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 aims to even up first-round series with Colorado

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: April 19, 2014 - 2:12 PM

The Wild will be looking to even up this best-of-7 series tonight with the Colorado Avalanche.

“There’s a big difference between 1-1 and 2-0,” Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog said astutely this morning. “And our road play has been good all year,” so … the Wild better do its darnedest to try to even this thing up tonight.

Said Bloomington native Erik Johnson, “We know how tough that building is to play in (the X), so we want to wrap up home-ice [advantage] tonight.”

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy expects the Wild to play well and hard.

“It’s only a game. That’s all we have earned so far,” Roy said. “I expect Minny to be ready for us and give a good push, especially the start of the game. I think the start of the game will be very important for us. We’re going to have to play our best hockey in order to beat these guys.”

No lineup changes for Colorado, Roy said. He also said he expects Matt Duchene to be out for the series. The star center isn’t even skating yet. Similarly, third-line center John Mitchell (concussion) isn’t even riding the bike yet, Roy said.

For the Wild, Darcy Kuemper said the rust is off and he will back up Ilya Bryzgalov tonight. Bryzgalov wasn’t bad the other night, but he certainly was sloppy and he has given up 13 goals in the past three games. With Kuemper back, there’s suddenly some insurance if Bryzgalov falters.

Kuemper said the injury he had occurred a few days before the March 31 morning skate in L.A. and it just progressively worse. That’s why he had to leave the skate early. He joked that it was a “body” injury when I asked if it was upper, mid or lower.

As of now, looks like the same Wild lineup because Dany Heatley, Justin Fontaine, suspended Mike Rupp and Keith Ballard got bagged after the optional pregame skate with John Curry.

Couple storylines tonight:

-- There were two 4-on-4’s in Game 1. Colorado benefited from one with a goal and does benefit by them because it’s faster and more skilled than the Wild.

The Wild also believes it got the short end of both of them.

“We don’t want to get in there. But you take enough cross-checks in the back, and it is tough. I think it’s a tactic that they’re trying to deploy. No question, when they’re down, of course they want to play 4-on-4 and open up a little bit more ice. We want to play hard between the whistles. Hopefully the people that are calling the game are aware of that and judging it the right way.”

In other words, Yeo hopes the new set of refs tonight is aware of what the Avs are trying to do. If this is a tactic by Colorado, it’s a smart one because the Avs know it’s natural that officials don’t want to put one team down a man after a scrum, so they often take two.

“We’re going to keep playing in your face hockey and as this goes on, we have to make sure we keep getting harder,” Yeo said. “We want to do it between the whistles. If they cross-check us, we don’t have to do anything back. We can look them in the eye and hopefully there comes a point where we can start getting on the power play.”

Roy said, “We certainly don’t mind the 4-on-4, that’s for sure. We like our speed.” But he added, “We try to get away from the scrums. It’s not a good thing for the game of hockey. I know it’s a good for players to show that they’re in the game. But we rather focus on playing a hard game.”

Speaking of playing a hard game, the Avs did a great job making life difficult on Jonas Brodin and Mikael Granlund especially the other night. They’re two of the Wild’s more diminutive, non-physical players.

Roy brought up how Landeskog’s check on Brodin led to the game’s first goal in Game 1.

“We want to finish our checks. Yes, there’s no doubt about it,” Roy said. “We don’t try to get him out of the ice (injured), but we want to finish our check. I think it’s fair and I think it’s the way the game should be played. And if these guys play big minutes, we want them to play big minutes. The more tired they’re going to be, I think it benefits of us.”

Yeo agrees.

“Physicality is a part of it. This is what makes this game great as far as I’m concerned. This time of year especially, you see guys who quite often don’t play a physical game … doing it. Part of being tough and part of being a winner is being able to take a hit to make a play.”

So Yeo says not only does the Wild have to do that to Colorado’s top players, Brodin and Granlund must do a better job protecting themselves. For instance, how often do you ever see Ryan Suter get blown up? It doesn’t happen.

On puck retrievals, Brodin must do a better job, Yeo said, “not only so you’re not getting run through the boards and running the risk of getting hurt, but also because that’s the right play to give you a chance to execute. If you’re not protecting the puck and not protecting yourself, it’s probably going to lead to a turnover.”

And, that’s what happened before Landeskog’s goal the other night.

Brodin said, “We knew it’s going to be a tough series. They come out hard. It’s their home rink, too. But I think we stood up good to it. You have to see which line you’re playing against. You have to read it. Sometimes you have to protect yourself, sometimes you have to take a hit to make a play.”

I also talked to Granlund and you can hear from him in tomorrow’s paper.

Erik Johnson said the Avs weren’t targeted those two guys specifically. He said it’s the playoffs and you want to set a physical tone and “in the regular season, we’re not exactly known as the most physical team.”

In the playoffs, you finish checks hard “because you want players on both teams to feel it the next day.”

Yeo said the Wild must do a better job being engaged and stronger in battles. He noted how on three of Colorado’s goals the other night, the Wild had guys on the ice.

“We have to be stronger in those situations,” Yeo said (see Kyle Brodziak on the fourth and fifth goals).

The Wild’s PK went 4 for 4 the other night against one of the NHL’s most lethal power plays.

“I have to give them credit,” Roy said. “They play well. They play a low box. We have to take more shots from up top. That’s something we’ll consider. They block a lot of shots, they had great stick. I mean, they’re well-coached. Positioning is really good. We’ll have to maybe do it a little more the hard way,” as in get shots through and jump on rebounds.

Huge game tonight that can determine this series. Teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup Playoffs series hold an all-time series record of 287-45 (86.4%).

Talk to ya tonight. I can’t even convey how hellacious my deadline is for 8:30 p.m. games, especially on a Saturday night, so don’t expect a ton of tweeting in the third period.

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