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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Explaining the Wild's playoff position; Marco Scandella injured

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: February 4, 2014 - 11:33 PM

Good win for the Wild tonight because after consecutive slow starts out of the gate, particularly in the second period in Denver and Calgary, the Wild started well tonight, defended well for the most part, generated chances against a good Tampa Bay Lightning team and wound up edging them for a 2-1 win.

The Wild moved to sixth in the Western Conference, but that means absolutely nothing in the new playoff format. The top three teams in each division make the playoffs, the next two teams with the most points earn wildcard spots.

So with Chicago, St. Louis and Colorado way ahead of the Wild, the Wild’s all but locked in a wildcard spot unless one of the three Central Division teams north of them tank. The Avs are 10 points up on Minnesota.

So, currently, the Wild resides in the first of two wild card spots with 24 games left this season. Vancouver, which is four points behind Minnesota, and Phoenix, which is five points behind Minnesota, both lost, so the Wild gained ground on each.

Dallas and scorching-hot Winnipeg both won and are each six points behind the Wild, which has 67 points in 58 games.

The big concern after tonight’s game is how serious Marco Scandella’s apparent knee injury is. He was lost 2:01 into the game and 55 seconds into his night when he crossed the offensive blue line, collided with Tyler Johnson and did the splits. His knees bent awkwardly, and it looked like his right knee was seriously hurt.

Coach Mike Yeo called it a lower-body injury, said he’s doubtful for Thursday and said he would have more of an update after Wednesday’s practice. Hopefully it’s not too long-term because Yeo indicated that maybe the 20-day Olympic break will help heal whatever’s wrong with him. If it is serious, this could be a significant loss because Scandella's been playing well.

Clayton Stoner will surely play Thursday in the final game before the Olympic break against Nashville.

The good news is Jared Spurgeon returned from a foot injury tonight and despite missing 14 games didn’t miss a beat. He assisted on goals by Nino Niederreiter and Dany Heatley.

Heatley had a solid game. He made plays, set up Jason Zucker for a breakaway and scored his 11th goal. Yeo was real happy with Niederreiter’s game. He scored for the first time since the tying goal in the third period and shootout winner Jan. 7 in L.A. That was a 12-game drought.

Besides the goal, Yeo said, “[Niederreiter] played a very strong game as far as I’m concerned. His puck strength was outstanding. We stressed the last couple games spending more time in the offensive zone, and he did a great job on the wall in the D-zone and more so in offensive zone, the way he managed the puck and the way he held onto it [was impressive].”

Darcy Kuemper was also impressive with 34 saves, a nice bounceback after giving up eight goals in his past two starts. He came up big late and was helped out by his handy post when Tyler Johnson clanked it with 39 seconds left.

The Lightning pressed late bigtime, but the Wild held on.

Yeo had Erik Haula on the ice with two minutes left and Yeo called this easiest one of his best games. He said when he plays like tonight, he has a “ton of confidence in him.”

As I’ve written, Zucker and Haula will spend the Olympic break playing in Iowa. I’ll be interested to see what the Wild does if Mikko Koivu as expected plays in the Wild’s first game after the break Feb. 27 in Edmonton.

Maybe the Wild would consider bringing Haula back and going Mikael Granlund, Koivu, Charlie Coyle and Haula 1, 2, 3, 4 at center and move Kyle Brodziak to the right wing. The other option is Granlund, Koivu, Kyle Brodziak and Haula, and moving Coyle back to right wing.

But Haula is very useful with his speed and on the penalty kill. Tonight, he used his lightning speed to create a heck of a shorthanded chance for himself.

Keith Ballard had three hits. Nate Prosser blocked three shots. Zach Parise had six shots and three takeaways. Mikael Granlund had a couple awesome shifts. Jason Zucker makes a great pass for Spurgeon on the first goal and got the puck up ice on transition to Spurgeon for the second goal. 

Overall, very good game from the Wild, a tough game in which it played 58 minutes with five defensemen. The Wild’s D were great and the forwards were terrific defensively with back pressure all game. They were also better taking care of the puck than they have been the past few games.

Suter logged 34:31, but he had a great line afterward, saying, “I had the shanks all game. I couldn’t make a pass coming out of our end, couldn’t make a pass through the neutral zone. I felt like Roy McAvoy out there.”

That’s a Tin Cup reference, a good move with Kevin Costner and Rene Russo.

Spurgeon, always overshadowed and often underrated, had a good line after the game about the fact that nobody bothered asking him questions the past month because so many bigger names – Mikko Koivu, Parise, Josh Harding – were sidelined.

“It was sort of nice. Well, not nice, but I didn’t have to answer any questions,” he joked.

“It was a fast game. Quick skating team. It was fun out there. It was sort of a playoff atmosphere. We know they’ve been rolling, so it’s a big win for us,” Spurgeon continued.

