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 prepares for a motivated Oilers team; Granlund reassigned

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: April 16, 2013 - 2:17 PM

The Wild looks to win consecutive games for the first time since March 25-27 (last two games of the seven-game winning streak). The Wild didn't skate this morning but brought the entire team over here to Rexall Place for meetings, video work and off-ice work.

Niklas Backstrom gets the cage. The last time Backstrom played two nights in a row, he gave up two goals on two shots in the first 3:07 in L.A. But coach Mike Yeo said there was no temptation to start Darcy Kuemper tonight.

It's clear it'll be his at least until the Wild cements a playoff spot.

"To be honest with you, we figured that in all likelihood he would be playing this game tonight," said Yeo, adding that other teams pushing for a playoff spot are riding their No. 1's. "This time of year, you're seeing other goalies do it and you're seeing other goalies play well in those situations. It's just a very important thing to us and our group that we're putting the team we believe gives us the best chance to win on the ice."

Backstrom is 24-3-1 all-time vs. the Oilers with a 1.79 goals against average and .933 save percentage. He is 4-1 in his past five in Edmonton after being pulled in four consecutive here.

Looks like the same lineup tonight. Definitely the same forwards because Mikael Granlund, who would have been scratched for a second straight game because of the return of Matt Cullen, was reassigned to Houston. Same reason the Wild has reassigned him and other rookies like Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle this year -- if they're not going to play or if their role is going to be limited, get him down to Houston.

The Aeros have three games in three nights this weekend. Also, as I've mentioned before, the Wild is inches from the salary cap ceiling, so this also frees up some space. GM Chuck Fletcher said the Wild will assess the team postgame and if it needs a forward for San Jose, it'll bring somebody up. Also, there's always the chance that if Zenon Konopka, who has a broken foot, is feeling better, he could meet the team in California.

So same lines, and I assume, same D tonight, meaning Justin Falk and Nate Prosser would be scratched.

At the end of the seven-game win streak, Yeo started to sense that the Wild was playing too loose and starting to lose its game, the good habits, the structure. In the last few losses to St. Louis and Columbus, Yeo started to sense the Wild was rediscovering its game. If you watched the Blue Jackets game, you especially know the Wild should have won that game by a country mile. But Sergei Bobrovsky stole a shootout win.

"We felt like the pendulum was swinging the other direction," Yeo said. "What's really important for us is we make sure we keep that momentum now. We had some pretty good focus last night of let's not just go win the game, let's go play it the right way and let the win happen."

Oilers coach Ralph Kueger has a lot of respect for what he's seen from the Wild on video the past three games, saying, "They're an extremely disciplined team, they're strongly structured and they stick with their gameplan quite religiously. We liked [Ryan] Suter early in the season when people weren't speaking that highly of him. He came in here last time and played 30-something minutes and was on the ice every time our kids were and was excellent from the start. And the points and all the other numbers caught up with him.

"[Zach] Parise just brings a grittiness to the game every day. He plays so big for his size and along the walls and going to the blue paint. Those are two unbelievable, high-end additions that have changed the character of the team."

He said the Oilers need to match the patience of the Wild tonight because Minnesota believes in its game.

This will be the first game Taylor Hall plays the Wild since his kneeing penalty late in the Feb. 21 game sidelined Cal Clutterbuck for six games with a charleyhorse. Hall was suspended and then didn't play in the next meeting at Minnesota with an apparent leg injury March 3.

Neither Hall or Clutterbuck would speak this morning about facing each other again. I'm getting lots of tweets about whether the Wild will go after Hall like this is the days of the Broad Street Bullies. I'm sure the Wild will play Hall hard like normal, but the most important thing for the Wild right now is keep winning games, not doing something stupid to Hall as some ridiculous payback.

The Wild expects a very motivated Edmonton Oilers team tonight. They fired GM Steve Tambellini yesterday, and by the look of their faces in today's morning skate, they were very focused and businesslike about the approach.

Krueger said this morning that every player in Edmonton's lineup these next seven games better look to confirm they want to be here and should be here during this rebuilding process. He said the brass is looking at each player with a "magnifying glass."

The Oilers went from winning five in a row with 25 goals scored to losing five in a row with four goals scored in those games.

The kids -- Jordan Eberle, Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- have no points in those five games. To put that in perspective, Hall had 15 points in the six games before that.

"We have to be ready for a team to come hard," Yeo said. "We're well aware of the changes they made yesterday and I think the players will be looking to make a statement tonight. So we've got to be ready to start this game hard, with the right battle level. But on top of that, this is a team that when they press they can force themselves offensively. So we've go to be ready to defend."

By the way, I keep getting questions about the callup situation. I put this in the chat last week but haven't on here yet. Once the regular season is over, the Wild can have up to three Houston players on the Wild playoff roster at any one time and they can be switched in and out at will. It's a new wrinkle in the new CBA. Once Houston's eliminated, the Wild can have them all up.

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