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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Wild wins in Vancouver for first time in 4 years, now alone atop Northwest

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: March 19, 2013 - 1:20 AM
Very impressive 3-1 win for the Wild tonight in Vancouver as it won here for the first time since Jan. 31, 2009, snapping an 11-game winless streak.
 
A friend of mine emailed me that he's now a believer. I'll be a believer when this team wins in Dallas, ha. Two chances next week.
 
Tonight was also the first time this season the Wild extended a win streak to three games as it now sits in sole possession of first place in the Northwest Division.
 
In a hard-fought contest from the opening faceoff, the Wild, 12-5-1 in its past 18, stuck with its gameplan, worked valiantly and other than a stretch in the first half of the second period, played right with the Canucks.
 
Jonas Brodin, 19, Charlie Coyle, 21, and Matt Cullen (cough, cough), 36 (skating like he’s 26) scored the goals, Pierre-Marc Bouchard had two assists and Niklas Backstrom looked great with 35 saves.
 
“It was a big challenge for us,” Backstrom said. “We played as a team. We played a great game. They came hard in the second, we battled that. I felt good. I saw the pucks pretty good and guys helped with rebounds. Team effort.”
 
All this talk about Backstrom’s workload and he brushed off the fatigue. He said in a season like this, you have to move along and refocus on the next game. He certainly did that after a tough win in Colorado.
 
I felt he may get the game off Wednesday in Detroit. My guess is coach Mike Yeo will see how Backstrom feels after Tuesday’s flight and before Wednesday’s skate. There are two off-days Thursday and Friday to recover before a matinee with San Jose on Saturday.
 
The Wild did all the little things tonight, blocking 23 shots to Vancouver’s five, winning 44 of 65 faceoffs. Zenon Konopka went 10 for 10 in the circle, Kyle Brodziak 13 of 18, Cullen 11 of 19.
 
After a scoreless first period in which the Wild had to kill off two Canucks minors, Vancouver emerged in the second period, closed off the neutral zone, pressured on the forecheck and tilted the ice in the first seven or eight minutes.
 
The Wild did a quality job on the penalty kill in the first but was also lucky the Canucks entered the game having not scored in 36 consecutive power plays.
 
But in the second, Devin Setoguchi took a hooking minor, and after a couple close calls between the Sedin Twins, the Wild failed to clear one last time. Jason Garrison’s shot from the point deflected off Daniel Sedin and right to brother, Henrik, who scored into an open net for a 1-0 Vancouver lead.
 
It was the Canucks’ first power-play goal since Feb. 21 and the first time the Wild failed to score first in eight games.
 
But a little more than a minute later, Kevin Bieksa took a roughing penalty. Eight seconds from the penalty expired, Henrik Sedin tripped Mikko Koivu.
 
On that second successive power play, the Wild’s second unit struck.
 
Bouchard did a marvelous job at the blue line to keep a puck in and push it between the circles for Dany Heatley. Heatley sent a one-touch pass to Brodin in the left circle. The rookie unleashed a howitzer through traffic for his second goal in three games and first career power-play goal.
 
In the third, the Wild pressured bigtime early, and after Coyle fell behind the net after a great forecheck, he was smart enough to go to the front. Jared Spurgeon pinched down the wall, won a race and got the puck to Koivu, who passed across to Clayton Stoner. Coyle redirected the wrister for his third goal and second career winner. Not an easy pass by Koivu. Most would have dumped it down the right wing boards. He backhanded a pass across the line to his left for Stoner.
 
Six minutes later, Keith Ballard basically turned a 2-on-2 into a breakaway with an ill-advised attempt of a check at the blue line on Cullen. Cullen skated through it and got the puck to Setoguchi, who slipped a pass for the Cullen insurance marker.
 
The Wild battled from there. Just an impressive win all around.
Koivu worked beyond belief tonight, and his teammates followed suit. Coyle's work on the forecheck, awesome. Brodin had some tough shifts, but some 'wow' shifts and was very good in the third. Just everybody worked and worked and worked.
 
“They were ready to play. We were expecting a hard game,” Yeo said. When things mattered most, especially in that third period, we were able to bring it to a new level.”
 
He also said on the battle from the start, “That’s what’s going on right now. It’s fun to be on the bench and listen to the guys talk and say the things they’re saying. It’s a good focus right now.”
 
Tuesday is a travel day for the Wild as it leaves in the morning for Detroit. Same thing for me as I travel all day basically – connect in Minnesota for a tease.
 
No blog unless there’s news. In Wednesday’s paper, I’ll have a pretty good story for ya that should answer a lot of the questions I’ve been getting from Wild fans, so check that out.

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