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 outplay Colorado from start to finish, rewarded with shutout

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: April 22, 2014 - 12:40 AM

After regulation, Mike Yeo went in the back with his coaches and jokingly asked, “Are we psychotic to put ourselves through this?”

Despite completely outplaying the Colorado Avalanche for 60 minutes, despite having the puck for nearly 70 percent of the time according to extraskater.com, the Wild found itself in a 0-0 stalemate with rock-solid goalie Semyon Varlamov and the Colorado Avalanche.

But on the Wild’s 46th shot, Mikael Granlund scored one of the prettiest goals of the Wild season and certainly the largest when he circled the net, won a board battle with Jan Hedja, spun away, drove the net, dove and scored while falling 5:08 into OT.

The 1-0 victory cut the Avs’ series lead to 2-1, ginormous when one considers that only three teams in NHL history have rallied from 3-0 to win a series.

“We were playing really good,” Granlund said. “We were creating chances, so we knew eventually we were going to get rewarded. We just need to keep playing like that. That’s the key for us.”

Granlund, who keeps on taking a licking but keeps on getting right back up, showed his courage all night by taking big hits and driving to the dirty areas with cuts to the net. He was finally rewarded, and so was the Wild for outplaying the Avs and shutting down Colorado’s talented first line of Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Nathan MacKinnon. The three forwards, who combined for 13 points in Games 1 and 2, had seven shots tonight.

Obviously the newly-assembled shutdown line of Matt Cooke (see below blog though and Rachel Blount’s article in Tuesday’s paper), Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine deserve a large amount of credit, but so do the Wild’s defensemen, who were so good tonight, and the Wild’s offensive attack, which forced the Avs to defend most the night from their own end.

“There were a lot of things tonight that felt similar in Game 1 even,” coach Mike Yeo said of the game the Wild also outplayed Colorado but coughed up. “For a couple games, we’ve shown if we’re playing our game and we stay strong with that, then good things will happen.”

Tonight had a bad feel though only because how many times do you see a team dominate, not be able to beat a goalie and then, boom?

“You see it so many times where teams get chance after chance after chance and then a fluky one goes in against you, but luckily that wasn’t the case tonight,” said Granlund’s linemate, Zach Parise, who had an assist on Granlund’s first career playoff goal and seven shots. “We managed to keep it away.”

One big reason is Darcy Kuemper, in his first career playoff start, didn’t allow it to happen. He made 22 saves for the Wild’s first-ever playoff shutout.

For awhile, this game reminded me of that Toronto game in October where the Wild thoroughly dominated, Kuemper saw no action in his first start of the season and wound up getting pulled after allowing I think three goals on seven shots in like 32 minutes.

But Kuemper was a different goalie back then and all had nothing but one start in Iowa before being airlifted in to the pressure cooker that is Toronto.

“He’s in a different place now than that,” Yeo said. “The difference is when we put him into this game tonight, we knew he was ready.”

“That’s a very skilled team over there,” Yeo said of the Avs. “We know they’re going to get some chances, some shots, and to get that kind of goaltending tonight was huge.”

Granlund loved that the Wild didn’t emotionally cave tonight under the frustration of not scoring. It did take three penalties in the second, but the penalty kill was outstanding.

On Granlund, Yeo said, “The last couple of games, the result has caused a lot of talk about the skill of their players, and rightfully so. They’ve made plays. But we’ve got good players, too.”

On Granlund’s goal, Yeo said, “The goal he scored was an amazing play, but his all-around game was very much the way he’s played for us all year. He’s had a couple of other plays earlier it the game where he was able to beat a guy down low and he was very aggressive to the net, and eventually he got rewarded.”

On getting back up after getting targeted, Yeo said, “This is not a timid guy. From what I’ve seen, generally when teams try to get physical with him he elevates his game. This is a guy that’s used to being a target, to being the center of attention since h was a young kid. Guys like that quite often find times in big moments to make big plays.

“To me I look at that play and first off you’ve got a player who’s very skilled, but it’s a strength play. It’s wining a battle, it’s his ability to get separation. …”

I’ll probably write more about Granlund Tuesday for Wednesday. I got a lot of extra stuff after the game and few funny things from guys like Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville, who gave Granlund the puck before the OT winner.

Granlund’s reaction was awesome. For a guy with head issues, he hopped to his feet and headed for the glass to jump into.

“I was hugging on the bench,” Yeo said. “I didn’t see the celebration. Let’s not kid ourselves, this was a huge win for us. Not only to get the win, but the way we played our game, we know that next game’s going to be even bigger and a tougher test, and we’re going to have to be real good, but there’s no question that we needed this one tonight.”

On the crowd, Yeo said, “It was a fun game. I thought the crowd was rocking. I expect a lot of the same for Game. 4. The playoff hockey, there’s nothing like it – the intensity, the emotion.”

Tuesday, the Wild and, I’m assuming, the Avs are off. Yeo will be available in the afternoon. Abiding by league rules when there are two days between games, no Wild players are expected to be available.

I worked postgame to gather extras. So I’ll be back after Yeo’s availability. I doubt Cooke will be available (again, read the below blog). My guess is Yeo goes with a Nino Niederreiter-Haula-Fontaine line, or maybe Kyle Brodziak or Stephane Veilleux draws back in to play on that line.

That’s it. Read Team Strib on www.startribune.com/wild (Rachel, myself, Chip Scoggins, Jim Souhan, pics by Carlos Gonzalez and Jeff Wheeler and a video produced by Shari Gross).

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