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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"Il-ya, Il-ya, Il-ya" leads Wild to the brink of the playoffs

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild game coverage Updated: April 7, 2014 - 11:18 PM

For some reason the Wild hasn’t been successful in the front end of back-to-backs (3-9 before tonight’s 1-0 win at Winnipeg; eighth shutout by the Wild to tie a team record), so defenseman Ryan Suter said this was kind of a “trap game” tonight with the hard-working Jets out of the playoff hunt, the Wild so close to clinching a playoff spot and the Boston Bruins, the top team in the NHL, waiting for the Wild in Minnesota for Tuesday night’s game.

But the Wild grinded it out. Its execution wasn’t good all night long offensively, but man, the Wild worked hard and defended well. Players sure had to with as much time as they spent in their own zone.

“That was the definition of grinding it out,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We battled hard. Structure-wise, we were good. Penalty kill was huge (4 for 4). The play of our defensemen in particular, really impressed.”

You have to give Yeo and his staff credit (I know, I know, players win games and coaches lose games).

Obviously, the four goalies who have been No. 1 this season for the Wild (Nik Backstrom, Josh Harding, Darcy Kuemper and now Ilya Bryzgalov) deserve credit, but this could have blown up at any time along the way if not for the Wild’s impressive defensive structure and Yeo’s system.

The Wild’s goalies are rarely peppered and when the Wild most needed it, it has gotten back to a defensive structure that has allowed 26 or fewer shots in the past eight games.

“This team right now, we’re going good places,” said defenseman Jon Blum, who had his best game since his callup. “We’re focused on defense first and you can see that. Whenever they get that big chance, Bryz makes that big save for us. We’re feeding off that.”

“Bryz” tonight made 24 saves for his second consecutive shutout. He’ll start against Boston and carry a shutout streak of 142 minutes, 15 seconds into a game against a team that is 13-1-4 in its past 18 on the road and 16-1-2 in the past 19 overall.

The Wild’s magic number is one point. Its magic number for the top wildcard spot is two.

Tuesday’s clinching scenarios:

-- Wild win or overtime/shootout loss

--Phoenix loss of any kind

--Phoenix shootout win

To not make the playoffs, the Wild would have to go 0-3 and the Coyotes would have to go 4-0 (no shootout wins) and then make up what would seem to be an insurmountable goal differential tiebreaker (plus-2 for Minnesota, minus-12 for Phoenix).

Six or seven games ago, it looked like the Wild was on its way to being toast. Now it’s 4-0-1 in its past five and closed its regular-season road schedule with a 17-17-7 record (7-3-2 since the Olympic break). Remember, before the Olympic break, the Wild was one of the worst road teams in the NHL.

“We went into a lot of tough buildings and I give our guys credit for the way they battled on the road,” Yeo said.

“It’ crazy how fast it can turn around,” said Charlie Coyle, who scored the winning goal 65 seconds into the second period on an even-strength goal that was basically a power-play goal. “Things aren’t going your way and you lose a game, it feels like the end of the world and when you win you’re on top of the world. You have to stay even-keeled.”

Coyle has 10 points in the past nine games and five goals. Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu set up his goal, and the line now has eight goals and 21 points in five games and a period since Yeo reunited them in the third period of that loss in St. Louis.

“I tried to find the open ice there and let those guys make plays,” Coyle said.

Bryzgalov is 6-0-3 in 10 appearances and nine starts with a 1.67 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and three shutouts. He’s been great and had some good quotes you can read in the game story. Also, check out the stuff about the Jets fans (see below) taunting him. Funny stuff.

“Very calm in the net, making a lot of very tough saves look easy,” Yeo said of Bryz.

What Yeo liked most about tonight was the battle level and defensive structure. Suter and Jared Spurgeon were solid all night yet again. Jon Blum may have played his best game with the Wild.

“All night our execution wasn’t very good. We know that,” Yeo said. “But you can win games where you’re not completely at your best” when you defend well and you’re structured and work hard.

The Wild’s penalty kill was 4 for 4 and is now 9 for 9 in the past four games after giving up 12 goals on 35 chances in the previous 13 games.

“That’s how it works,” Suter said. “You give up a couple cheesy ones and it turns around. It’s funny how the game works. It’s just like scoring goals. You don’t score goals all year and you get a hat trick. I mean, who would have thought (referring to his hattie back in January against Washington that helped turn the season around). That’s how the game is. Now I can’t buy one.

“Uh, uh, PK, back on point. Hopefully now we’re going up.”

This doesn’t read as funny as Suter sounded. He just went on a little tangent and then, … back to the penalty kill.

“Come playoff time, it’s got to be good,” Matt Cooke said of the PK. “Our whole game has to be good. We know we have right the system, we know we have the right components in this room. We have three games left to build.”

That’s it for me. Early flight home. Doubtful Wild has a skate in the morning, but if it does, I’ll blog afterward. Otherwise, talk to you pregame.

Check out the gamer, John Curry feature and Nino Niederreiter notebook in the paper Tuesday.

