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 keeps rolling, wins its fifth in a row going into four-day break

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: March 3, 2014 - 11:30 PM

You have to hand it to the Wild. It just keeps on winning and now enters a four-day break in its schedule with a nine-point lead in the playoff race thanks to Monday’s 3-2 win over Calgary.

But as Mike Yeo pointed out afterward, we often talk about a “cushion,” but a “cushion” really does mean squat.

Right now, the eighth-place team (Dallas, the Wild’s opponent Saturday in the Big D) is on pace for 91.4 points. So it doesn’t matter how many points the Wild’s up on ninth. The Wild has 74 points. It needs to keep heading north until it passes that 92-point threshold and preferably more so it can make the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Good win tonight because the Wild really had to grind it out in a pretty sloppy, choppy game. Yeo said he expected it after two games on the road, an emotional win in Vancouver, the Wild’s first home game in a month and the fact that chemistry would be messed with a bit with Mikko Koivu and Marco Scandella’s return fiddling with the forward pairs and defense pairs.

“But our guys fought through it. That was a big win for our guys,” Yeo said.

Kyle Brodziak “finally found a way to put one in,” he said jokingly of his fifth goal of the season after Matt Cooke forechecked a frozen goalie, Reto Berra, into a turnover. Then, in the third, Jared Spurgeon and Zach Parise scored goals. Parise’s would become the winner.

Darcy Kuemper made his 15th consecutive start and won his fifth in a row. His 11th win ties Josh Harding for the team’s rookie record. He has given up six goals in his past five starts (three in three since the Olympic break) and is 11-2-2 since Jan. 7 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.

Tonight, his parents saw him play live in the NHL for the second time (both against Calgary) and saw him win for the first time. The kid keeps on trucking, which has to make Chuck Fletcher feel much more comfortable heading into Wednesday’s 2 p.m. trade deadline.

I still believe the Wild acquires a goalie though because of Niklas Backstrom’s abdominal issue, and the Wild continues to talk to other teams, especially Buffalo about Jaroslav Halak. That seems the likeliest scenario.

Fletcher has been on the phone a lot lately, and sources say he has talked with the Sabres often.

It’s that time of year.

Koivu returned to the lineup. Like the team, his line with Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle had good shifts and tougher shifts. One picked-off clear by Koivu led to one goal, but he looked good on a second-period power play and should continue to get better, he said.

He’s a big guy, and as Wes Walz always said, it’s harder for bigger players to get back in the swing of things, especially with the league so ramped up. Tonight was Koivu’s first game in eight weeks.

“I was more nervous than I even told you guys,” Koivu said. “I missed a long time. I wasn’t sure how it was going to react in a game. I thought that after the first couple shifts, I got more comfortable and I thought that power play helped me a lot when we got the puck more and I was moving the puck more. Overall, pretty solid. The things I wanted to be strong, I was pretty strong I thought. So yeah, overall pretty happy. That was the first step. Now I just need to work in practice and get more games under my belt and I’m sure it’ll get better.”

He did say his ankle did feel discomfort toward the end of periods and on the bench, but doctors tell him that’s normal and it’ll continue to improve.

Weird, ugly games at times.

There’s something about these two teams that often produce the ugliest games, and much of Monday’s game looked like it was a game of shinny hockey played with a tennis ball.

Players on both teams misconnected on passes, swung and missed on shots, blew wide-open nets and overskated pucks routinely. The amount of pucks that simply stopped short and were whiffed on by players was remarkable.

It was the first NHL game at the X in almost a month and players complained Monday morning that the ice was sticky, perhaps because of the state wrestling tournament and Luke Bryan concert being on top of the ice the past week.

“Even this morning you could tell in the pregame skate, it seemed a little slow,” Parise said of the ice. “I know a couple times on me personally, it just stopped or just bounced.”

But the Wild got through it.

Now the Wild has four days off. It’ll have a skills practice Tuesday, have the day off Wednesday (trade deadline) and then get back at it for two hard practices Thursday and Friday before playing in Dallas in Saturday. As you know, the Wild rarely has success in Dallas (one win in its past 19 visits, I believe).

That starts a stretch of 20 games in the final 37 days of the regular season.

“This is an opportunity,” Cooke said of the break this week. “This is our last real practice time before we’re in the playoffs. We’re going to have to work and be ready to continue what we’ve built here in the last little while.”

What else?

--Season-high five wins in a row overall, six in a row at home.

--The Wild is 9-2-2 in its past 13 and 14-4-2 in 2014.

--Mikael Granlund had two assists and his brother, Markus, recorded his first NHL point. Mikael has 20 points in his past 25 games.

--Zach Parise’s goal was his 21st and 45th career game-winner. He has six goals and 12 points in his past eight games

Talk Tuesday.


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