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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Darcy Kuemper starts Game 3 vs. Avalanche, and other Wild lineup changes

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: April 21, 2014 - 2:02 PM

Today from 12-12:30 p.m., Mike Rand and I will broadcast live from the X to get you ready for Game 3. Here’s the link to click:

http://www.startribune.com/video/175907151.html

I’ll also be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. and on Fox Sports North at 5:10 p.m. and during the first intermission tonight.

The Wild was in the driver’s seat, up 4-2 in Game 1 until with less than 13 minutes left, Kyle Brodziak burps up a puck to Ryan O’Reilly, Jamie McGinn scores and the rest of the night was pandemonium. The Wild, 5-10 all-time at home in the playoffs, went from potentially being up 1-0 in the series to now being in a 2-0 hole with Game 3 tonight (6 p.m.) at the X.

For the first time in his Wild career, Brodziak will be a healthy scratch tonight. Justin Fontaine and Dany Heatley draw in, Stephane Veilleux and Brodziak come out.

Darcy Kuemper will make his first career playoff start and fourth playoff appearance against Semyon Varlamov. It’s Kuemper’s first start since a concussion and first start since March 27 in St. Louis. Before the injury, the second-half savior won once in his final eight starts, allowing three or more goals in six of those games. He stopped all 14 shots he saw in relief of Ilya Bryzgalov in Game 2, but starting in the playoffs is a different mentality than just getting thrown in. He’s got all day to think and … not freak out.

No lineup changes for the Avs.

Coach Mike Yeo didn’t divulge the lines tonight and did no line rushes in the skate, but the one line we know is Matt Cooke-Erik Haula-Fontaine.

Good morning from the X.

Why’s Brodziak out? Yeo said, “You’re down 2-0 in a series, quite often that happens, you’re going to make some changes. That’s where we’re at.”

Why’s Brodziak out when you’ve been reluctant to pull him all season? “With the trade deadline and picking up [Cody McCormick] and then realizing he’s available in the center position, Haulzy, the way that he’s been able to show that he can move up, this is not just on Brodzy. It’s also about other guys.”

As you know, Yeo will rarely if ever criticize one of his players publicly, so, “Brodzy, did they tell you why you’re out?”

“I think it’s pretty obvious,” Brodziak said. “I haven’t been playing the best of my capability. It’s a pretty big game tonight, so that’s about it.”

That’s got to make it all the harder? “It’s tough. Obviously you want to be in and helping the team, especially in a big game like that. I just have to try to reestablish my game and find it for the chance I get back in there.”

That turnover was costly, right? How’d you get past it? “It was a tough play for sure. Obviously a mistake at a costly time. To be honest, I felt like I regrouped fairly well after that for the rest of the game. I know we were on for the last two goals, but they were kind of tough plays in front that’s part of the game. And stuff like that happens. But I felt emotionally like I was OK after that. Sometimes in the past maybe I could have just completely became unraveled. But I thought I held it together alright. But then last game wasn’t my best game and emotions probably got the best of me.”

On Heatley playing, he’s excited. Yeo wouldn’t say if Heatley’s on the second line or the fourth (Matt Moulson hasn’t played well, so it wouldn’t shock me if Heatley did get to that second line, but we’ll see tonight). Yeo said, “[Heatley’s] played well against these guys this year. Veteran presence, a guy who’s got a lot of experience in the playoffs. We’re adding a guy who … has more playoff points than anybody on our team. It’s not an incredibly difficult situation there.

“This is a guy that’s been just an unbelievable pro. He’s used this time, he’s worked, he’s had a great attitude for his teammates. I’m excited. I’m really hoping that he comes in and has a great game, obviously for our team. But the way that he’s handled this, I’m cheering for him too.”

Yeo on Cooke-Haula-Fontaine: “Their top line has done a lot of damage for them, but it’s not like their third or fourth lines are getting eaten up either. You need everybody. We’re going to need our top line going and be strong in their roles, we’re going to need our third and fourth lines going and be strong in their roles. That’s playoff hockey.”

On Fontaine, Yeo says, “he’s positionally sound, he’s surprisingly competitive, strong on the puck. As much as anything else, it’s his composure, it’s his ability to make plays on the wall.”

Fontaine is excited to make his NHL playoff debut.

On whether being at home will help him get better matchups, Yeo said, “Listen their top line is playing really well. And we’ve talked about this an awful lot and I get it. But I’m focused on our team and I’m confident with our guys against anybody. We’ve got some great players in our own right. They’re feeling good and it’s up to us to take that away from them.”

So Yeo said there could be personnel matchups, there might be situational matchups, but “I’ve got no problem throwing out a Mikko or a Granny at any time in any point of the game against those guys. I’m not going to let matchups dictate this game. I want our guys focused on ourselves. When we do that, we’re a tough team to play against.”

Yeo is going with the same D, meaning Jon Blum is scratched. When a reporter asked about why no Blum for Clayton Stoner, Yeo said Stoner has played well. “I have no problem with his game at all.”

The Moulson-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line hasn’t produced. We’ll see if Yeo tinkers with them tonight. He says they’ve had a “score every touch mentality. They’re getting the puck, and just ‘I’m going to turn this one particular play into a goal,’ which quite often means you’re not  moving your feet, you’re forcing plays, you’re making some high risk plays or hope plays, which leads to more backcheck.”

Yeo said he met with the team yesterday and each player individually, which is not uncommon, to get them “reset, refocused and reenergized.”

The Wild is hoping for a loud rink that can rival Pepsi Center, which was electric. The Wild’s home crowd is known as one of the quietest in the NHL.

“The excitement, I’m hoping the building is rocking and I think that it will be,” Yeo said. “You come into the building in the playoffs and there’s a different feel. There’s an electricity, there’s a vibe that everybody seems to be picking up on. So I think that’s going to be there. I think our crowd’s going to be great tonight.”

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