boudreau said, sarcastically, that McDavid may be a focal point of the Wild's pregame video.

I’ll also be interested to see how the Wild plays in this sparkling new arena because it certainly loved playing at the old Rexall Place. Want to hear a crazy stat? Before I was the Wild beat writer, the Wild was 2-4-5 (three of those were ties) in Edmonton. In my 12 seasons covering the team, the Wild was 20-8-2 at the Rex, including 11-1 in its last 12 games there with a 38-17 goal advantage. Only three of those 12 games were one-goal games, so the Wild not only usually won at the Rex, it won big.

So, we’ll see if the Wild lost its mojo with the Oilers’ move to downtown.

Same Oilers lineup as last night. I tweeted the lines if you want to look there. Same Wild lines, meaning first through third lines the same as recent games and Kurtis Gabriel (three hits in 7-plus minutes last game) again playing the right side of Chris Stewart and Tyler Graovac. Zack Mitchell and Gustav Olofsson are the scratches for a second straight game.

Boudreau better be careful with the fourth line tonight. I'd probably only play them on the fly and IMMEDIATELY AFTER McDavid plays a shift, but that's me.

Devan Dubnyk vs. Jonas Gustavsson tonight. Cam Talbot played last night against the Ducks, and, quite frankly, was awesome.

Gustavsson is 1-1 in four games this season with a 2.04 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. In four starts against Minnesota, he’s 3-1 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.

Dubnyk, the former Oiler, is 3-1 with a 1.51 GAA and .928 SV% in four games since joining the Wild, including 2-0 in Edmonton with a 0.50 GAA, .974 SV% and one shutout.

This season, Dubnyk leads all NHL goalies with four shutouts and ranks second in SV% (.945) to Carey Price (.946 before his game this afternoon) and GAA (1.67) to Tuukka Rask’s 1.60.

In the past 14 games, he has given up 20 goals. Take out the three shutouts, and those 20 goals have come in the last 11 games. Why do I say it like that?

Because he’s 4-5-2 in that span.

Check this out: Despite Dubnyk’s impressive stats, Price has four more wins than Dubnyk’s nine (tied for 14th in the NHL) in large part because the Wild’s offense has dried up since a 32-goal, first nine games.

In Dubnyk’s six regulation losses this season, he allowed 13 goals yet got seven goals of support. In his three overtime/shootout losses, he had given up seven goals yet got six goals of support.

Wild need to start rewarding its goalie for his outstanding performances, or he will crack at some point mentally in my opinion.

“He sure has given our players faith,” Boudreau said. “He’s played as well – touch wood – as any goalie in the NHL this year so far. When he’s out there, it seems every time he’s played, he steals us a game or a point at least. And he is calm. You don’t see him panicking, and that affects the whole team.”

When a reporter said, “They’re not afraid to make a mistake maybe,” Boudreau interrupted, “And we make a lot.”

Hey, but at least they’re not afraid to make mistakes!

I chatted with Zach Parise today, and he survived that painful blocked shot from the first period. He said Boudreau’s meeting with the top line yesterday should be very beneficial after two poor games in a row.

“I think it was very productive,” Parise said. “It’s easy to leave a game and be mad and frustrated, but I think it was good for us to look at it and see the reasons, ‘Why don’t we have the puck? Why are we not getting the puck back? Why aren’t we getting any scoring chances?’ It’s not as if we just [stink] all of a sudden. There’s reasons behind things. So, I think watching the tape, there were probably two or three things that we consistently did that didn’t allow us to get the puck the entire game [in Calgary]. So, if we fix those things, at least give yourself a chance to get the puck back, at least give yourself a chance to get the puck in the offensive zone or get the puck up the ice clean, then all of a sudden you get in the zone and you have zone time and you feel good about hockey again. It’s a quick fix. It’s not, like I said, you don’t forget how to play. Us as a line, we have to rely on each other to do and expect the other guy to do their job. And if they’re not doing their job, the forecheck’s not going to work and we’re going to backcheck. That’s what we’ve been doing a lot of lately, so it was good to see it and it was good for us to talk about it and recognize it.”

Talk tonight. I’ll be on CHED here in Edmonton at 7:45 p.m. CT.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

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  • NJIT at Gophers men's basketball

    7 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • San Antonio at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, NBATV, 830-AM

  • Gophers women's basketball at New Mexico

    8 pm on 88.5-FM

  • Wild at Toronto

    6:30 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Toronto

    6 pm on TNT, 830-AM

  • Army at Gophers women's basketball

    8 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Gophers men's hockey at Michigan State

    5:30 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Gophers women's hockey at Boston U.

    6 pm

  • Edmonton at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Detroit at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN PLUS, 830-AM

  • Georgia Southern at Gophers men's basketball

    8 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Gophers women's hockey at Boston U.

    2 pm

  • Gophers men's hockey at Michigan State

    7 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Vikings at Jacksonville

    12 pm on Ch. 9, 100.3/1130

  • Gophers women's basketball at South Carolina

    2 pm on SECN, 88.5-FM

  • Northern Illinois at Gophers men's basketball

    4 pm on 1500-AM

  • St. Louis at Wild

    5 pm on FSN PLUS, 100.3-FM

  • Golden State at Timberwolves

    6 pm on FSN, 830-AM

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