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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Zucker scores first NHL goal, Kuemper wins first NHL game as Wild rallies to beat Detroit

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild game coverage Updated: February 17, 2013 - 10:03 PM
Wild fans needed this one.
 
Not just the 3-2 win over Detroit. That’s obvious. But the reminder that as aggravating as this inconsistent start for the Wild has been considering the raised expectations, the future really is bright.
 
We all live in the now. So it’s easy to forget how many kids the Wild has coming. And not just the kids you saw tonight and the kids down on the farm like Coyle and Bulmer and Hackett and Fontaine, etc., but all the guys that aren’t even pro yet – Haula and Lucia, Dumba and Bussieres, Graovac and Gilmour, Gustafsson and Gunnarsson, and so on and so on.
 
Jason Zucker reminded with energy, electrifying speed and a highlight reel goal. Honestly, how about this for a first NHL goal?
 
 
Johan Larsson was great tonight. Gritty, physical, works his butt off. Was on in the last two minutes, which shows coach Mike Yeo’s confidence. Reminds me of Sami Pahlsson when he was a rock for Anaheim in the early-2000s.
 
Darcy Kuemper brushed off two goals and made 29 saves for his first NHL win. He found out with five minutes left in warmups that he was starting because Niklas Backstrom caught the flu that is trickling through this team. In recent days, Ryan Suter has had it, Zach Parise, then Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Justin Falk. Yeo indicated a number of guys weren’t feeling the greatest tonight.
 
Mikael Granlund another assist on Torrey Mitchell’s winning goal to extend his point streak to three games.
 
And Jonas Brodin is just an absolute stud on the back end. He did seem to hurt his arm late in the game, but the Wild says he is OK. The Wild broke up the Ryan Suter-Brodin pair in the first period. That lasted until five minutes left when Suter and Jared Spurgeon had the rockiest shift ever without a goal being scored. Two icings and a 2-on-0 that Kuemper saved their bacon with a breakaway save on Cory Emmerton.
 
Yeo felt the Wild respected the Red Wings too much in the first after Damien Brunner scored. He said they basically spent the period watching.
 
Then, after Pavel Datsyuk scored 20 seconds into the second, Yeo said the Wild got “ticked,” began to be more engaged physically and began shooting. A huge shift by the Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Dany Heatley turned the game around and Heatley tied the score with his first goal since Jan. 27 to snap a career-worst, nine-game goal drought.
 
Then Zucker and Mitchell scored 32 seconds apart.

Read Jim Souhan’s column on Zucker in Monday’s paper. It’s a good one, and the best part about the confident kid, he loves to shoot. That should fit in well on this pass-happy team.
 
I asked him how tough it has been not getting the call despite tearing up the AHL. He said, “I think it’s all part of [development]. It’s the first time I had to battle this adversity. I didn’t know what it took to get called up or what it takes to get sent down. I have no idea. It’s my first year, so I’m trying to learn the ropes.”
 
He said the coaches and Houston GM Jim Mill were great with communication, especially when Charlie Coyle got the call over him.
 
Kuemper was a great story tonight. He had no clue he was starting until late in warmups and Backstrom couldn’t go. You can read that anecdote in the game story.
 
“We throw Kuemps into a pretty difficult situation and the way he responded was terrific,” Yeo said. “I thought he got better as the game went on. I thought he was huge in the fourth minute PK [on a Devin Setoguchi] high stick.”
 
Big win for the Wild to rally from 2-0 down. The Wild plays six of the next eight on the road starting in Edmonton on Thursday, so they needed a confidence boost, maybe a season-momentum turner.
 
“I’m not going to sit here and say that this makes our season,” Yeo said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but this is huge.”
 
He said we saw both the Wild’s games tonight. “The first part we weren’t quite sure of ourselves. And I can’t say that we necessarily have full confidence in ourselves. … The toughest part is fighting through that. But we’re not far away. I know that. … We’re very close to where our game needs to be, but we’re not there yet.”
 
The Wild will not practice Monday, especially when so many guys are sick. Barring news, I’ll be back with you Tuesday. I will be in-studio Tuesday with Paul Allen at 9 a.m., so please tune in then.

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