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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Bryzgalov to start Game 1 of the Wild-Blackhawks series

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: May 1, 2014 - 9:18 PM

Good evening back in the Twin Cities. Late blog I know, but a long travel day, followed by late Wild availability because of our long travel day, followed by a lot of writing for the paper.

Basically, just like the Wild had to accelerate its prep for the Blackhawks today, I had to accelerate an abbreviated series preview into the paper.

One day is not a lot of time to prepare for either the team or the stinkin’ ink-stained wretch.

Since it’s so late and our coverage is about to hit startribune.com/wild anyway, I’m just going to leave this blog to bare essentials.

1. I have received lots of questions from Wild fans whom they should follow from the Blackhawks media on Twitter. First, please follow our awesome correspondent, Blake Schuster, who will cover the Hawks for us when the series is in Chicago. His Twitter handle is @schustee19. The Blackhawks’ beat-writing crew may be the best and definitely the coolest peeps in the NHL. Follow, @TramyersCSN, @ChrisKuc, @MarkLazerus and @BrianHedger.

2. No update, predictably, from Mike Yeo on goalie Darcy Kuemper. The only thing we know is Ilya Bryzgalov is expected to start Game 1 with John Curry backing him up. Lots more on this in Friday’s paper.

3. Game 7 was the highest-rated telecast ever on Fox Sports North. The Wild’s midweek matchup against the Avalanche generated a 16.4 household rating in the Minneapolis – St. Paul DMA, according to Nielsen Media Research. The previous record, a 15.3 rating, was logged in August of 2010 by the Minnesota Twins (vs. White Sox). In the Minneapolis – St. Paul market, 17,280 households represent one rating point. That means over 283,390 households tuned in for the playoff series finale. The game received a 32 share, signifying 32 percent of the viewing audience in the Twins Cities watched the game. During OT, the telecast reached its peak viewing audience with a 18.3 rating and 49 share, indicating that nearly half of Twin Cities households were tuned in.

4. Single-game tickets for Games 3, 4 and 6 go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m. Tickets range from $49 to $146.

5. Smattering of Mike Yeo quotes from today’s availability:

Mike Yeo

What did the Avalanche series win do to the Wild’s confidence? “Certainly we learned a lot. We've got a lot of young guys on our team, we've got a lot of young players that are playing in critical positions in our lineup, but I think as much as anything, whether it's guys that haven't had a lot of experience in the playoffs or just us as a group not having a lot of experience in the playoffs, just learning the grind, learning what it takes to go through that mentally, the challenge that you face every day and as much as anything having the confidence of your teammates, knowing that we can fight through adversity and keep battling and keep pushing forward. Certainly we're going to face a lot of similar challenges and we're going to have to feel confident that we'll be ready to handle them.”

What did last year’s series loss to Chicago teach you guys? “Well, it taught us some things, that's for sure. It taught us the level. I remember parts of the (games) last year, where I felt like we were great. We had a great start and all of a sudden we lose the game 5-1, because they have an awful lot of skill over there, they're confident in their game, they stay composed, they stay with it, and then all of a sudden you make a mistake and they capitalize on it. Definitely a real good challenge. We get to move on. We're excited about that and now we get to move on and we have the great challenge for facing the defending Stanley Cup champions."

How much better is your secondary scoring? “We feel that we're deeper than last year. That was one thing we talked about going into the playoffs. I do believe that not having (Pominville) available last year, we didn't have (Heatley) available last year, we lost (Stoner) in his first shift, he had a great series in Round 1 (this year) ... I thought he was very physical and real hard on, especially some of their skill players. But it's a new challenge. This is a team that will challenge you throughout your lineup because of their depth, because of the strength they have from top to bottom. Their top guys are going to challenge your top guys and their depth guys are going to challenge your depth. It's a great challenge and one that we should really look forward to."

Challenge of the goaltending situation? “Ironically, it's not that much of a challenge to be honest with you. I even heard a couple of our players joking about it right now, because it's been an ongoing ... not just this year but it's something we've had to deal with the last couple years. And I give our players a great deal of credit for how they've dealt with it. For one, we've got great depth. Chuck did a great job at the trade deadline, picking up (Bryzgalov) and he's done a great job for us. Obviously we've had, whether it's (Backstrom), (Harding) or (Kuemper), all four of these guys have done a great job at some point during the season for us. But again, I think an awful lot of credit has to go to the guys and the way they play the game in front of them. So, those guys have done the job but our team has played a game in front of them that has given them a chance to be successful too, and that game hasn't changed. It hasn't changed from one goal to the next, and that's where I feel that we've matured a little bit as a team. We're a little more comfortable in our own skin, where we can play against Colorado, we can play against Chicago and there shouldn't be a lot of changes to our game either. We should go out and try to put our best game on the table and be confident with that.”

Does it stink not to get to enjoy first-round win more? "I don't mind that to be honest with you, especially kind of with their youth, with their inexperience. Certainly one thing that we have to guard against is just the high of last game and just making sure we don't have a drop in focus and just sort of the battle and will that we have to bring to the game. I think that if there was a few days in between, I would be a little more concerned, and I'm still concerned about it, but it will still be a good challenge for us to see how we come out (Friday), but I really don't mind to be honest with you."

On Matt Cooke’s return in Game 4: “This is a guy that we really value, because of what he can add in the playoffs. His physicality, I think, could be a factor in this series. His ability to get in on the forecheck and as far as finishing checks and disrupting and just sort of the awareness the other team has when he's on the ice. But probably more importantly than that is just his experience in these situations, his ability to help our young players, his ability to help on the penalty kill as a checking forward, so we'll try to keep him involved here."

Talk Friday!

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