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.

Also find Russo on Facebook.

Email Michael to talk about hockey.

Wild youngsters soaring this postseason; El Nino on kissing Bryz; Bollig suspended

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Rookies, Wild practice Updated: May 10, 2014 - 6:10 PM

Afternoon from the friendly sky, where I’m taking a quick hop over to Chicago for Game 5 between the Wild and Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday (8 p.m., CNBC, KFAN).

The Wild and Blackhawks mostly had the day off. The Wild had an optional but a good amount of players were around. The Blackhawks made coach Joel Quenneville, Marcus Kruger and Michal Handzus available, so slim pickings.

Coach Q said Andrew Shaw (lower body) is unlikely to play Game 5.

Similarly, coach Mike Yeo said Keith Ballard (upper body) and Matt Moulson (lower body) didn’t made the trip to Chicago. Ballard, two games after returning from two months off with a groin injury, was hit from behind by Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig, who got away with a head shot in my opinion on Zach Parise in the final regular-season meeting.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety got him this time, suspending him for two games. Not sure if that helps the Wild or not. 

Yeo said that Nate Prosser will likely slide back into the lineup. The other option is Jon Blum, who played well down the stretch for the Wild when Clayton Stoner and Ballard were both out at the same time.

The Wild improved to 5-0 at home with last night’s 4-2 victory to even up the series. It has outscored opponents 16-5 at home, holding Colorado and Chicago to an average of 19.6 shots per game. The Blackhawks are 5-0 at home, having outscored opponents 20-7.

The Wild is 1-5 on the road, having been outscored 26-17. As we learned last round against the Avs, even though the Wild held a third-period lead and nearly won Game 5, it took its foot off the gas and lost. That put the pressure back on Minnesota, and the Wild had to win Game 6 at home and Game 7 on the road in order to advance to its first second round in 11 years.

By winning two games at home, the Wild has turned the momentum in the series. The players and coach Mike Yeo know that can easily change with a road loss on Sunday night. On the other hand, if the Wild can sneak out a big ‘W’ at the United Center against a Blackhawks team that is clearly frustrated right now, the Wild will put itself in position to win the series at home Tuesday in front of its raucous crowd in an arena where it has been dominant all postseason.

“Thinking back to Games 1 and 2, I said at that time, it’s not like we were that far off,” Yeo said. “We knew we could play a little bit better and I think we’ve picked our game up since then. Certainly when you look back to those two games, there were parts of it that were going well and then it was a big mistake that came back at us. I think we’ve cut down on our mistakes the last couple games and we have to make sure that we bring that in there. But with that, there’s been sort of a little bit more of an aggressive mindset in how we executed the last couple games and that’s allowed us to get on the attack a little bit more. It’s a fine line. We have to make sure that we’re playing smart, but we can’t be playing safe. We’ve got to take that attitude into their building.”

Big game, to say the least, which is why Yeo spent the afternoon reminding his team not to let its guard down. It’ll be a challenge, but the Wild has to somehow figure out a way to carry the same type of game it has played all playoffs long at home and carry it into the Windy City.

“It’s a huge game,” Dany Heatley said of Sunday. “But I don’t feel the vibe in here that we’re too confident or over-cocky right now. We know they’re a very good team, they play well in their rink. We’ll be prepared for that.”

The Wild continues to get tremendous play from its youngsters. From the Wild game notes, the five youngest forwards -- Wild rookies Erik Haula (23) and Justin Fontaine (26), playoff rookies Nino Niederreiter (21) and Mikael Granlund (22), and sophomore Charlie Coyle (22) – have combined for 13 goals (Granlund, 4), 27 points (Coyle/Granlund, 7), 81 hits (Niederreiter, 31) and 27 blocked shots (Granlund/Haula, 10).

“They’ve been great,” Heatley said. “Obviously a huge reason why we’re here. They've been great for us all year. Whatever role they’ve played, they’ve done a great job. Awesome to see the success there having in the playoffs. They’re all real good kids, they work really hard, and it’s been a lot of fun to be around them.

“I think everyone needs to step it up to win games in the playoffs. I thought towards the end of the year those guys got better as did our whole team. We went into the playoffs playing pretty well and those guys have taken it to another level.”

