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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After two big home wins over the Avs, the Wild now must win on the road

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild game coverage Updated: April 25, 2014 - 1:14 AM

Nobody has won on the road in this series. The Wild knows that if it wants to advance to the second round and play the winner of Chicago-St. Louis, it must win one in Denver.

After the way the Wild played at home these past two games – the latest being tonight’s 2-1 victory in Game 4 to even the series, you know the Wild’s feeling confident heading back to Denver for Game 5 on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. CT).

And you know the young Avs are feeling the pressure now.

If you watched the 125 minutes, 8 seconds of hockey played in Games 3 and 4, you know the Wild played two of the most dominating 1-0 and 2-1 games ever played.

There was barely a minute of these two games that the Wild didn’t dictate or at least control. The Wild almost always had the puck. The Wild almost always won the battle or got to the loose puck first or spent time in Semyon Varlamov’s end.

The Avs wasted two dominating performances by Varlamov.

“You just have to keep shooting and getting traffic and making it tough on him,” Zach Parise said. “I like our chances if we’re throwing 35, 40 on him a night. We’ll get a few by him.”

Monday, Varly stopped 45 of 46, beaten on the last shot of the game by Mikael Granlund. Tonight, the Avs were outshot 32-12, 14-3 in the first period. Between Ryan O’Reilly’s goal with 6:35 left in the second on Colorado’s seventh shot of the game, the Avs went the next 14 minutes without a shot.

The 12 shots against were a franchise-record by the Wild in the playoffs.

Jared Spurgeon scored his first career playoff goal. Charlie Coyle, with his pops in the crowd, scored his third goal of the series, first career power-play playoff goal and first career winning goal in the playoffs. And Darcy Kuemper only had to make 11 saves for his second career playoff win. His biggest came in the final minute with the Avs on a 6-on-4 power play (extra attacker, Jonas Brodin in the box).

He denied O’Relly from point-blank range.

Most my gamer centers around the play of Granlund, who assisted on Spurgeon’s goal, drew three power plays, won 8 of 12 faceoffs and blocked three Erik Johnson shots in the final minute of the game, including one without his stick and one with four seconds left to even up the series 2-2.

"He’s one of those guys you want to have on your side," said buddy Erik Haula.

It says everything about the respect level that coach Mike Yeo has in Granlund that three nights ago, he’s scoring a highlight-reel goal in OT and tonight Yeo has him on the PK with a minute left to win a game.

This isn’t your garden-variety, smallish, perimeter playmaker. He doesn’t shy from physicality, traffic, the front of the net or oncoming shots from sharp-shooters.  

Great job by all the penalty killers in the end. First group was Haula-Mikko Koivu-Ryan Suter-Spurgeon; Second group was Granlund-Parise-Marco Scandella-Nate Prosser.

You’ve got to love the job Nino Niederreiter-Haula-Justin Fontaine did tonight. They were solid, especially Haula on the 4 for 4 PK that is now 13 for 14 in the series. Parise now has five assists in the series.

The Wild dominated this game so much, Patrick Roy broke up his top two lines by the end of the first.

Please read the game story on www.startribune.com/wild for more details and quotes, but (most quotes courtesy of Rachel Blount because I had to run back upstairs after working the Wild room and write) …

Yeo on the incredible crowd, who stood for a lot of this game and made noise with sustained energy throughout: “Obviously we’ve had some exciting games since I’ve been here in this building, but I’ve never heard anything like that tonight. That was fun.”

On Granlund’s blocks at the end: “This is sort of the attitude our whole group has. Everybody’s committed to playing a certain way. When you go out and you do that, then a different guy has that opportunity. A guy like that has an opportunity to create a great goal last game, but being out in a penalty killing situation like he was at the end of the game and knowing how important that is and knowing what his teammates need from him, that’s what we've seen from everybody. We want to get better as the playoffs go along. When you’re playing games like that and you get used to playing in moments like that when the game’s on the line and you have to execute or you have to make a play or you have to defend, whatever the situation calls for, and you have to do it when the stakes are that high, those are growing moments for your team and that’s what we have to look at. We saw a lot of that late in the season to help us get ready for the playoffs. And obviously it’s a new level now, so to continue to go out and do that hopefully these are growing moments.”

Yeo on the home games: “We were able to play a more complete game the last couple games. You can’t get rattled and that’s the tricky part right now when the stakes are so high. To be able to stay in the moment, to focus on our game and execute, the good part for me is that our habits, the structure in our game is so consistent from game to game to game that as long as we fall back on that we should be able to do that at that time.

On the Avs, Yeo said, “We still have an awful lot of respect. That’s still a very skilled group over there. It’s not a team that won the division by accident. This is a team that they’ve got a lot of very creative players and a lot of very skilled players. Whether its penalty kill or taking care of the puck or defending we have to make sure we respect that.

“We should feel good about tonight. We're 2-2 in the series, to be in this situation after being down 2-0 that’s obviously a really good thing, but at the same time we have to make sure that we continue to have that focus. The next challenge is the big one. We find ourselves now in a best of 3 and we like the way we're playing, but we can’t hang our hat on what we've done. Gotta make sure we're ready to go out and continue to take the fight to them.

“I feel like we're a better team in game 4 than we were in game 1. That’s the goal, we have to continue to get better.”

Patrick Roy:

“The way I’ve been all year, I’ve been very positive and I’m gonna continue to be today. I’m looking more at how our goaltender played, again very solid. I’m thinking that offensively, it's gonna come. I think our guys know that they gotta be better offensively, there’s no doubt about it.”

(young players nervous?) “It could be, but think about it, one power-play goal and we could have won game 3. Tonight one power play we might be still on the ice. When we get the type of performance we got from our goaltender, there’s no reason to not believe in ourself. Coming back home, we’re gonna have our fans. Offensively we're gonna need more from some of our forwards and they’re gonna have to chip in and be more involved.

“I honestly think the strategy is good. We just need to be involved. We just need to make those plays. Hey, it’s possible if you put a puck on net you're going to receive a body check, and you're gonna have to take those hits. And offensively we have enough talent to find ways to generate more chances and more shots on net than what we had today. In the start of the second period, Ii thought we had 2-3 good shots that missed the net. And these shots need to hit the net. Just look at O'reillys goal. It was in the middle of the net, went through the legs.

“These are the type of shots, we have to hit the net. We have to force their goalie to make the saves. And then our confidence is gonna come back. The thing I'll say is our execution is not quite there. We seem to rush on plays, we're not [being] patient with the puck and these are the things we're gonna have to do a little bit better.”

Duchene come to the rescue? “He won’t play game 5 for sure.”

Talk to you after Friday's availability and before my flight to Denver.

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