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 has arrived in Chicago for a Thursday must-win

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: May 8, 2013 - 4:34 PM
The Wild didn’t practice today but held availability at the airport before flying off to Chicago.
 
Quick blog as I need to catch up to them. Obviously, you know the details: Win Thursday night in Chicago, or the Wild’s 2012-13 campaign is over.
 
The team is 7-3 all-time in elimination games. It has twice rallied from 3-1 deficits in history.
 
But the Blackhawks are the Blackhawks and clearly are not going to watch to come back to Minnesota for a Game 6.
 
Here is captain Jonathan Toews, who was quoted by Mark Lazerus in a Chicago Sun-Times blog today: "I think we'll learn from Game 3 [because] we had the chance to really take control of the series. We knew exactly what to expect from their team, that the first game in their building was going to be a really good one for them. And to be able to throw that effort back in their face would have been huge for us, showing them that even their best might not be good enough -- and we didn't do that at all. This is a chance to kind of redeem ourselves for the way we played in Game 3. Everyone's saying we haven't played our best game yet in this series. We've got to get as close to that as we can."
 
Wild coach Mike Yeo wouldn’t divulge the starting goalie (if he knows). All three – Nik Backstrom (whom I think starts), Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper are on the trip.
 
“We like to keep the other team guessing,” Yeo said, jokingly. “So we’re not only going to not tell them who our starting goalie is, we won’t tell them who our backup goalie is. Really leave them in the dark.”
 
Yeo said Mike Rupp is on the trip, but Zenon Konopka and Clayton Stoner are not.
 
He wouldn’t discuss potential lineup or line changes, potential power-play personnel or tactical changes. He again said it’s up to the coaches to provide the proper adjustments to make the players succeed.
 
Veteran Matt Cullen said it’s important for players not to get overwhelmed by the task at hand. If that happens, it’ll infiltrate Thursday’s must-win game.
 
“You have to narrow your focus,” Cullen said. “We have to focus on our power play, we’ve got to focus on getting our energy level back to where it was a couple games ago. And I think that we see that when we do that we can win and be very successful. So for us, we’ve just got focus on the small things that you need to do and the rest will take care of itself.”
 
He said of the veterans: “It’s all about leading by example and if we can go out and play the way that we can, we’ll be fine.”
 
We’ll see what happens Thursday. I don’t see it ending in the Wild’s favor. Frankly, it’s been a weird series.
 
It’s been one of the more well-mannered, blasé playoff series imaginable.
 
Other than a few customary skirmishes, there’s been little anger or malice, at least compared to the others around the league.
 
There’s been no trash talking off the ice, no dueling press conference smack taking, no public gamesmanship, like complaining about diving or dirty plays. The most controversy in the series has been both teams faintly accusing the other of cheating on faceoff.
 
There’s been nothing but … respect.
 
Here’s Zach Parise after the Game 4 loss: “There’s a reason why they were on top of the league all year and why they went 20-some games without a loss. They’re a very good team. We have to play a great game to beat them.”
 
Here’s Patrick Sharp heading into Thursday’s Game 5: “We expect Minnesota to come in and play their best game of the series here in Game 5. They’re a well-coached team, they’ve got some hard-working players over there. They’ve got a lot of character. So they’re going through a few injuries like everyone does this time of year, but no question they’re going to show up and play hard.”
 
So sweet. I have to get to my gate. I may freshen this up from the air. If not, the pregame skates are 11 and noon Thursday. Talk to you after.

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