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 steals point out of New Jersey; Parise on his return; Prosser booted from game

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild game coverage Updated: March 21, 2014 - 5:40 AM

Honestly, I’ll have to watch this game again to try to figure out how the heck the Wild clawed back for a point. I still didn’t get a chance to watch every goal or much of the third period and overtime in the first place because I was punching frantically at my keyboard trying to rework my file-at-the-gun story.

But needless to say, to get a point out of game where you could play that poorly in the first two periods is quite the coup. Big point, too, because Dallas, which is suddenly struggling, lost in Philly, so the Wild’s now eight up on a playoff spot.

If Phoenix hangs on to beat Florida, the Wild’s lead on the first wildcard spot will be down to four. Big three-game stretch coming up. Home and home with Detroit, which is ravaged with injuries, and then Vancouver, which is in a tumble.

The Wild then hits the road for a tough trip: at St. Louis in the second of a back-to-back, at Phoenix (massive game), at Los Angeles and at Chicago.

OK, where to start?

Just a terrible first two periods. The Wild couldn’t get anything accomplished. Its execution was terrible, it turned pucks over, it was in chip-it-out mode. Other than on the power play, the Wild couldn’t sustain any offensive pressure.

So many players had tough nights. Dany Heatley was minus-2. Nino Niederreiter was minus-1 and showed why the Wild is not yet comfortable putting him on the power play on a consistent basis. His wall play on the power play needs so much work, and he flashed that in the offensive and defensive zone on Mark Fayne’s shortie (although let’s be honest, that was a collective effort because five guys were on one side of the ice).

Jason Pominville’s six-game point streak came to an end and something was bigtime off with him tonight. From start to finish, he was fighting the puck, whiffing on them, shanking them, etc. Mikko Koivu, very tough game on the power play, and on the play that led to the OT winner, Koivu and Pominville teamed up by swinging and missing on pucks in the offensive zone. That led to Jersey’s quick counter and then mayhem before Andy Greene lost Koivu for the winner.

BUT, the Wild somehow rallied for a huge point. Zach Parise scored 21 seconds into the third on a power play (13th, which is tied for second in the NHL). Then, after Jared Spurgeon, who rarely takes penalties (26 PIM in 218 career games), took a minor, Jaromir Jagr made it 3-1.

But the Wild stayed with it and Mikael Granlund and Matt Cooke scored 4:50 apart, Cooke’s tying goal coming with 4:32 left on a deflection of Marco Scandella’s rocket.

On the difference between the first two periods and the third, Parise, who knows a thing or two about the Devils, said, “That’s the style of hockey they play. They keep the puck along their walls. They grind, they grind, they grind, they don’t put the puck in the middle of the ice, so they play low-risk hockey. In the first two periods, we didn’t skate, we didn’t chase down the puck. We kind of played right into their hands into a slow hockey game.”

In the third? Cooke said, “If you’re willing to play a slow game, then you’re feeling right into their hands.” So Cooke said the Wild began skating, getting pucks deep, got pucks to the net and they got fortunate.

“Realization that we need to skate,” Cooke said.

“When you’re faced with a two-goal deficit in the third period and you battle back to get a point on the road, you have to accept that,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I’m not sitting here saying that we’re in love with our game, but it’s positive the way the guys found a way to get that point.”

Still, Yeo was displeased with the Wild’s execution, wall play and puck support in the first 40 minutes. The lack of execution “led to a lot of turnovers, a lot of time spent in our own zone.”

Also, the Wild played with five defensemen for the final 42 minutes because Nate Prosser was assessed a five-minute elbowing penalty and game misconduct for a forearm to Tim Sestito’s face. Sestito charged in, Prosser turned with the puck out of the corner, spotted him and reacted quickly to defend himself.

The center-ice ref called it an elbowing major.

“He was taking a large run at Pross and Pross was trying to play the puck,” said Yeo, who interrupted himself and said, “I don’t like seeing anybody get hurt.”

If you go by previous NHL decisions, it probably shouldn’t result in supplemental discipline for Prosser if the NHL determines Prosser was protecting himself.

Earlier this season, when the NHL didn’t discipline Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn for launching an elbow into Cooke’s face, the league called it a “protective maneuver.”  There are times, the league says, where “defensive contact to the head” is permissible if a player skating with the puck is trying to protect himself from a check.

We’ll see Friday. Remember, Keith Ballard has a groin injury, so if Prosser is suspended, the Wild would have to call up a defenseman IF Ballard can’t play. By the way, if the NHL doesn't suspend Prosser, it doesn't mean it was the wrong call on the ice. 

The league's standards for supplemental discipline are not the same as standards for on ice penalties. 

Interesting game for Parise. Booed during warmups, and there were some cruel signs wrapped around the glass. He joked that he only read the “good ones.”

He took a penalty, only his second in the past 17 games, in the first period and was stuffed by Cory Schneider on a shorthanded breakaway.

“The first period, he’s probably thinking, ‘Man, this couldn’t go any worse,’” Yeo said. “To see him get rewarded there in the third period, for us it was great because we know what this game meant to him.”

Parise said, “I was expecting the boos. I don’t have any hard feelings toward them. I understand. I wasn’t expecting any cheers. That’s fine.”

Said Devils coach Pete DeBoer, “I understand the fans disappointment with him leaving. I also know we should all be very thankful for the time he put in. I know I feel privileged to have coached him. I hadn’t watched him in a while. You realize seeing him tonight why he’s so special. He’s always around the net, winning battles, in the crease. He’s a special player.”

The Wild is 7-2-5 in the past 14 games. So, in one sense, that’s big this time of year that the Wild has gotten points in 12 of the past 14 games. But of its past five losses, the Wild has lost four via shootout or overtime.

“Who knows, down the road, it could be important points,” said Parise. “Little bit of silver lining, but we’ve got to turn that corner and start winning some of these games that go into extra time.”

Said Matt Moulson, “Coming down the stretch, we want two points every game. You never want to lose games. You’ve got to find a way to win. These are how playoff games are played. They’re tight all the time. You have to battle for every inch.”

Said Charlie Coyle, “We didn’t start off the first two periods like we wanted to. That wasn’t our best game, or our best start either. But to start like that and come back and get that point, that was huge. But we can’t be satisfied with those late starts like that. We’ve got to come here to play and play a full 60.”

By the way, the Heatley-Coyle-Nino line, not so good tonight.

But, the Wild got the point against a desperate Devils team, went 1-1-1 on the road trip (.500, 3 out of 6 points) and keep inching toward its second consecutive playoff berth.

Early flight. Talk to you after practice Friday.

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