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 locks up top wildcard spot with shootout victory over Boston

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: April 9, 2014 - 8:58 AM

The Wild is playoff bound after tonight’s come-from-behind 4-3 shootout victory over the NHL-leading Boston Bruins.

This was an opponent that was 16-1-2 in its past 19.

Jason Pominville scored two goals and an assist, Ryan Suter scored the tying goal with 65 seconds left, Mikko Koivu, who had two assists, three takeaways and won 18 of 27 faceoffs, scored the shootout winner on his signature move and Ilya Bryzgalov, the only goalie to get a point in his first 10 starts in Wild history, improved to 7-0-3 with 24 saves and a spotless shootout.

The Wild clinched a playoff spot at 8:44 p.m. when Columbus beat Phoenix in overtime. There were 12 minutes left in the second intermission. The fans didn’t know until the P.A. announcer let everybody know at the start of the third period.

Wild players? They knew at that point because coach Mike Yeo told them. But Yeo made clear that the Wild didn’t want to back in, and a victory would secure the top wildcard spot (again, the Wild cannot pass L.A. because the top three teams in each division get the 1 through 6 seeds).

“We know we’re in the playoffs, down a goal, played the night before, [playing] against a team sitting here waiting for us, to see our guys go after it, good on them,” Yeo said.

As it turned out, the Wild had to win to get that spot because Dallas ended up beating Nashville in a shootout. If the Wild got zero points, the magic number for top wildcard spot still would have been two. If the Wild got one point, the magic number would have been one.

The Wild’s opponent? It’s clear as mud right now. It’ll be Anaheim, St. Louis, Colorado or San Jose.

St. Louis is at 111 points with three games left. Anaheim is at 110 with three games left. Colorado is at 109 with three games left. San Jose is at 107 with three games left

Read the gamer for all the details and some great quotes, but the gist of the locker room was last year the players were disappointed with their April tumble and the necessity to win the final game of the regular season to sneak into a playoff just merely because of a tiebreaker with Columbus.

This year, despite having a schedule that on paper was hellacious, the Wild has gone 5-0-1 in the past six games. In that stretch, the Wild beat Boston, L.A. and Pittsburgh and got a point against Chicago. Those four teams have won the last five Stanley Cups. Toss in the Detroit win March 22 and that’s the last six Stanley Cup winners.

“More importantly I feel good about where our game is at right now,” Yeo said. “We want to build our game right now. I was glad playing teams like Boston and Pittsburgh and L.A. and all these teams. Listen, if we want to have a chance of doing anything, we’re going to have to beat good teams and be at our best. We know what our game is, there’s confidence in it. I feel like we’re ready for the playoffs right now.”

Bruins coach Claude Julien said of the Wild, “The quicker you can clinch, the better it is. To me, I was really impressed with the effort, especially in the third period. Third game in four nights, and there’s some desperation there, and you want to clinch. You find that energy somewhere and I thought there was some pretty good energy in the third period.”

I had a funny back and forth with Suter in the locker room. If you read my blog last night, you saw that I mentioned how I asked Suter about the Wild’s 9 for 9 penalty kill in a four-game stretch after a 12 for 35 stretch in 13 games. He, in the middle of his quote, went into a funny tangent about his lack of goal scoring lately.

Tonight, the Wild’s PK was scored on twice on five chances, including the first two.

Suter said, “I was thinking about those comments you made yesterday about the PK. That’s how it works.”

I go, “I was thinking about your goal-scoring comments.”

Suter smiled, “It’s funny how it works, right?”

Suter talked about playing the right way to get into the playoffs as you can read in the gamer and said, “Hopefully we can keep this thing going here. Yeozie told us after the second that we’re in the playoffs, but for us, it was not about just being in it. It was about being in on our own terms.

“Going into these last little stretch of games, we were concerned. We had the toughest schedule out of the other teams, so for us to turn it on the way we have, it says a lot about the group. You don’t want to wait ‘til the last day like last year.”