We always talk about the youngsters, but we rarely include Jared Spurgeon because he has been around for four years. But he is 24 and he has been dynamite since the first couple games of the playoffs. Look at the skill plays he made last night, having his head up to make the stretch pass to Coyle for the Niederreiter winner, the settling of Mikko Koivu’s pass and the patience to score the power-play goal.

“I think as we’ve asked our team to get better, he’s taken his game to another level,” Yeo said. “This is a guy that we have so much respect for as a coaching staff. Not just the way that he executes, the poise that he has, his ability to create offense with his execution, but he’s a very good defender. He’s got a great stick, he’s very smart, he’s a great skater and he’s sneaky strong. He’s a huge part of our team but again to see where his game is at right now obviously offensively this time of year especially playing against a team like this, you need some offense from your defensemen, you need to create some offense from secondary guys whether that’s from your defense or whether that’s from third or fourth line guys. If you’re going to have any success, guys like that are usually stepping up.”

And then there’s Niederreiter, who is coming of age this postseason.

It seemed to start in Game 6 last round.

“I remember that game that even his first period was sort of OK, but then something just flipped,” Yeo said. “He flipped a switch there, and it was just an opportunity for us to say OK, there it is, that's the blueprint for what we need night after night. It's been a work in progress, but certainly that game, for me, was one where obviously, he played a great game, had all of the heroics of the Game 7, but for me, a lot of that started in Game 6.”

In Game 7, on Spurgeon’s tying goal that he set up, Niederreiter gave Spurgeon a kiss on the helmet. Last night, after Ilya Bryzgalov made back-to-back huge saves in the third to rob Jeremy Morin and keep the lead at 4-2, Niederreiter similarly pecked Bryzgalov on the helmet.

Photo courtesy of Star Tribune photographer Carlos Gonzalez

“Yeah, that was such a big save. I was just so happy,” Niederreiter said, smiling. “It happened so quickly. Just being thankful I guess. I did that to Spurg when he scored the tying goal in Game 7. It’s silly but you appreciate stuff like that.”

The Wild leads the NHL with 16 goal scorers this postseason. Quite amazing for a team that lacked scoring depth during the regular season.

"Are you saying that we didn't see it during the year?" Yeo said, laughing, when I asked in probably a bewildered tone. "I feel like we're all improving. Everything's kind of cyclical, there's no question, but everybody's going out, everybody's contributing in the same way, but they're all doing it in their own way, too. The roles have been identified, guys have really bought into them, but just the team game, I think we've been very strong in that regard. Like we've asked of our guys, we've gotten better as a team, and that's what we want to keep doing here."

Talk to you after the morning skates Sunday. Enjoy your weekend.

