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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