Matt Moulson, on March 5, was on the 30th-place Buffalo. Now he’s playoff bound. He assisted on Pominville’s first-period tying goal.

“It’s exciting,” Moulson said. “You dream of lifting that Cup over your head. To get a chance at that, you never know how many chances you’re going to get. You have to take advantage of them. It’s an exciting time.”

The Wild now has two games left in the regular season, starting Thursday against St. Louis, which has lost four of six. Go on Twitter or check out the St. Louis papers for Ken Hitchcock’s pointed comments after tonight’s loss against Washington. The Blues were booed off the ice and Hitchcock said there’s not a lot of buy-in right now. Also, apparently David Backes sustained a lower-body injury.

It’ll be interesting now to see how Yeo works these next two games. There’s a day off Wednesday, so we won’t know for sure until Thursday.

Here’s what I would do. I’d rest some guys against St. Louis. I’d have John Curry make his Wild debut so Bryzgalov gets a rest. I’d give Christian Folin his NHL debut, maybe for Suter. I’d even consider giving Parise or Koivu an off night.

I’d then probably play the team against Nashville just because you do want that last regular-season game to be a bit of a tune-up to make sure you don’t have some of your big guns going more than a week without playing.

Yeo said he’s discussing it behind the scenes. He did intimate that he does want to talk to some of the leaders to get their input.

“We’ll try to figure all that out. For me, I’m real happy with our team game right now. It’s more a matter individually what we need as far as making sure we’re ready to go.”

Parise said, “You get some time to sharpen up, fine tune some things, work on things we need to be better at. I don’t know who we’ll be playing yet, but we’ll prepare a little bit when we find out who.

“We knew the scenarios, but you don’t want to back in. You want to win yourself in. To do it against arguably the best team in the league, it feels good to win to get in.”

Pominville on the playoffs: “It’s what you play for. We’ve had ups and downs, we’ve had injuries, we’ve had goalies get hurt, we’ve had a lot of different guys in the lineup, but we did a good job of staying even-keeled and not getting frustrated when times were tough. It’s nice to be where we want to be.”

Funny line from Yeo on that waved off icing everybody was ticked at moments before Suter scored: “I would have drawn up a perfect play if they would have called an icing,” he joked.

Yeo on the crowd: “I thought the crowd was awesome. It was a fun night.”

That’s it for me. Day off Wednesday, meaning no blog unless there’s news.

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Texas - WP: N. Martinez 7 FINAL
Oakland - LP: S. Gray 2
Boston 2 Top 9th Inning
Pittsburgh 3
Toronto 2 FINAL
NY Yankees 3
Washington 6 Bottom 9th Inning
Miami 2
Los Angeles 1 Bottom 5th Inning
Chicago Cubs 2
Cleveland 0 Top 7th Inning
Houston 1
Milwaukee 2 Top 7th Inning
St. Louis 0
Arizona 2 Bottom 5th Inning
Colorado 1
Philadelphia 0 Bottom 3rd Inning
San Diego 1
Seattle - F. Hernandez 9:05 PM
LA Angels - W. LeBlanc
Tampa Bay 0 2nd Qtr 2:00
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Buffalo
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Miami
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Carolina
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NY Jets
(5) Auburn 10 4th Qtr
(20) Kansas State 7
Connecticut 9/19/14 7:00 PM
So Florida
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Rice
Troy 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
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(11) Michigan State
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Akron
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Virginia 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 9/20/14 2:30 PM
SMU
Rutgers 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Central Mich 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Kansas
Utah 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 9/20/14 2:30 PM
FIU
Fla Atlantic 9/20/14 3:00 PM
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(18) Missouri
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Minnesota
Texas State 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Illinois
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Penn State
Georgia State 9/20/14 5:00 PM
Washington
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Miss State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas
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Memphis
Utah State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 9/20/14 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 9/20/14 6:30 PM
West Virginia
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South Alabama
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(15) Arizona State
Toronto 9/19/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
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Hamilton
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Montreal
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Ottawa
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