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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Postgame: Wild's constant pressure, late rally a step in right direction

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: December 1, 2013 - 1:23 AM

I’m looking forward to Sunday because I’ll actually get to sit down and watch Saturday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche over again – or for the first time.

All I know, every time I took a break from writing my file-at-the-gun metro-edition article (that actually needed to be in before the game ended, like when the Wild trailed 2-0!), I looked to my right and the Wild was in the offensive zone.

It seemed to me almost every waking moment the Wild got pucks deep and went to work on Colorado in the offensive zone. But this is the Wild. Scoring goals never comes easy, and tonight, it took Matt Cooke’s goal with 3:27 left and Mikko Koivu’s dramatic tying goal with 4.3 seconds left to force overtime.

The Wild didn’t score in the shootout and fell 3-2, but the way the Wild has been losing and most notably the way its game has fallen apart, this could be a huge point and stepping stone in the right direction.

“We’ve been pressing offensively,” Kyle Brodziak said. “It was a good job by everybody of not getting frustrated, not getting caught up in negative thinking. We just kept on playing. It was nice to get rewarded for that. We have to keep doing that, coming out and playing aggressive and being hungry.”

That sentiment was the common theme afterward and I’m still trying to wrap my head around what exactly happened here tonight.

The hockey cliché (and if you’ve been a Wild fan since its inception, you know it by heart), “If we keep playing like that, the goals will come and we’ll win more games than we lose,” was uttered more than a few times tonight. The reality is, the Wild got to the hard areas, outchanced the Avs 2 to 1, outshot them 37-25 and would have won this game if not for Semyon Varlamov.

Now again, I know the cynics out there will all say the Wild makes every goalie look like the second coming of Patrick Roy, but the reality is even when the Wild fell behind 2-0 tonight, it was all over Colorado for seven or eight shifts in a row. Then one Marco Scandella whiff, and Nathan MacKinnon made the Wild pay.

But coach Mike Yeo said he told the players that if they kept playing the type of game it was and didn’t stray from it, even if it took 59 minutes, 59 seconds, they would get rewarded.

Koivu came through … again. In the past eight games, he has a winner with 3:12 left, a winner with 2:57 left and now a tying goal with 4.3 seconds left.

It was an interesting game. It was a weird start because the Wild had a lot of scoring chances, but it was loosey goosey in the neutral zone, turned a lot of pucks over and Colorado was able to come with speed time and again. Things finally settled down.

First, Yeo gave us some different looks, reuniting the Zach Parise-Koivu-Jason Pominville line – a line that for some reason just hasn’t clicked for the most part, although they were much better tonight and obviously teamed for the Koivu equalizer – and the Cooke-Brodziak-Torrey Mitchell line. That line was sensational, spending almost every single shift in the offensive zone creating chances. Cooke had five shots, was hard on Colorado’s defensemen, was all over the net and finally scored for the first time since Oct. 12, snapping a 22-game drought. Mitchell had a slew of chances, too, and Brodziak and Mitchell assisted on Cooke’s goal.

Charlie Coyle started on a line with Jason Zucker and Justin Fontaine but was quickly elevated to a line with Nino Niederreiter and Dany Heatley. That line was real good, too, spending lots of shifts in the offensive zone. Niederreiter was a beast down low and Heatley had a solid game for the most part.

Coyle’s exposed weakness right now is faceoffs. Coyle lost 12 of 16 faceoffs and has lost 27 of 33 in the past three games he has played predominately center. Regardless, Coyle will probably have to stay at center with Mikael Granlund and Zenon Konopka hurt.

Yeo also scrambled his top two defense pairs, separating Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin by pairing Suter with Jared Spurgeon and Brodin with Scandella.

Spurgeon had a real rough game tonight. Scandella had a mostly good game other than the one turnover on the MacKinnon goal, but he redeemed himself with a huge play to keep the puck in on Cooke’s goal.

One giant mea culpa. Yeo didn’t want to talk to us before the game about who was starting in goal. When I found out Josh Harding was starting, I assumed it was a reflection as to how badly the Wild wanted to win (Harding’s been the more reliable) and that it was a reflection as to where the team thinks Niklas Backstrom’s game is.

After all, Backstrom is 24-5-3 all-time against the Avalanche and 11-2-1 in Denver with a 2.02 goals-against average. Turns out Yeo said after the game that Backstrom was supposed to start, but he was sick, so Harding got the last-second nod and Backstrom backed up.

Referees Dan O’Halloran and Gord Dwyer called a penalty-free game, the first in Wild history and the first in the NHL since Feb. 28 (Toronto at Islanders).

Wild certainly did enough to draw a penalty tonight, but nevertheless, the Wild now has drawn 29 power plays in the past 11 games and 20 in the past nine.

Anyway, the Wild took the positives tonight.

“Fair to say, our game’s been more down than up lately, and the most important first step for us was to go out and play a really good game and have everybody on board,” Yeo said. “It was a different feeling on the bench than what we’ve had lately. There was a lot more talk, guys were a lot more engaged.”

There were even two flybys by Cooke and Koivu!!!

That’s it for me. I believe practice will be scrapped now Sunday after two back-to-back games and the team not due into MSP until 2 a.m. Flyers are in town Monday. Talk to you then if no news Sunday.

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