It was a fun game to watch. Tampa’s a fast team that goes north-south quickly. So there was a lot of counterattacks by both teams tonight and plenty of Grade A chances. The Wild could have easily blown this game open in the first two periods. They had some dynamite chances, especially in the second.

“I liked the way our guys came into this game, their preparation,” Yeo said. “You could tell that they had the right focus defensively and execution wise. We did generate a lot of chances, but the way we were generating them, I was real happy.”

That’s it for me. Talk to you after Wednesday’s practice.

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Tampa 6 FINAL
Philadelphia 2
LA Clippers 96 FINAL
Chicago 86
Cleveland 103 FINAL
Houston 105
Golden State 49 3rd Qtr
Boston 65
Philadelphia 34 2nd Qtr 4:51
Indiana 50
Portland 56 2nd Qtr 1:35
Sacramento 45
Charlotte 41 2nd Qtr 0:05
Orlando 42
Oklahoma City 25 1st Qtr 1:44
LA Lakers 12
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Denver
Los Angeles 2 FINAL
Winnipeg 5
Tampa Bay 1 3rd Prd 16:54
Florida 3
Columbus 1 3rd Prd 20:00
Pittsburgh 4
Toronto 6:00 PM
Washington
Anaheim 7:00 PM
Dallas
St. Louis 8:30 PM
Vancouver
SMU 73 FINAL
Connecticut 81
Quinnipiac 65 FINAL
Manhattan 69
Fairfield 56 FINAL
Niagara 57
Marist 49 FINAL
Rider 59
Iona 60 FINAL
Saint Peters 68
Oregon State 56 FINAL
California 73
South Florida 55 FINAL
Houston 72
Marquette 66 FINAL
Providence 77
Michigan State 61 FINAL
Wisconsin 68
Siena 57 FINAL
Monmouth 63
Pittsburgh 28 1st Half 3:40
Wake Forest 30
Oregon 2 1st Half 18:02
Stanford 2
Purdue 6:30 PM
Ohio State
Arizona State 7:30 PM
Colorado
Washington St 8:30 PM
UCLA
Georgetown 66 FINAL
Providence 81
Binghamton 50 FINAL
UMBC 73
Elon 65 FINAL
Hofstra 58
Virginia Tech 47 FINAL
Boston College 49
(8) Louisville 59 FINAL
Virginia 75
Texas 69 FINAL
West Virginia 76
Creighton 53 FINAL
Villanova 61
Seton Hall 85 FINAL
Butler 76
UNC-Wilmington 76 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 65
(5) Maryland 69 FINAL
(25) Northwestern 48
Saint Josephs 67 FINAL
La Salle 55
Louisiana Tech 53 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 60
Rhode Island 70 FINAL
Massachusetts 78
Richmond 55 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 49
Davidson 46 FINAL
Fordham 54
St Bonaventure 43 FINAL
Duquesne 51
George Mason 45 FINAL
(22) George Washington 80
Indiana 60 FINAL
(20) Rutgers 71
(12) Texas A&M 63 FINAL
LSU 80
Ole Miss 47 FINAL
(11) Miss State 55
Clemson 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 61
Maine 47 FINAL
New Hampshire 61
Vermont 48 FINAL
Albany 76
Quinnipiac 87 FINAL
Monmouth 48
Saint Peters 47 FINAL
Siena 64
(4) Notre Dame 67 FINAL
NC State 60
Wisconsin 62 FINAL
Penn State 56
Stony Brook 49 FINAL
Hartford 56
Northeastern 47 FINAL
William & Mary 62
St Johns 61 FINAL
Xavier 74
James Madison 74 FINAL
Delaware 71
Towson 45 FINAL
Drexel 50
Illinois State 50 FINAL
Bradley 60
Southern Ill 74 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 70
Northern Iowa 54 FINAL
Wichita State 66
Minnesota 76 FINAL
(17) Iowa 92
(15) North Carolina 80 FINAL
(16) Duke 81
Alabama 73 FINAL
Auburn 80
(9) Florida State 69 FINAL
Miami-Florida 55
Arkansas 41 FINAL
Missouri 57
Georgia 52 FINAL
Florida 45
Dayton 95 FINAL
Saint Louis 68
Drake 57 FINAL
Missouri State 86
Colorado 46 FINAL
(10) Arizona State 59
(19) Stanford 55 FINAL
Oregon 62
Marquette 82 FINAL
DePaul 99
Southern Miss 66 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 60
Vanderbilt 49 FINAL
(6) Tennessee 79
(2) South Carolina 46 2nd Half 5:53
(13) Kentucky 55
Utah 41 FINAL
Arizona 64
Ohio State 78 FINAL
Nebraska 60
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