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 climbing up the standings, pulls off Alberta sweep

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: April 17, 2013 - 11:39 AM
A couple of wins for the Wild in Calgary and Edmonton to lower the temperature a bit after a tough stretch of games recently. The Wild’s in 6th in the West, four back of Vancouver and four ahead of 9th-place Columbus.
 
The Wild had gone 2-6-1 in the previous nine before this mini-Alberta swing but started to feel the pendulum swing back to solid hockey against St. Louis and Columbus – the last two games of the 0-2-1 homestand. The results weren’t there, but the good habits were starting to creep back into the Wild’s structured game.
 
The last two nights, we’ve seen a lot of it.
 
Nine goals, first of all.
 
“It’s nice to score goals, that’s for sure, isn’t it?” coach Mike Yeo said after the 5-3 win in Edmonton.
 
But take away the last few minutes in Calgary (a 4-3 victory Monday) and the last 10 tonight when the Wild’s legs clearly got heavy as the Oilers pushed as took advantage of Minnesota playing on the back end of back-to-backs, the Wild’s played real good hockey.
 
Also, what’s really a good sign is a bunch of players who have had some tough stretches lately played real well.
 
Kyle Brodziak scored twice against the Oilers after a fantastic game in Calgary. Clayton Stoner had two assists tonight and was plus-2. Tom Gilbert was plus-3 tonight and plus-4 the past two games.
 
“They’ve looked really good, and that’s a credit to them,” Yeo said of those three players. “There’s always adversity, there’s always ups and downs, and you have to be able to battle through it. You can’t let it beat you.
 
“So for our team to be able to respond the way we have the last couple games and some of our players to be able to respond the way they have, it’s very important. It’s a growing step.”
 
As you know, Yeo’s got a lot of respect for Stoner’s game and continues to maintain that overall he has had a good season defending. The mistakes he has made have all been on puck decisions, but Yeo says that physically and defensively, he is as tough a defenseman as the Wild has to play against. So if he can play the way he did tonight with the puck more often, he’s a very strong defenseman, Yeo says.
 
Couple stats from the Edmonton game:
 
--Brodziak snapped an 11-game goal drought.
--Mikael Granlund, reassigned to Houston before getting the quick callback because of an aggravated injury to Mike Rupp, scored his first goal since the Jan. 19 season opener. He played wing, which I believe should be his position always. Yeo said the Wild has to figure out how Rupp feels before it determines if Granlund stays.
--Zach Parise scored his first goal in nine games.
--Charlie Coyle scored his seventh goal.
--Mikko Koivu won 15 of 20 faceoffs and 33 of 45 (73.3 percent) in the two games.
--Jason Pominville recorded his fourth 2-point game out of seven with the Wild.
--Niklas Backstrom, starting his 21st game out of the last 22, made 16 saves for his 22nd win.
 
Obviously, the finishes the last nights are a bit of a concern, but Yeo said, “Our main focus is on getting better. Certainly that’s an area that we want to continue to work on. What I like is that we’ve had the opportunity to work on it the last couple games,” he said with a chuckle. “In all fairness, we haven’t had a lot of those leads lately, so we have to get back to being comfortable and confident in those situations.”
 
The Wild now heads to San Jose, where it did not play well a few weeks ago, for a Thursday night game.
 
“We’re excited for it,” Yeo said. “We had a tough one in there last game and we know they’re playing well, we’re playing well, so it’ll be a good test.”
 
Tonight, a lot of people wondered if Cal Clutterbuck would go after Taylor Hall after Hall kneed Clutterbuck and sidelined him six games Feb. 21. They only came together at the very end of the game and just yapped and there was a shove or two.
 
The game in San Jose on Thursday will be the first since the last-second altercation between Dany Heatley and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Heatley was lost for the season due to surgery to repair a shoulder injury.
 
“There’s always emotion going into the game and whatever you can use to spur you in a positive way, that’ll be there,” Yeo said. “But this time of year the focus is on getting two points.”
 
Today is purely a travel day for the Wild and myself. No blog unless there’s news. I plan on writing a feature on Charlie Coyle for Thursday’s paper. I talked to his cousin, longtime NHL goal scorer Tony Amonte, about the rook.
 
Check out the game story and the Matt Cullen/Jason Zucker/Charlie Coyle, etc notebook in today’s paper.
 
Also, about all these outdoor games next year and the fact the Wild isn’t getting one, for the umpteenth time, the Wild wants the 2015 Winter Classic. The actual Winter Classic, and chances are, the Wild gets it.
 

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