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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Niederreiter takes Cooke's spot on checking line; Cooke suspension length coming

Posted by: Michael Russo under Rookies, Wild news, Wild practice Updated: April 23, 2014 - 4:14 PM

Wild veteran left Matt Cooke and GM Chuck Fletcher were in New York today for an in-person hearing stemming from Cooke’s knee-on-knee hit on Colorado’s Tyson Barrie on Monday.

Cooke faces a significant suspension, one that is expected to be announced later today (I'll blog later when ruling is out). Remember, Cooke can appeal any suspension to Commissioner Gary Bettman and any suspension six games or more to a neutral arbitrator. He cannot play during any appeals process.

So at the very minimum, we shouldn’t expect to see Cooke again in the first round. Want to hear my thoughts on Cooke and other interesting things? Last night, I did another edition of Denver Post Avs beat writer Adrian Dater’s Podcast, “Hockey Talk.” Fox 9’s Dawn Mitchell also joins! We talk about a number of interesting things, I think. Here’s the link!!! It’s about an hour. Last week’s one is also on iTunes. (free).

Good day from the X, the site of Game 4 Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. CT. The NHL has announced that Game 5 will be at 7:30 p.m. MT/8:30 p.m. CT on Saturday from the Pepsi Center in Denver.

With Cooke suspended, youngster Nino Niederreiter will take Cooke’s spot on the left side of the shutdown line with rookies Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine on Thursday. Haula, Fontaine and Cooke were largely credited for helping slow the Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Nathan MacKinnon line in Monday’s 1-0 OT win.

Fontaine and Haula were quick to say it was a team effort of five-man units, good gaps and large portions of the game played in the offensive zone. That must continue.

If you remember, in almost identical circumstances, the Wild returned to Minnesota to play Game 3 last year against the Blackhawks. In almost identical circumstances, the Wild needed an overtime win (Jason Zucker’s heroics off Matt Cullen’s setup) to beat Chicago in a game the Wild dominated. Sound familiar?

The Wild then came out in Game 4, started well, didn’t score, went 0 for 6 on the power play and lost 3-0 to the Blackhawks. That set the stage for a Game 5 blowout.

You know that Colorado will come out a desperate team in Game 4 because it knows a victory means it can close the series at home Saturday. The Wild must exceed that desperation Thursday to even up the series.

With Cooke coming out of the lineup, Kyle Brodziak enters back in the fray. Scratched in Game 3, Brodziak will center the fourth line with Dany Heatley and Cody McCormick.

Here’s some of coach Mike Yeo’s thoughts from today:

On putting Niederreiter on that third line: "Yeah, obviously like I said yesterday there's some things we discussed, different scenarios we could have tried. Probably looking at the way Haulzie and Fonzie played, trying to keep that intact. Adding a guy who can be strong on the puck, whose responsible defensively and can play a strong two-way game and that was important to us. Obviously a good challenge for three young kids."

Concerned about youth? “Listen, they're a big part of our team. We have confidence in those guys so we're not going to try to hide anybody out here. Obviously if we feel it's not working, I'm comfortable with any line. I'm comfortable with any of our centermen. If that's their assignment they'll take care of it and if we put somebody else on the task they'll have to take care of it too”

Evaluate Niederreiter’s year: “I think it's been very good. It would be easy to sit here and say he started off one way and finished another. It's the time of year where the hockey has improved and the pace of play has improved. What I really appreciate about him is we've been able to insert him into different roles. We've put him in a scoring role, we've put him in a checking role and he's always sort of adapted. To me, that's the sign of a good player. That's the sign of a guy who's going to have a good career. He's not pigeon-holed. For a player like that, big strong, physical guy he has skill. I feel really good about how he's developed and I think it's been a good first year for him here.”

Urgency needed Thursday: “Well, there better be. It’s not like we’re ahead in the series here. We’re down and I think we recognize that they’re going to come in with a real strong effort next game. i think that they recognize the importance of the next game, let’s not kid ourselves, and I think we should too. We would love the opportunity to go back to Colorado with some momentum, we’d love the opportunity to go back to Colorado and hopefully they’re feeling a bit of pressure. I think that game is going to be an important one.”

Last year proof of that?: “That’s part of it. Let’s not kid ourselves, we know it’s a swing game, for sure. I look closely at that game last year, we had a real good start and then the game kind of got away from us. I think what’s important is, we understand the result we want to have but there’s a way we have to do it and there’s a way we have to play the game. We have to make sure we’re ready for that.”

Built up momentum in Game 3, does Cooke let air out of the balloon?: “It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen. We started the game really well, we built momentum and they started to come on as the game went on. I thought we were actually tight starting overtime. Getting that goal was big for us because it felt like that was the first sign of us starting  to fear that maybe something was getting away from us. I think getting that goal was huge, for me momentum it’s always there, it’s always something that you feel but at the same time, it’s always something you have to establish and keep or establish. So, going into next game, I think both teams will recognize the importance of the start. I know they’re going to come out hard and obviously our guys are going to have to too. We’re going to have to be ready to, not only come out hard, but sharp. If they’re going to pressure harder, we have to move the puck a little bit better, if they;re going to play more physical, we’re going to have to be ready to take hits to make plays, whatever the case is, at the same time, we’re gotta make sure that we’re ready to dictate and not just sit there see what they’re going to bring.” 

Brodziak, what do you want?: “You know, the same things that we always want from him. Obviously penalty killing will be important and sort of a defensive-minded presence on the ice but a guy who’s going to be play the game hard both ends of the ice and a guy who’s going to be strong on the puck. That’s really not a big change for him, and I’m confident he’ll come in and play well.”

Heatley, and how well he played: “I was real happy to see the way that he came in. I give real credit to him the way that he’s handled himself since being out. For a veteran guy like that and the success that he’s had, to not start in our lineup, he handled it with a great deal of professionalism. But more importantly he made sure that he was ready. The fact that he’s been around, that he understands that there’s going to be changes for injury or performance. He made sure that he was ready, and obviously if he keeps going the way he’s at, it’s a great thing for us and he’ll continue to get more opportunities.”

Who initiates physical play now without Cooke?: “I think that typically we’re not a team that one looks to one guy and sees how he’s playing and then we all react to it. We had the opportunity before Game 3 where I met with every player and just kind of figured out where they’re at mentally, and they sat there and told me what they were going to bring. We have an attitude as a group that we all play sort of the same way of how we play without the puck, how we play with the puck and again, whether that’s finishing a check or how you play in your own zone, or how that’s how you execute with the puck, we try to all be on the same page. So I would expect the same tomorrow.”

On Thursday, I'll be on KFAN at some time in the morning on P.A.'s show (9:55 a.m. subject to change), on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio Sirius 207 XM 211 at 3:20 p.m., on NHL Network's NHL Live (arena cam) at 5:35 p.m. and on KFAN with Barreiro at 5:55 p.m.

Joey Hishon, the 2010 first-round pick by the Avs, has been recalled and will make his NHL debut on Colorado's fourth line and the power play. Ryan Wilson replaced Barrie on the blue line.

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