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 excited about first home playoff game in 5 years; Veilleux on way?

Posted by: Michael Russo under Stanley Cup, Wild practice Updated: May 4, 2013 - 5:30 PM
With his team fresh off a 5-2 beating in Chicago and down 2-0 in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarters, Wild coach Mike Yeo kept things status quo in practice today.
 
I’d still be surprised if things are completely status quo in Game 3.
 
Whether that means fiddling with line combinations (splitting Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu for the first time this year?) or calling up reinforcements from its minor-league affiliate, we will have to see.
 
The Houston Aeros do play a deciding Game 5 tonight in Grand Rapids. Perhaps a couple players rush up here from Michigan on Sunday morning (a Mikael Granlund or a Justin Fontaine maybe?) or maybe tonight (Stephane Veilleux?).
 
Veilleux makes sense. Mike Rupp just looks to be immobilized by his banged-up knee and the Wild could use more speed and banging. I thought Zenon Konopka played a real good Game 1, but maybe the Wild looks to change up  a few of the fourth-line forwards. We shall see. Torrey Mitchell can move to center if Veilleux slotted in and Rupp did play.
 
Of course, the Wild has recalled Veilleux twice in recent weeks and didn't play him either time.
 
On line changes, Yeo today simply said “maybe.”
 
After last night’s game, Yeo said he already had a good idea of changes he wanted to make. He said he was more talking about the Wild’s game and adjustments he wanted to make. But obviously, in the playoffs, he couldn’t want to tip his hand to the Chicago Blackhawks, so he admitted he wanted to be intentionally vague today.
 
“The bottom line is we have identified some things and we’ve discussed them and we’ve worked on some things and we’re just real excited to come back and play again [Sunday].”
 
Niklas Backstrom practiced today, along with Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper. Yeo joked that he would decide the goalie “some time before the game.” I quoted Backstrom in Saturday’s paper, but he didn’t sound like a guy that’s able to immediately jump back into the crease yet though.
 
Jason Pominville, who has practiced once in two weeks and we know that didn’t go well, didn’t practice today, nor did Clayton Stoner.
 
On the loss of Pominville, Yeo said, “I wish we had him in the lineup for sure. He’s a good player for us -- especially his experience, his leadership -- but we’ve got enough in the lineup.”
 
Sunday at 2 p.m. (NBC exclusive on TV, KFAN on radio and Fox Sports North on the postgame show) is the first home playoff game in five years. The Wild finished the year 1-5-1 in its past seven at home and last time it was in this arena was the 6-1 whipping against Edmonton – the one that forced Minnesota to have to win in Denver to make the playoffs and the one that cost Minnesota the opportunity to face Vancouver, down 2-0 to San Jose, in the first round instead of Chicago.
 
Will the fans be excited or equally ready to jump on the Wild at first sign of trouble?
 
“I think this place is going to be rocking [Sunday] and we’re excited for that,” Yeo said. “We wish that it was a different scenario, instead of coming back down 2-0. But the reality is we’re going into tomorrow’s game with the opportunity to play a first home game in five years and we should be excited about that. Just because we’re down 2-0, it doesn’t mean that this series is over. I myself have been a part of series where we’ve come back from being down 2-0 (both in the minors and twice in Pittsburgh when the Pens won the Cup in 2009) and I know there are other people [in the locker room] that have as well. But certainly the importance of [Sunday’s] game probably doesn’t need to be discussed a whole lot.”
 
(Editor’s note: Pens had a few more gamebreakers than the Wild).
 
I asked Yeo if he would consider splitting Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise (no goals): “We’ll consider everything. If we think that that’s what we need, then that’s something that we would be willing to do for sure. Again, we’re coming home. It’s a little bit of a different situation now. The first game was a good game, so I think because we played one game that wasn’t good, I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel here either.”
 
At home, Yeo will get last change, which means if he wants to avoid the Parise-Koivu head-to-head match vs. Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews, he would have an easier ability to do so. But Yeo noted that in Game 2, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wasn’t overly concerned with matchups and he threw out a number of lines against Parise and Koivu.
 
Parise pointed out to me that Hossa and Toews and Brandon Saad haven’t scored 5-on-5 either. If it’s because the Wild’s top line is doing a good job neutralizing them, the danger of avoiding that matchup then becomes that maybe Hossa and Toews light up the Wild.
 
This is why playing Chicago is so problematic. The Hawks have tons of weapons. The Wild does not.
 
On the potential of splitting Koivu and Parise, Parise said, “Two ways you can look at it. I think we’ve gotten some good opportunities. We haven’t given one up to Toews’ line either 5-on-5. Unfortunately they’re the ones that are up 2-nothing. So you look at our line and we haven’t scored yet. On the flip side the line we’re playing against haven’t scored either. But that’s obviously not good enough. So we’ve got to find a way. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, we’ve got to find a way to get some offense. I think we’re playing good away from the puck in limiting their chances when we are out against Toews’ line, but we have to do a better job protecting the puck and getting some zone time and capitalizing. We have to capitalize on our chances.”
Parise said, “There’s always a way [to beat a better team]. I think this game right now is about taking advantage of weaknesses and I think we have to do a better job of exploiting some different things that they do and that they do well, we have to do some things to counter them. And I don’t think we did a good enough job of that from game 1 to game 2.”
For instance, in Game 1, the Wild did a great job gapping up at the blue line and continually poke-checking pucks and breaking up entries by Chicago. The Hawks seemed to adjust with stretch passes last night to get pucks behind the Wild D.
“Yeah, I did notice that,” Parise said. “I did notice that they started to do that a little more and they were able to hop behind our D. I think that’s something that we’ll have to at least be aware of.”
That’s it for now. I will talk to you Sunday – or I will update the blog tonight if I become aware of possible callups.
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