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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Matt Cooke returns to the Wild's lineup tonight

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: May 9, 2014 - 1:51 PM

Wild and Blackhawks, Game 4, tonight at 8:30, Xcel Energy Center

It’s been a couple long off-days, which is why coach Mike Yeo even began his presser today by joking that there’s nothing new from yesterday.

Good afternoon from the press room, where every cubicle if full of “hard-working” beat writers. I’ll be on KFAN at 5:55 p.m. with Dan Barreiro.

Matt Cooke’s long-anticipated return from a seven-game suspension tonight. He’ll skate on the left side of Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine.

“I’ve been ready to go since I haven’t been able to play, so the time is finally here and I just want to go out and battle with my teammates,” Cooke said. “I’ve got a lot of praise for the guys in this room. They’ve done a great job, battling with adversity, up in games, down in games, tough travel. They’ve done a great job and I’m just thankful that I get a chance to go out and play with them again.”

Yesterday, coach Mike Yeo said he would talk to Cooke to see where his head’s at. Will he be nipping at the bud to send somebody into outer space or will he be tentative?

Cue Cookie: “I don’t think it’s tentative. I trust the process that I’ve been through. I feel like I can go out there and continue to play the way I did the last three years, and if I do that then I’m going to bring energy for our team. I’m going to help out on the PK and hopefully help our team win.”

He did have this gem: “Obviously, I don’t want to see anyone get hurt and neither does anyone else, but you also don’t want this to be a figure-skating contest out there. It’s something I’ve tried to pride myself on, especially here over the last three years that you can play physical without being at risk.”

On playing with the two rooks, Cooke said, “Two kids that can skate really fast and really well. Erik’s done a great job. He’s been put in the situation to play against top lines and part of that’s his speed, competitive level and the third part of that is probably goes unnoticed his skill. We should look to go out and look to spend time in the offensive zone and that’s what’s most important for our line.

“Both kids were scorers in college. Not always do you get the opportunity to play that role in the pros. It’s the best players in the world. The fact that they’re in a checking role but able to chip in offensively is a key component to our win last game.”

Haula, on playing with Cooke: “I’ve played with him a few times. I like playing with him. He brings passion and grit and physicality and all those little things that are tough to do – he brings those. I enjoy having him on my side.”

As was reported yesterday, the Blackhawks will mix up all four lines tonight to try to spread the wealth, get more spark from each line and some more offensive chances. The Wild has held the high-powered Blackhawks attack to 22 or fewer shots in the first three games of the series.

“They’re a fast team. They defend well. They play their system well,” Patrick Sharp said. “Playoff hockey, it’s tough to get to the net. It’s tough to get scoring chances so. Minnesota’s always been a team with great discipline.”

I’d expect the Blackhawks to be much more aggressive from the outset tonight than they were in Game 3.

“I don’t know if we were laying back,” Sharp said. “You’ve got to give them credit for playing well. They make it tough to do some of the things we want to do but tonight’s a new night. Game 4, huge game. We want to come in and play Blackhawks hockey and hopefully come out of here with a win.”

Added Wild killer Bryan Bickell, “I think it’s probably going to be the best game of our series. I know a couple games have been questionable, especially the last game. We don’t want to be tied going back home. We need to get our momentum back, get our mojo back and just put in a full 60 minutes.”

Again, if the Penguins beat the Rangers tonight, the Wild will play a normal evening game Sunday in Chicago. If the Rangers win, the Wild and Blackhawks will likely get the short shrift again and play another late 8:30 p.m.-like game.

That’s it. Darcy Kuemper strangely didn’t take the ice today, and Yeo allegedly didn’t know if there had been a setback. Josh Harding did skate again with the Wild and even Niklas Backstrom was around climbing stairs as part of his rehab.

“I’m having trouble keeping up with all our goalies,” joked Yeo. “How many did we have on the ice today? Three. I looked out early [with the black aces] and there was a goalie I had never seen before.”

Later!

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Chicago 17 FINAL
Detroit 34
Philadelphia 33 FINAL
Dallas 10
Seattle 19 FINAL
San Francisco 3
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
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Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Edmonton 0 FINAL(OT)
Nashville 1
ULM 54 FINAL
Robert Morris 71
Santa Clara 57 FINAL
Tennessee 64
Oklahoma 59 FINAL
Butler 46
Austin Peay 79 FINAL
Brown 58
Princeton 56 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 62
Coastal Carolina 67 FINAL
Chattanooga 78
Kansas 76 FINAL
Rhode Island 60
Wisconsin 68 FINAL
Georgetown 65
FIU 53 FINAL
USC Upstate 68
Long Island 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 73
San Diego 71 FINAL
Xavier 82
Illinois 88 FINAL
Indiana State 62
Cal State Fullerton 67 FINAL
Wright State 62
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Saint Josephs 59
Michigan State 77 FINAL
Rider 45
UCLA 56 FINAL
North Carolina 78
Long Beach State 73 FINAL
Western Mich 55
Marquette 72 FINAL
Georgia Tech 70
Stephen F Austin 73 FINAL
Prairie View 61
UAB 47 FINAL
Florida 56
Rice 71 FINAL
Mercer 77
San Jose St 56 FINAL
Washington 78
Washington St 43 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 71
Baylor 71 FINAL
Memphis 47
LSU 23 FINAL
Texas A&M 17
(6) TCU 48 FINAL
Texas 10
Northern Ill 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11:00 AM
So Florida
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SMU
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Bowling Green
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Massachusetts
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Eastern Mich
Arkansas 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 7:30 PM
Tulsa
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
USC
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
California
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
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Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
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Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
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Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
UCF 12/4/14 6:30 PM
East Carolina
Hamilton 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Calgary
Hartford 43 FINAL
Furman 53
Clemson 77 FINAL
Ohio State 86
Idaho State 53 FINAL
San Diego State 68
East Carolina 58 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 69
Santa Clara 0 Cancelled
Texas-El Paso 0
Florida State 68 FINAL
Washington 80
Wichita State 39 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 56
Wisconsin 44 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 67
Kansas State 0 Cancelled
LSU 0
BYU 73 FINAL
BYU-Hawaii 52
Charlotte 58 FINAL
Montana 67
Illinois 77 FINAL
(9) Kentucky 71
Central Michigan 61 FINAL
Richmond 56
Oklahoma 68 FINAL
South Florida 83
Princeton 72 FINAL
Wake Forest 55
(19) Oregon State 85 FINAL
Butler 53
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