ADVERTISEMENT

Philadelphia 24 FINAL
Washington 27
San Diego 38 FINAL
San Francisco 35
Minnesota 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Phoenix 99 FINAL
New York 90
Portland 114 FINAL
New Orleans 88
Utah 86 FINAL
Charlotte 104
Atlanta 104 FINAL
Houston 97
San Antonio 93 FINAL
Dallas 99
Indiana 73 FINAL
Denver 76
Milwaukee 102 FINAL
LA Clippers 106
Arizona 2 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Colorado 5 FINAL
Buffalo 1
Philadelphia 7 FINAL
Toronto 4
Ottawa 1 FINAL
Montreal 4
Washington 4 FINAL
New Jersey 0
Tampa Bay 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 3
Florida 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh 3
NY Rangers 3 FINAL(SO)
Carolina 2
Chicago 2 FINAL(SO)
Columbus 3
Nashville 6 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 5
Calgary 2 FINAL(OT)
Vancouver 3
St. Louis 2 FINAL(OT)
San Jose 3
VA Commonwealth 68 FINAL
Cincinnati 47
Charlotte 78 FINAL
Georgetown 81
SMU 62 FINAL
Michigan 51
Louisville 76 FINAL
Western Ky 67
Mount St Marys 45 FINAL
American Univ 46
Abilene Christian 33 FINAL
Boise State 77
UMass Lowell 63 FINAL
Duquesne 79
South Alabama 65 FINAL
IUPUI 71
Ohio State 74 FINAL
North Carolina 82
Massachusetts 65 FINAL
Providence 85
Syracuse 77 FINAL
Villanova 82
Citadel 61 FINAL
Virginia Tech 64
Belmont 73 FINAL
Fairfield 61
St Bonaventure 69 FINAL
Binghamton 51
Montreat 64 FINAL
Campbell 90
Delaware 74 FINAL
Fair-Dickinson 76
South Florida 62 FINAL
Florida State 75
Vanderbilt 60 FINAL
Georgia Tech 65
SC State 71 FINAL
Houston 63
Missouri 59 FINAL
Illinois 62
Truett-McConnell 55 FINAL
Jacksonville 84
Toledo 83 FINAL
McNeese State 69
Elon 71 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 64
Drexel 68 FINAL
Penn State 73
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Rutgers 68
Albany 64 FINAL
Yale 60
PSU-Beaver 74 FINAL
Longwood 106
Eastern Ill 60 FINAL
Indiana State 56
Indiana 82 FINAL
Butler 73
Marshall 58 FINAL
Arkansas State 67
Lafayette 69 FINAL
Kansas 96
Oral Roberts 63 FINAL
Memphis 78
Western Mich 61 FINAL
Northwestern 67
Delaware State 70 FINAL
Oregon 83
Fla Atlantic 56 FINAL
St Francis-NY 61
Arkansas Tech 57 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 94
Howard Payne 50 FINAL
Texas-Arlington 89
UMBC 66 FINAL
Kennesaw St 53
St Josephs (IN) 54 FINAL
Chicago State 76
Eastern Mich 77 FINAL
Missouri State 65
UCLA 44 FINAL
Kentucky 83
UC Davis 81 FINAL
Air Force 75
Houston Baptist 67 FINAL
UC Riverside 78
Davidson 80 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 68
USC Upstate 53 FINAL
Miss State 51
NC Central 94 FINAL
Miss Valley St 60
Illinois State 77 FINAL
Murray State 89
Louisiana 85 FINAL
Northwestern St 89
Oakland 77 FINAL
Pittsburgh 81
Detroit 55 FINAL
Rhode Island 69
Presbyterian 60 FINAL
UT Martin 77
Monmouth 74 FINAL
Wagner 66
Southern U 39 FINAL
Wyoming 57
Iowa State 83 FINAL
Drake 54
Wake Forest 50 FINAL
Florida 63
High Point 80 FINAL
James Madison 71
Texas Southern 71 FINAL
Michigan State 64
New Hampshire 60 FINAL
Sacred Heart 73
Northeastern 78 FINAL
Santa Clara 72
Huston-Tillotson 56 FINAL
Texas State 90
Purdue 63 FINAL
Notre Dame 94
Prairie View 44 FINAL
Sam Houston St 61
Xavier 88 FINAL
Auburn 89
Bluffton 53 FINAL
Akron 92
NJIT 84 FINAL
Central Conn St 76
Hofstra 77 FINAL
Columbia 82
Boston Univ 62 FINAL
Dayton 78
Iona 81 FINAL
George Mason 86
Valparaiso 75 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 72
Texas A&M 64 FINAL
Kansas State 71
Morgan State 69 FINAL
Manhattan 73
Saint Josephs 75 FINAL
Marist 58
East Carolina 54 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 66
Richmond 65 FINAL
Pepperdine 63
La Salle 67 FINAL
Towson 53
Incarnate Word 110 FINAL
UMKC 104
CS-Bakersfield 59 FINAL
Idaho State 50
Iowa 44 FINAL
Northern Iowa 56
Milwaukee 56 FINAL
SIU Edwardsville 61
Long Beach State 68 FINAL
Texas 78
TX-San Antonio 57 FINAL
TCU 88
SE Missouri St 67 FINAL
Arkansas 84
Lehigh 84 FINAL
Arizona State 81
New Mexico 69 FINAL
New Mexico St 67
Oklahoma 67 FINAL
Washington 69
Utah Valley U 61 FINAL
Weber State 73
Jacksonville St 60 FINAL
Northern Colorado 69
St Edwards 55 FINAL
