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 looking to put Game 1 meltdown in rearview mirror

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: April 18, 2014 - 5:04 PM

Friday’s practice was all about taking the good things from Thursday’s 5-4 Game 1 overtime loss to Colorado and repairing the bad things.

Since I’m a cynical beat writer, let’s focus on the bad things.

1. Managing the puck better

2. Being better in the defensive zone by pressuring more aggressively and cutting off the Avs’ cycle.

3. Being more physical.

4. Uh, managing the puck better.

On points 1 and 4, the only obvious lineup shuffle for Saturday’s Game 2 is third-line center Kyle Brodziak, who was minus-3, and fourth-line center Erik Haula switched spots in practice. Haula will start Saturday’s game between Matt Cooke and Nino Niederreiter, while Brodziak is expected to be between Stephane Veilleux and Cody McCormick.

The Wild could have put Thursday’s game away umpteen different ways – scoring on that power play up 4-2, Mikael Granlund shooting the puck on that one clear as day opportunity, if Erik Johnson didn’t race down Haula’s empty-net try, Jared Spurgeon getting the puck out before Paul Stastny’s tying goal, Jason Pominville’s shot not hitting the post in OT.

“The mistakes that we made were some big ones,” said Spurgeon.

Let’s be honest, though, it’s a game of mistakes but the Wild has Thursday’s game in its hip pocket if Brodziak doesn’t turn over the puck to Ryan O’Reilly before Jamie McGinn cut it to 4-3.

“The third goal was tough for sure,” Brodziak said. “I double-clutched myself and it ended up in the back of the net and was the turning point in the game. You just have to move on. It’s never fun when that happens. The most important thing for everybody and myself is how we respond, how we bounce back. That’s the focus for today.”

Haula scored his first career playoff goal Thursday and played well, but one big reason coach Mike Yeo will put him on the third line is his speed should match up better against Colorado’s speed than Brodziak (particularly Nathan MacKinnon; as I said before the series, I feel is the only Wild player that can track MacKinnon, maybe the fastest player in the NHL, stride for stride). MacKinnon, 18, became the second-youngest player in NHL history to have three points (all assists) in his playoff debut (Pierre Turgeon, 1988).

The Wild’s challenge?

Put this game before them?

“You’re going to face adversity in the playoffs,” Yeo said. “We want to get on a run here and any team that’s going to have any kind of success in the playoffs , you’re going to face adversity.”

Yeo said today’s practice was proof of a loose group.

“I think it would be a lot worse if we were dominated in the game, if we felt like we were badly outplayed. It’s frustrating that we let a game get away from us. But if we won that game, there are no guarantees either. It’s one game. There’s enough positives to take from that game where we should feel good about ourselves. The best part for me is that was a winnable game for us, but I know that we can be better.”

Yeo didn’t like the Wild’s response after Brodziak’s gaffe.

“We’re still leading,” he said. “We have to have a mentality that every play is the difference in a hockey game. I thought we got tight after that. Normally with a one-goal lead, we’re very confident, we’re very strong in our game.”

In the D zone, Yeo said, “I think we had too much respect for them, personally. I look at situations where we’re in D zone and we’re on our heels. Normally we’re on our toes, we’re jumping, we’re pressuring. We always talk about our structure, but it doesn’t mean anything if we’re giving time and space to great players. … I know we can pressure the puck harder, I know that we can take straight lines and go through guys harder,

“We can be more physical on them. There’s no question about that. I don’t believe we made things hard enough on them physical.”

Yeo said also that Jonas Brodin probably should be a little more aware so he’s not peeling himself off the glass every shift. OK, I’m saying that. Not him.

But Yeo said there are times the defensemen go back to retrieve pucks that it doesn’t benefit anybody to go back and get run. Sometimes you’re better off protecting the puck, protecting yourself and waiting for support.

Haula on playing the third line, “I’m just excited to play the game. I don’t worry about where I play. I’m just trying to bring the same kind of effort every night. Whatever the task, whatever the role, I’ll take that challenge. They have a lot of good players. It’s not one line.”

Parise said they worked on some tactical things that needed to be cleaned up today and “upping our intensity level and playing more playoff-style hockey. We did it OK, but not well enough.”

On being more aggressive in the D zone, Parise said, “You’ve got to be careful with skilled guys. You don’t want to overcommit yourself. We can do a better job of stopping the cycle earlier and being a little more physical and pinning them rather than letting them cycle and cycle.”

Parise said life goes on after a loss like Thursday. “You think about it the rest of the night. You don’t have a choice. You’ve got to come in today with a clear mind ready to learn and ready to see how we can be better. Playoffs are never going to go the way you want them to go. The quicker you can move on, not only from losses but wins, too, the better off you’ll be.”

Mikko Koivu also said it was tough to sleep after Thursday’s game, but “it helps when you get out there and get a little sweat. We went through the things that happened last night and now we just have to learn from that and prepare ourselves for Game 2. We did a lot of good things, too. We can’t forget that. We have to be a little sharper.

“It’s not easy. That’ hockey. If it were easy, you’re in the wrong spot. Now it’s all about tomorrow. And we feel pretty good about ourselves and our game. We have to fix the little things.”

Ilya Bryzgalov has allowed 13 goals the past three games. The Wild’s not pinning last night on him, but he has got to be better, too.

Of the loss, Haula said, “Basically, it came down to inches,” referring to Johnson running down his empty-netter attempt and swiping it inches from the goal line.

“I tried to get some elevation so it wouldn’t go for icing and we can get a change. Suddenly, I’m looking and it might go in. Then it doesn’t’ go in, net’s off, scrum going on and I don’t know what the heck’s going on. I think the ref’s made a terrible call there.”

Yeo said the Wild also plans to talk to the series supervisor of officials (Don van Massenhoven) Saturday to try to get a ruling on a few things they were upset about, like Brodziak and Cooke being bowled over by Barrie before Stastny’s winner, why Koivu’s net off the moorings wasn’t a penalty vs. Johnson knocking the net off, why that faceoff was outside the zone as opposed to inside when Johnson started the whole thing and the scrum, in the Wild’s eyes, was at the top of the circle.

Regardless, the Wild gave this game away and it knows it.

“They got goals coming directly off our stick,” Yeo said. “We had the hockey game on our stick last game.”

A big storyline last night was Patrick Roy pulling Semyon Varlamov with 3:01 left. He has done this a few times this year and said today he did this a lot in junior, including in the second period.

Earlier this season, the Avs pulled off the same thing against New Jersey (tied game, won it in overtime). He tried same thing this season against Boston, although it didn’t work and neither team scored.

Roy said every morning skate for the past month the Avs have practiced 6-on-5’s.

He's done it a few times throughout the year, with some success. He pulled Varly with about 2:30 left in New Jersey on Feb. 4, down 1-0 and they tied it and won in OT. Not sure what the time of the goal was.
 
He pulled him against Boston down 2-0 with five minutes left but they didn't score. Neither did the Bruins. 
 

“As a goalie I would love to see my coach doing that,” Roy said. “You want to see the team tying. It doesn’t matter if it happens at 3 minutes or 2 minutes or one minute. It’s just a feeling. I know one day it might bite us, but it’s a longterm thing. If you do it 10 times and you score four goals, it’s 40 percent. It’s pretty big. If you give up one goal, what the heck, let’s keep doing it. I think it gives us momentum, it also forces them to defend. We keep it in their end, they get tired. The longer it lasts the tougher it is for them to make the right plays.

“I never look at statistics. I think sometimes just go with a feeling. If guys have been on the ice for a long time we think it’s a good time. The matchup. I’m looking at this more than anything else. If you have the momentum I’m not afraid to do it early, even if it can backfire.”

By matchup, he means the guys on the ice. He said he considered it with four minutes last night because the Wild had Nate Prosser and Clayton Stoner (third pair) on the ice.

Johnson said he didn’t realize the net was empty until one of the officials told him (that was very nice by the official).

“I didn't realize it until O'Reilly said something when we were out there,” Stastny said. “I looked up and Factor said, 'We're pulling the goalie.' I thought ‘I better win this draw.’”

Most amazing about pulling the goalie with 3:01 left? The six guys on the ice were out there for the final three minutes of the game (obviously there were rests like TV timeouts and the scrum after Johnson’s save on Haula).

“But you know what, they’re standing still,” Roy said. “They had to move side to side because we were up and down. It’s like being on a power play. If you go on a power play you could be out there a minute or minute as a half. If you move the puck well it’s not as demanding than if you have to defend.”

You’ve got to love this guy. Roy does it his way.

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