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Buffalo 17 FINAL
New England 9
Cleveland 10 FINAL
Baltimore 20
Dallas 44 FINAL
Washington 17
Indianapolis 27 FINAL
Tennessee 10
Jacksonville 17 FINAL
Houston 23
San Diego 7 FINAL
Kansas City 19
NY Jets 37 FINAL
Miami 24
Chicago 9 FINAL
Minnesota 13
Philadelphia 34 FINAL
NY Giants 26
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Tampa Bay 20
Carolina 34 FINAL
Atlanta 3
Detroit 20 FINAL
Green Bay 30
Oakland 14 FINAL
Denver 47
Arizona 17 FINAL
San Francisco 20
St. Louis 6 FINAL
Seattle 20
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Pittsburgh 27
Arizona 1/3/15 3:35 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 1/3/15 7:15 PM
Pittsburgh
Detroit 103 FINAL
Cleveland 80
Houston 106 FINAL
San Antonio 110
Oklahoma City 107 FINAL
Dallas 112
New York 79 FINAL
Portland 101
Toronto 116 FINAL
Denver 102
Phoenix 116 FINAL
LA Lakers 107
Toronto 4 FINAL
Florida 6
Vancouver 1 FINAL(OT)
Anaheim 2
Tulane 57 FINAL
St Johns 82
Central Conn St 48 FINAL
Connecticut 81
Iona 81 FINAL
Drexel 62
Concordia (MI) 42 FINAL
Eastern Mich 100
Harvard 46 FINAL
Arizona State 56
Longwood 64 FINAL
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UNC Greensboro 50 FINAL
East Carolina 71
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Lafayette 76
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Liberty 78
Morgan State 53 FINAL
Marquette 81
Campbell 56 FINAL
Samford 65
Bucknell 71 FINAL
Siena 73
Long Beach State 67 FINAL
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UMKC 73 FINAL
Indiana State 70
Hofstra 88 FINAL
Long Island 62
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Army 93
Thomas (GA) 48 FINAL
High Point 85
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Monmouth 58
NC Wesleyan 54 FINAL
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Northern Iowa 74
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Radford 119
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SIU Edwardsville 104
Northland College 59 FINAL
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Milwaukee 60 FINAL
South Dakota 84
Northwestern St 92 FINAL
Arkansas 100
Saint Peters 59 FINAL
Cornell 52
St Katherine 62 FINAL
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Haskell 42 FINAL
Oral Roberts 94
Wake Forest 65 FINAL
Richmond 63
Fla Gulf Coast 57 FINAL
Xavier 71
SD Christian 45 FINAL
Northern Ariz 71
Judson 46 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 80
Ill-Chicago 60 FINAL
Bradley 68
Loyola-Maryland 61 FINAL
Fairfield 59
Miss Valley St 53 FINAL
Houston 80
Lehigh 58 FINAL
UMBC 55
Delaware State 56 FINAL
Temple 66
Belmont 56 FINAL
Butler 67
Howard 59 FINAL
Fordham 74
NW Christian 67 FINAL
Nevada 81
UC Davis 83 FINAL
Washington St 90
Abilene Christian 81 FINAL
Grand Canyon 83
UCLA 50 FINAL
Alabama 56
Stony Brook 62 FINAL
Washington 57
Buffalo 56 FINAL
Wisconsin 68
CS-Bakersfield 55 FINAL
California 52
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Florida
Toledo 1/4/15 8:00 PM
Arkansas State
Drexel 71 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 54
Holy Cross 63 FINAL
Norfolk State 62
East Carolina 62 FINAL
South Florida 69
(10) Oregon State 63 FINAL
(8) Tennessee 74
Providence 51 FINAL
Boston College 79
Florida A&M 47 FINAL
Miami-Florida 83
Oakland 69 FINAL
Central Michigan 74
Chattanooga 59 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 49
Fairfield 59 FINAL
La Salle 73
St Francis-PA 59 FINAL
Pittsburgh 97
Milwaukee 72 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 78
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Longwood 63
New Hampshire 58 FINAL
Manhattan 54
Bucknell 68 FINAL
Binghamton 57
Northeastern 70 FINAL
Albany 67
George Mason 70 FINAL
Towson 72
Richmond 59 FINAL
William & Mary 56
Tulane 60 FINAL
Cincinnati 50
North Florida 51 FINAL
Florida 63
(14) Georgia 51 FINAL
Seton Hall 70
Tennessee St 75 FINAL
(12) Kentucky 87
American Univ 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 77
Massachusetts 78 FINAL
Boston U 57
Quinnipiac 69 FINAL
Saint Josephs 67
Lafayette 49 FINAL
Saint Peters 34
Northwestern 61 FINAL
(20) Michigan State 57
Duquesne 82 FINAL
Lehigh 75
George Washington 72 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 49
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Indiana 51
(24) Green Bay 66 FINAL
Dayton 72
Western Mich 55 FINAL
Stony Brook 59
Davidson 67 FINAL
Virginia 57
UNC Greensboro 61 FINAL
LSU 82
Denver 63 FINAL
North Texas 55
VA Commonwealth 63 FINAL
Coppin State 52
Huston-Tillotson 36 FINAL
Houston Baptist 86
Lamar 63 FINAL
Rice 97
Miss Valley St 40 FINAL
Alabama 71
Saint Louis 63 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 49
Middle Tennessee 98 FINAL
Tenn Tech 76
Penn State 52 FINAL
(23) Iowa 77
Purdue 62 FINAL
Illinois 55
DePaul 99 FINAL
Illinois State 62
Sam Houston St 46 FINAL
Wichita State 70
South Dakota 76 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 69
(4) Notre Dame 82 FINAL
UCLA 67
Coll of Charleston 51 FINAL
SC State 60
Alcorn State 53 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 63
Dartmouth 76 FINAL
Niagara 70
Colgate 68 FINAL
Siena 80
Michigan 53 FINAL
Wisconsin 63
Fla Gulf Coast 73 FINAL
CS-Northridge 64
Yale 51 FINAL
(25) Arizona State 69
UC Santa Barbara 34 FINAL
(16) Stanford 90
Long Island 63 FINAL
Long Beach St 71
Jackson State 56 FINAL
Louisiana 65
Eureka 50 FINAL
Western Ill 91
Cornell 59 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 76
Temple 58 FINAL
Memphis 57
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