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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Captain Koivu wills Wild to victory, top spot in the NHL

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: November 20, 2011 - 12:02 AM

Your Minnesota Wild, by virtue of playing one fewer game than Philadelphia and Chicago, are on top of the 30-team NHL for the first time since Oct. 14, 2006, and on top of the West for the first time since Oct. 25, 2007.



When I announced the above fact on Twitter after Chicago lost, here's some of the rated G/PG reax:

@bchapman88: "So awesome;" @stateofhckynews: "It's a beautiful thing to see;" @nucksmisconduct: "Unreal. I never saw this coming;" @bennyc50 (my third favorite one): "*error, error, does not compute*" @iwasborntoskate: "OMG. Yessss!;" @kellypuckdrunk (my second favorite one): "Brain hurt;" @canadalscold: "This season is ridiculous;" @mcdillon27: "KING OF THE CASTLE!" @fearthefin (my favorite one): "Load up on non-perishables and bottled water, we're headed to a bunker."

And on and on. Hey, it's Nov. 20. Means squat.

But the reality is few saw this coming and the Wild deserve credit for continuing to win hockey games. The cool thing is there's no high horse in the locker room, no celebrating. They're keeping it cool, saying they've accomplished squat, know they're riding great goaltending and stingy defense and must keep improving.

The Wild rallied for a 3-2 shootout win tonight over the St. Louis Blues for its fifth straight home win and ninth out of 11 overall. It's now 6-0-1 vs. the Central, 12-3-2 vs. the Western Conference and rallied for a fifth time tonight to force overtime or an outright win in the final 10 minutes of the third period.

Much maligned Wild captain Mikko Koivu broke out offensively in a ginormous way. He scored a sick shorthanded goal to tie in the second. He forced overtime with a power-play one-timer with 1:38 left. And he scored with his signature forehand-deke-backhand, break-the-water-bottle-into-little-bittsy-pieces move, and that folks should be how we all know Mikko Koivu is back.

Wild teammates were genuinely tickled silly after the game that their heart and soul willed them to victory.

“He’s the guy, you see him after practice, he’s the one doing extra skating, extra shooting," rookie defenseman Justin Falk said. "He’s one of the last guys off the ice. The harder you prepare, the more work you put in, it’s bound to pay off. It just has to. ... What more can you ask from your captain."

Koivu's shortie -- his first goal at home since March 20, snapping a 14-game drought -- was awesome stuff. It came after Cal Clutterbuck was called for charging Roman Polak. Kyle Brodziak chased Kevin Shattenkirk around the St. Louis end to force a turnover. Koivu pressured, the puck came out, and Falk dumped it into the corner.

There must have been poor communication between goalie Jaroslav Halak and forward Patrik Berglund because Berglund went back to play the puck awfully casually and had no clue Koivu was ready to pounce. Pound he did, snatching up the puck, circling to the front of the net and roofing a beauty for his ninth career shorthanded goal -- four off FSN broadcaster/Mr. Intensity Wes Walz's team record.

T.J. Oshie, who was awesome tonight (man that guy is a tank), scored a backdoor tap-in in the third to give St. Louis a 2-1 lead, but the Wild responded impressively and pressured the Blues and Halak the rest of the way. Halak was scintillating, making 15 of his 30 saves in the third, including a couple robberies of Clutterbuck.

"He was good," said Matt Cullen. "If you don’t [tie it], you go to end of the game, you tip your hat to him. But we stuck with it and there was a strong belief that we were going to get it."

And that's the culture the Wild's creating. They believe they can win every game, they believe they can hang around any game, they believe they can rally when down. That's what playing so many one-goal game does (8-2-3, 13 of 20 games decided by a goal). 

I mentioned on the previous blog that Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and I sat down this morning for 20 or so minutes. He went on and on about the Wild, talking about how they don't break, how they always hang around. He asked me how many times the Wild's rallied in the third to win.

So when Jason Arnott slashed Pierre-Marc Bouchard with a 1:48 left, you just knew it was coming. Ten seconds later, Koivu buried his third goal of the season and second of the night. It came after Bouchard's shot hit Halak up high and fell at Clutterbuck's feet. He dished it back to Jared Spurgeon, who passed it over to Koivu for the one-timer.

Remember, Koivu flubbed one-timer after one-timer the past few weeks. He's not squeezing the stick tight anymore.

Prior to the goal, by the way, Hitchcock called time out. I only point that out because that's actually the second time this season the Wild scored a late tying goal to force overtime moments after the opposing coach called time. The other was in the Wild's first late rally of the season Oct. 20 in Edmonton (Dany Heatley tied it with 1.2 tics left).

In the shootout, Koivu scored his 24th career goal, Matt Cullen scored his 16th and improved to 4 for 4 this season and Josh Harding made two saves after 25 through overtime. I was shocked coach Mike Yeo went with Harding. But this coach keeps pushing all the right buttons, and Harding improved to 5-1-1.

Heck of an exciting game and finish. Again, enough can't be said about the Wild's young D.

Falk was great, playing 26:53 -- a team-high and career-high. Spurgeon played a career-high 25:52.

You have to be courageous to play the big, physical Blues. They hit, and they hit hard, so it's not easy going back and retrieving pucks. The Blues had a 17-6 hit lead after one period. At the end, the Blues outhit the Wild 30-26. Nice response by the Wild after one period.

The Wild has given up a ridiculous 17 goals in 10 home games and 39 goals in 20 games this season -- both league-lows. The Wild's given up 11 in the third, a league-low. Thirteen of the Wild's 20 games have been one-goal games (8-2-3).

This is craziness, already

The Wild will take Sunday off, so no blog barring news. I should have a good follow.

The Wild did reassigned Kris Fredheim after the game, meaning either Marco Scandella and/or Mike Lundin should be able to play Wednesday when Nashville comes to town.


New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Detroit 69 FINAL
Philadelphia 89
Portland 94 FINAL
Cleveland 99
Sacramento 102 FINAL
Toronto 119
Boston 98 FINAL
Minnesota 110
Dallas 94 FINAL
Houston 99
Denver 93 FINAL
New Orleans 85
Brooklyn 102 FINAL
Atlanta 113
Oklahoma City 92 FINAL
New York 100
Charlotte 86 FINAL
San Antonio 95
LA Clippers 94 FINAL
Utah 89
Washington 98 FINAL
Phoenix 106
Toronto 1 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Pittsburgh 0 FINAL
Washington 4
Chicago 3 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Temple 86 FINAL
UCF 62
Winthrop 75 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 68
Lafayette 59 FINAL
Colgate 54
Northeastern 60 FINAL
Drexel 65
Wake Forest 76 FINAL
Florida State 82
Rhode Island 64 FINAL
Fordham 63
Delaware 82 FINAL
James Madison 88
South Carolina 58 FINAL
LSU 64
New Hampshire 63 FINAL
Maine 58
Seton Hall 80 FINAL
Marquette 70
Binghamton 68 FINAL
American Univ 54 FINAL
Navy 64
Elon 65 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 82
Wright State 76 FINAL
Oakland 84
Minnesota 58 FINAL
Penn State 63
Duquesne 55 FINAL
Richmond 86
South Florida 52
Hartford 66 FINAL
Stony Brook 72
Albany 47 FINAL
Vermont 44
Hofstra 79 FINAL
William & Mary 100
UNC-Asheville 74 FINAL
Longwood 64
Radford 84 FINAL
Char Southern 77
Holy Cross 0 Postponed
Loyola-Maryland 0
Duke 73 FINAL
Notre Dame 77
Texas Tech 36 FINAL
Oklahoma 81
Oregon State 55 FINAL
Arizona State 73
Morehead State 82 FINAL
Austin Peay 69
Drake 69 FINAL
Bradley 57
Lehigh 62 FINAL
Bucknell 68
Rice 48 FINAL
Houston 59
Missouri State 57 FINAL
Illinois State 67
Loyola-Chicago 47 FINAL
Wichita State 58
Nebraska Omaha 64 FINAL
South Dakota St 86
Northern Iowa 59 FINAL
Southern Ill 52
Louisville 81 FINAL
Boston College 72
St Johns 74 FINAL
Creighton 77
East Carolina 58 FINAL
Memphis 70
Georgia Tech 70 FINAL
Miami-Florida 50
Miss State 73 FINAL
Ole Miss 79
Clemson 68 FINAL
NC State 57
Indiana 67 FINAL
Purdue 83
Kansas 64 FINAL
TCU 61
Oregon 56 FINAL
Arizona 90
Air Force 66 FINAL
San Jose St 52
Stanford 84 FINAL
Washington 74
Rider 56 FINAL
Siena 49
Dayton 76 FINAL
Richmond 62
Eastern Kentucky 53 FINAL
Jacksonville St 73
Saint Josephs 0 Postponed
Saint Louis 0
Binghamton 55
Akron 60 FINAL
Ohio U 72
Ball State 72 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 55
Memphis 56 FINAL
Cincinnati 44
East Carolina 32 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 87
Murray State 59 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 75
Kent State 63 FINAL
Central Michigan 65
UT Martin 64 FINAL
Tennessee St 58
Eastern Michigan 56 FINAL
Western Mich 83
Bucknell 61 FINAL
Lehigh 76
Indiana 57 FINAL
Michigan State 72
Colgate 56 FINAL
Lafayette 58
Fordham 66 FINAL
Davidson 45
Duquesne 76 FINAL
St Bonaventure 64
George Mason 66 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 70
Detroit 59 FINAL
Youngstown St 58
Army 0 Postponed
Boston U 0
Loyola-Maryland 0 Postponed
Holy Cross 0
Tulsa 74
Oklahoma St 54 FINAL
Kansas State 52
West Virginia 57 FINAL
Texas Tech 73
Denver 56 FINAL
South Dakota 82
Northwestern St 46 FINAL
Central Arkansas 63
Austin Peay 67 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 87
Kansas 61 FINAL
Iowa State 56
Bowling Green 50 FINAL
Northern Ill 67
Penn State 64 FINAL
Minnesota 75
San Jose St 80 FINAL
Air Force 83
Boise State 82 FINAL
Colorado State 83
Utah State 51 FINAL
Wyoming 86
San Diego State 50 FINAL
Fresno State 57
Nevada 52 FINAL
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