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 loses finale after Harding leaves game with illness; Dumba staying for now

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage, Wild training camp Updated: September 28, 2013 - 11:29 AM

Saturday morning update: Jake Dowell and Tyler Cuma cleared waivers. Dowell remains on the roster for now. Cuma is in Iowa. No roster moves expected today. Wild has the day off. Injury updates and news will come Sunday prior to the Wild bussing to Duluth.

The Wild fell in its preseason finale Friday night in St. Louis when the big, bad Blues stormed back from a 1-0 deficit by scoring four third-period goals on the fourth goalie on the Wild’s depth chart, Johan Gustafsson.

The Blues, after falling behind on Jared Spurgeon’s power-play goal midway through the first, turned up the dial in the second half of the second period and never let up, so there was not much Gustafsson could do as the Wild was on its heels all period.

Gustafsson was in the game because Josh Harding reported to the trainers during the second intermission that he wasn’t feeling well. Coach Mike Yeo hadn’t talked to Harding postgame yet and said “hopefully he’s just not feeling well.”

Turns out Niklas Backstrom was supposed to start tonight, but he was feeling sore, so the Wild decided not to risk any injury and that’s why it didn’t bring him. Yeo said there’s “nothing remotely wrong” with Backstrom, so not to worry.

Harding by the way stopped all 15 shots he saw through two periods. He gave up two goals in 145 minutes in the preseason (0.83 GAA) and had a .962 save percentage. I tried to talk to him postgame as he headed to the bus, but he must not have wanted to chat.

--Late in tonight’s game, forward Torrey Mitchell was tripped up behind the play in one of corners by defenseman Roman Polak. The Wild claimed it was a slewfoot. I never got a look and there were no in-house replays. Mitchell was down on the ice for awhile, but he finally got up and skated to the bench and into the locker room by his own power. So hopefully he’s OK, but Yeo didn’t have a report yet. Mitchell’s had a real good camp.

--If he isn’t hurt, the Wild has one more roster move to make (the Wild has Saturday off, so it may come before it heads to Duluth on Sunday). Read my main article in Saturday’s paper because GM Chuck Fletcher said people shouldn’t go crazy by whatever that final move will be. Fletcher said the opening night lineup is not who’s “making the team.” It’s who is playing opening night.

So if Yeo decides he wants to go with an all-skill fourth line like he did tonight with Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, maybe Jake Dowell is reassigned. If he feels he needs some beef in the lineup and wants to play Zenon Konopka or Dowell vs. the Kings on Thursday, maybe one of the entry-level guys like Zucker and Granlund has to temporarily go down.

But Fletcher said, especially with Des Moines so close and so many players on contracts that allow them to go up and down, the Wild may shuttle players back and forth for some time depending on what players Yeo wants to play on a certain night.

There’s definitely some intriguing elements of an all-skill line like Zucker-Granlund-Niederreiter. They were threats often early and seemed to catch St. Louis off guard with speed. But against a Blues as big and strong as St. Louis, you need some ruggedness and Yeo was curious to see how the kids would handle the Blues’ heavier, grittier men.

Yeo felt Zucker played with more energy today and like the unconventional kid’s fourth line in the first half of the game. Like the whole team, not so much late.

I did ask Fletcher about Zucker today and Fletcher said, “[Zucker] knows he can play better than what he is, and I have no doubt he will get his game back in order. “There’s a possibility he plays games in the NHL and AHL this year. It’s going to be up to him. But there’s no doubt he’s going to be a really good player in this league.

“He’s too good a player not to find his stride here at some point.”

--One player who did play well tonight is Matt Dumba. He had a real good first half of his game and he was one of the rare players Yeo liked late. He’s staying. The Wild is in no rush to make a decision on him, especially when it has a nine-game window to make a decision between Dumba staying in Minnesota or going back to Red Deer.

The question is how much does he play and how does he handle the NHL game.

“We’re comfortable carrying eight defensemen if needed,” Fletcher said. “It’s pretty tough to make a definitive call on [Dumba] based on a few preseason games. We’ll get into the season and see how much he plays, how often, how well and the answer will be obvious to everybody.”

--Jonas Brodin played left D tonight. Normally he plays right D (difficult for a left-shot D), and he didn’t look overly comfortable. Good thing Ryan Suter will come back and save the day as his partner and he can move back to right D. Suter had the night off.

Nate Prosser played top pair with Brodin tonight and looked good. There were a lot of scouts here and it looks like it’ll be another year of Prosser being the extra guy. At some point, for the sake of Prosser’s career, the Wild should probably look to move him. But as of now, Fletcher doesn’t want to delete any blue-liners until he’s sure Dumba can play in the NHL.

Pairs right now are:

Suter-Brodin

Scandella-Spurgeon

Ballard (night off tonight)-Dumba

Or, if Dumba sits on certain nights, most likely:

Stoner-Ballard (if Dumba sits)

--Yeo on tonight’s game: “I thought even the second half of the second period, they turned it up to another level and it set us back. Puck execution was the biggest problem. We weren’t executing the right way, allowed them to have long shifts in our zone, allowed them to build momentum and I think that gave them the feeling going into the third period that if they continue to do that, the right thing would happen and we never did anything to stop that.”

--On lesson from this: “To be honest with you, I think it’s good for our whole team. I think this is better for us than it would have been to win this game. We’ve had a good camp, but if it was all rosy and all success, I would have been concerned about that. The fact that this is a reminder of the things you need to do and the way we need to play, I think that should help us more.”

--Wild finished the preseason 4-2. Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise set up the Spurgeon goal. But the two of them and Jason Pominville were on for the first three third-period goals, and Koivu and Pominville were actually on for the fourth, too. Pominville also seemed to survive a hit from behind in the head from David Backes tonight. Backes also clocked Matt Cooke at game’s end. Cooke said he was ok and his own visor got him in the face. This was after Cooke came out of the box for getting into it with Polak after his alleged slewfoot on Mitchell. Cooke also nailed Jay Bouwmeester with a clean hit in the second. Chris Stewart lost his mind on Cooke and earned a 4-minute roughing penalty. The Wild didn’t register a shot during two ugly, I believe, shotless power plays that probably gave power-play consultant Andrew Brunette indigestion.

-- I felt Justin Fontaine had a welcome to the NHL game. Probably eye opening, but he also made some nice plays out there, too. Yeo felt this was Dany Heatley’s best game.

“I was happy about playing this team twice in a row,” Yeo said. “I knew we were either going to play two good games or we were going to get spanked like we did tonight. It’s a good reminder.

“We have a good feel where everybody’s at and now we’ll use this week to get ready.”

Again, day off Saturday. Sunday morning the Wild practices at the X before heading to Duluth for a team dinner. Monday, practice, golf and team dinner. Tuesday, the Wild practices at AMSOIL Arena at 10 a.m. and it’s free and open to the public.

Opening Night is Thursday!

OK, I’m exhausted, need to do Wild Minute (that usually takes me 60 Minutes) and get out of here so I can get some shut-eye for an early flight back to Minnesota.

Likely no blog Saturday with the team off. Injury news and cut may come Sunday.

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