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 knocks St. Louis off Central Division perch; Mike Rupp faces suspension for hit on T.J. Oshie

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: April 11, 2014 - 1:06 AM

So much to get to in this blog, it’s midnight, I’m all alone in this press box and I haven’t even started.

Here we go:

The Wild knocked St. Louis off its Central Division perch tonight with a 4-2 victory, snapping a 9-game winless streak against them and chasing slumping Ryan Miller (4 goals, 13 shots). Colorado won in Vancouver to take over the division lead. What’s that mean?

In 24 hours, the Wild’s first-round opponent has changed from Anaheim to St. Louis to now … Colorado, the team that knocked off the Wild in the 2008 playoffs when Minnesota won its first and only Northwest Division title.

The Wild has one game left Sunday against Nashville. It’ll be a chance for the Wild to hit the 100-point mark for the second time in franchise history.

The Wild will meet the West division winner with the second-best record next week in the first round of the playoffs.

Anaheim, which won the Pacific, has one more point than Colorado and St. Louis.

The Ducks play at L.A. on Saturday and Colorado on Sunday. The Avs play at San Jose on Friday and at Anaheim on Sunday. The Blues play at Dallas on Friday and against Detroit on Sunday.

So, there is a possibility that Sunday while the Wild plays Nashville, all eyes at Press Box Seat No. 45 will be on the Ducks-Avs because that may determine the Wild’s first-round opponent.

Tonight, and as always please read the John Curry-centric gamer and Mike Rupp-centric notebook, but the Wild was outshot 45-15 yet still beat the Blues thanks to Curry’s career-high 43 saves for his third career victory. This is a guy who hadn’t played since Jan. 11, 2010, and who entered with 72 career saves. Heck, this is a guy who gave up seven goals in his last Iowa start.

Kyle Brodziak – yes, Kyle Brodziak, scored two goals (seriously, I’m not kidding) and was plus-3. It was Brodziak’s 11th career 2-goal game, and it included his third-career shorthanded goal to answer Kevin Shattenkirk’s tying goal on a 5-on-3.

Nino Niederreiter scored a goal and assist. Matt Moulson scored a goal just after a power play expired off a sweet saucer pass from Dany Heatley. Matt Cooke was awesome tonight, had two assists and was plus-3. By the way, I had a great interview with him after the game about the Wild’s season and the feel going into the playoffs, and that will appear in Saturday’s paper. What Cooke was so good at conveying: Fans and media, used to watching a franchise that when it has made the playoffs since 2003 has lost in the first round, have been freaking out trying to figure out what’s the best first-round matchup for the Wild. I’ve been guilty of that especially. What Cooke said is basically who cares because no matter what, they’re going to play a great team and no matter what, to get to their eventual goal of wanting to win a Stanley Cup, they’ll have to play four great teams.

So the most important thing is how is the Wild’s game, how are they playing, and right now, not only is the Wild 6-0-1 in its past seven, it’s beating teams like L.A., Pittsburgh, Boston, St. Louis and coming back on Chicago. More from Cooke Saturday.

Jon Blum had his first point as a Wild and …

Christian Folin, whom I featured in Thursday’s paper (give a read if you didn’t), logged 19:26 in his NHL debut, assisted on Brodziak’s second goal early in the third period and was plus-3.

Coach Mike Yeo was “pretty pleased” with Folin’s game, saying it says a lot about the kid that he was able to learn the Wild’s system and look good in it despite having very few practices since signing last week. Yeo said, “the kid’s got a bright future.”

My guess is he doesn’t play Sunday though. I think Yeo will play his full playoff lineup with Ilya Bryzgalov (7-0-3) in the net. The Wild has Friday off, but Yeo abundantly clear after the game that he wasn’t happy the way the Wild played tonight and that Saturday’s practice will be all about getting ready for the playoffs before “hitting it” next week.

On Curry, Yeo said, “Very pleased for him. That was a long road back for him, and just nice to see him get rewarded with a performance like that. He didn’t look nervous. He looked very calm and in control. I’m sure there were butterflies, but his play didn’t reflect it, that’s for sure.”

Curry said, “I just tried to take it shot by shot. I’ll be honest with you, I was so nervous for this game. Just a big stage for me. To have a good start, to get those first few saves, it’s gets you into a rhythm and you fall right into it.”

Again, please read the gamer because there’s a lot more from Curry in there, but he said he just turned off the phone the last day and a half and sat around his apartment.

“You just want the day of the game to come,” he said. “You’re sitting there watching TV, trying to pass the time, trying to stay relaxed and it’s nearly impossible.”

What’s so funny, this morning Yeo said that Curry wasn’t big, that technique wasn’t his strength. That didn’t seem like a scouting report that screamed confidence, but Yeo called him a gamer and a battler. That’s precisely what Curry demonstrated tonight.

Quite impressive.

Yeo on the game: “This is a funny game. Let’s not kid ourselves, they outplayed us tonight. I’m not saying we didn’t do some things well, but we spent the majority of the night in our defensive zone. You worry about a game like this after we clinch, after we know the spot that we’re in. You know that there’s going to be an exhale from your group. Bottom line, to be able to find a way to win in a game like this is great. At the same time, I don’t think we should be patting ourselves on the back too much here.”

Things turned nasty in the second period when the fourth line got trapped in the D-zone for an extended period. On a delayed penalty to Marco Scandella, Mike Rupp hit Blues stud T.J. Oshie in the chin with his left shoulder.

Oshie went down face-first and was in peril. He tried to get up and fell back down. He finally was able to be helped to the ice, but he skated to the bench looking dazed and with blood coming from the mouth. He didn’t return.

Rupp, playing his first game since Feb. 1, was assessed a match penalty for attempt to injure. He’s in trouble. It’s an automatic suspension pending review from the NHL and I do hear the NHL didn’t like the hit and felt the principle point of contact was to Oshie’s head, which is the chief criteria for an illegal check to the head.

Now, Rupp was probably not going to be in the Wild’s lineup to start the playoffs anyway, but he now faces a suspension in the regular-season finale and perhaps the start of the playoffs.

In the third period, with the Blues emotional, Yeo smartly sat Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter. Parise played 13:55, Koivu 14:19, Pominville 12:27 and Suter, the NHL’s ice-time leader, 11:19 – 18 minutes lower than his average.

Yeo said it was clear the Blues would target those guys. To start the second period, Ken Hitchcock started his fourth line. Yeo countered with his fourth. Despite jawing between Rupp and Ryan Reaves, nothing happened.

“I’m not going to put our top guys out there,” Yeo said. “Listen, we’ve played against this team enough times, we’ve gone into their building and often times we’ve done it without a ton of toughness and they’ve come at us. And so, I think it’s important that we show that we’re ready to be physical up against them if they’re going to try to play that game. It’s just about playing hard and we have to show that we can play in those type of games.

“That’s a great team over there. When they started to get very emotional about it, they ramped it up,” he sat his key guys.

Real funny moment postgame. Brodziak was getting heckled by teammates like Cooke and Koivu when the media hovered around him.

When Koivu said, “Uh-Oh,” Brodziak said to his stallmate, “Move over Koivu. It’s my turn.”

OK, that’s it for me. I’ll update the blog with there’s news with Rupp.

I have an insanely busy day tomorrow because I have to write my Sunday Insider (my picks for league awards), write my Saturday story (Cooke heavy) and a big piece for Sunday’s cover that I think you all should read, too.

Exciting times as the Wild looks like it’s heading into the postseason on a high.

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