Grand Canyon 81
NC State 69 FINAL
West Virginia 83
TX A&M-CC 75 FINAL
CS-Northridge 68
Cal Poly 50 FINAL
Gonzaga 63
Fresno State 68 FINAL
Pacific 71
Montana State 60 FINAL
Portland 87
Ball State 57 FINAL
San Diego St 70
South Dakota St 68 FINAL
Utah State 65
Stanford 77 FINAL
BYU 79
Utah 59 FINAL
UNLV 46
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 21 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 6
(23) Utah 45 FINAL
Colorado State 10
Western Mich 24 FINAL
Air Force 38
South Alabama 28 FINAL
Bowling Green 33
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Livingstone 77 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 81
Loyola-Chicago 58 FINAL
Dartmouth 70
Georgia Tech 65 FINAL
St Francis-NY 59
Auburn 49 FINAL
St Johns 56
East Tenn St 56 FINAL
Jacksonville St 57
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Detroit 57
Cal-Irvine 42 FINAL
Wright State 80
Gardner-Webb 47 FINAL
Kennesaw St 50
(7) Stanford 40 FINAL
(11) Tennessee 59
Alabama A&M 47 FINAL
Ole Miss 71
Central Michigan 45 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 80
Nebraska Omaha 50 FINAL
Creighton 67
FIU 69 FINAL
Western Carolina 83
Houston 65 FINAL
Nicholls 47
St Thomas Aquinas 45 FINAL
Army 70
St Bonaventure 72 FINAL
Niagara 60
Texas State 57 FINAL
Stetson 75
George Mason 65 FINAL
ULM 53
Grambling 38 FINAL
Kansas State 61
Missouri 79 FINAL
Wake Forest 64
Robert Morris 59 FINAL
Cornell 70
Air Force 44 FINAL
Abilene Christian 80
Hampton 53 FINAL
James Madison 85
American Univ 64 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 52
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 68
Tenn Tech 49 FINAL
NC A&T 54
Presbyterian 45 FINAL
NC Central 33
Penn 58 FINAL
Drexel 67
Lipscomb 38 FINAL
Xavier 62
Vermont 40 FINAL
Green Bay 60
Charleston Southern 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 80
Ohio Christian 62 FINAL
Akron 97
Jacksonville 62 FINAL
Murray State 80
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Iona 58
Indiana 88 FINAL
Oakland 61
Indiana State 64 FINAL
SMU 55
Denver 51 FINAL
Purdue 65
TX-San Antonio 48 FINAL
Texas Tech 64
UCF 57 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 79
Campbell 66 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 55
Florida A&M 67 FINAL
SE Louisiana 69
Northwestern St 61 FINAL
Jackson State 62
Lehigh 61 FINAL
Arizona State 81
Valparaiso 65 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 77
Liberty 60 FINAL
Minnesota 74
Wofford 60 FINAL
North Florida 68
Montana State 61 FINAL
Washington St 82
Marshall 56 FINAL
(22) West Virginia 69
Morgan State 40 FINAL
Chattanooga 55
Northeastern 65 FINAL
Harvard 67
Furman 51 FINAL
(15) Georgia 58
(18) Michigan State 65 FINAL
(9) Baylor 84
Ohio U 52 FINAL
Massachusetts 59
Prairie View 48 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 86
Toledo 64 FINAL
Southern Ill 48
High Point 57 FINAL
(12) Nebraska 83
Winthrop 20 FINAL
Wichita State 66
William Jewell 59 FINAL
UMKC 51
Louisiana Tech 52 FINAL
Utah 67
Southern Utah 51 FINAL
Gonzaga 70
Hawaii 85 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 76
San Jose St 62 FINAL
San Francisco 77
CS-Northridge 65 FINAL
San Diego State 54
Norfolk State 36 FINAL
East Carolina 65
Saint Peters 49 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 59
Arizona 60 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 72
Northwestern 92 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 44
Oral Roberts 52 FINAL
Wisconsin 70
Florida Atlantic 44 FINAL
New Mexico St 57
La Salle 76 FINAL
Georgia State 68
(16) Oregon State 73 FINAL
Nevada 50
Sacred Heart 72 FINAL
Villanova 49
Delaware 59 FINAL
Cincinnati 67
Troy 75 FINAL
Tennessee St 71
Saint Louis 68 FINAL
Utah Valley U 66
Washington 74 FINAL
UC-Riverside 71
Pacific 43 FINAL
Long Beach St 53
Old Dominion 69 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 63
Austin Peay 62 FINAL
Montana 83
Lewis-Clark State 48 FINAL
Idaho 74
(21) Miss State 73 FINAL
Illinois-Chicago 36
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite pro sports coach in the Twin Cities?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT