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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Niklas Backstrom in Chicago, but Josh Harding getting the Wild start

Posted by: Michael Russo under Stanley Cup, Wild news, Wild pregame skate Updated: May 3, 2013 - 1:23 PM

Niklas Backstrom, who did not accompany the team to Chicago, flew commercial to Chicago last night and was on the ice sharing the cage with Darcy Kuemper this morning.

Josh Harding had one to himself and will get the start for Game 2 tonight at United Center. Darcy Kuemper will back up.

Yeo would only say the plan was for Backstrom to always fly to Chicago. Regardless, he'll be in street clothes tonight and will accompany the team back to Minnesota after the game.

Backstrom took shots this morning and still looked to me like he was having some issues. But the fact he was on the ice so soon is obviously a good sign. I haven't talked yet with Backstrom. I can only imagine how disappointed he has to be. You wait all year for the playoffs and minutes before Game 1, you get hurt? Ugh. If you know Backstrom, it has to be an awful feeling.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville on Harding and Backstrom: "One's a lefty; one's a righty."

It'll be interesting to see how Harding plays tonight. Completely different mentality when you're a last-second emergency substitution to knowing for three days you're probably starting Game 2. Today's a long day, too, with the odd 8:30 puck drop, so that's a lot of time to think.

Clayton Stoner and Jason Pominville are out tonight and didn't make the trip to Chicago. 6-foot-5 blue-liner Justin Falk will play for Stoner.

"He actually has played some good hockey," coach Mike Yeo said of Falk. "It's nice to insert him into a place where we feel we can give him a good chance to succeed, too. You'll see him out there more against more of their third and fourth lines -- bigger lines, a little bit more physical. That's the type of game that he should be playing. ... With his size, we're looking for him to bring a physical element to the game, too."

David Bolland and Ray Emery are again out for the Blackhawks.

Tonight feels like Game 1 all over again with two off-days oddly in between. Jonathan Toews expects a better playoff pace at the beginning of the game. The Blackhawks have been talking over and over again about a better start tonight, so the Wild will need to weather the storm or better yet look to dictate this pace.

I'd expect a much more physical game than Game 1, one more emblematic of the playoff games we've seen around the league thus far.

"I hope so," Yeo said. "I think that serves us well. I think we're comfortable playing in those type of games. Against a team like that, if we can get engaged in a game like that, then I think that it helps us. That said, we have to make sure we're doing it the right way, doing it within the structure of our game."

More on this, Yeo said, "I know that our guys are emotionally engaged in this and I think it will increase as the series goes on. I'm not comparing us to any of the other series' that's going on."

On the 8:30 start, Yeo said, "It makes it a longer day. That's about it. But these players are professionals."

I will be on KFAN at 4:35 p.m. with Dan Barreiro.

I will be on the Fox Sports North "Wild Live" pregame show at around 7:40 p.m. tonight.

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