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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Wild rolls into holiday break with third straight victory

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild game coverage Updated: December 24, 2010 - 1:30 AM
Morning from Denver International Airport, where I'm about to hop on a red eye for a quick jaunt out of dodge for a few days. I love red eyes because everybody's got the same exact tired facial expression as I do -- hence the term, red eye.
 
Hopefully I'll get some sleep flying across the country. As per NHL rules, no practices the next two days, meaning no blogs either.
 
In fact, teams aren't even allowed to fly Christmas Night, so the Detroit Red Wings will fly into Minnesota on Sunday morning for a 6 p.m. game that night. Kent Youngblood will be covering that game, and I'll meet up with the team in Columbus on Monday.
 
So if I forget to say so at the end of this blog, have a great holiday.
 
Big win for the Wild tonight at the Pepsi Center, where Matt Cullen did just about everything besides the obvious -- his 13th 2-goal game of his career and 22nd 3-point night. He hit, he blocked shots, he backchecked, he skated.
 
Andrew Brunette scored a huge power-play goal to make David Koci pay for running around and Niklas Backstrom won his third straight game by making 36 saves. In the three wins, he's allowed three goals total and has allowed two or less in five of his past starts. Like I said last week, Backstrom's game in Anaheim was an aberration.
 
He wasn't sharp, but neither was the tired team in front of him in the second of back-to-backs (took nine minors, played overtime the night before at LA). It's clear Backstrom's skid of 18 goals in three starts is long gone.
 
His only goal allowed tonight was a goof. He made the save, dropped the puck to smother it and somehow let it slide out.
 
The Wild played a tough game against a Colorado team that was intent on playing a chippy, physical game. It was fitting that Koci was in the box for the Brunette goal and 2-goal Wild lead after undisciplined play.
 
Koci, whom I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually seen win a fight, challenged Jared Spurgeon, which made for a bunch of laughs after the game in the Wild room – even from the nicest Wild players.
 
Cal Clutterbuck, who got Colorado off its game all night with physical play and yapping, talked some serious smack after the game, saying, “There’s some guys over there, two guys in particular, I’m shocked they’re still even playing in the league. If they’re going to take a penalty, take a penalty.
 
“We’re on the road, we’ll take a power play any day of the week. If they want to flaunt their egos, they want to show how tough they are, well, guess what, we’re going to beat you, and we’re coming for them in the standings.”
 
Clutterbuck wouldn’t identify the “two guys,” but use your imagination.
 
Gutsy quote from Clutterbuck, especially since the Wild with even three straight wins still finds itself in 13th. But it’s one point from 11th and 12th and four from 8th and six from the Avs.
 
Clutterbuck drives the Avs nuts because he runs around, bringing energy, bringing big hits, but he won’t fight. Whatever you think of that, it’s effective, and I can count on one hand maybe in the past three years the number of Clutterbuck hits that even bordered on questionable.
 
For a guy who if healthy should lead the NHL in hits for a third straight year, he has 150 penalty minutes total. That’s pretty extraordinary.
 
Wild played a smart game, and as coach Todd Richards pointed out after, it was impressive the way the Wild settled the game down and didn’t get into a track meet with the fast, skilled Avs.
 
That was the problem in the 7-4 loss in Denver last month. The Wild just doesn’t have the horses to skate with the Avs, so you better slow the game down, get pucks behind their D, which was very suspect tonight, and go on the forecheck.
 
The Wild, after being outscored 4-1 and outshot 20-7 in the second period last month, was much better, much more poised in the second tonight.
 
That doesn’t mean Backstrom didn’t have to be good. He did make some great saves, especially on Paul Stastny three different times. Backstrom, with the exception of the last two outings, just slices and dices the Avs. In fact, the Wild’s 7-1-2 in its last 10 at Denver.
 
I thought Clayton Stoner had his best game tonight. Marty Havlat, Kyle Brodziak and P-M Bouchard line was again very good, although they didn’t have a point.
 
Brent Burns was funny after the game. I was doing my best to avoid him, I looked over and he was just staring at me with a grin. He thought for sure I’d come over to him after his “horrendous” game.
 
He joked that he wouldn’t have made an East Coast League team tonight, or a midget team, saying, “Thank God that one’s over.”
 
Burns, who has been so good, had one of his toughest nights in weeks.
 
Anyway, that’s it for me.
  
Pulling out the signature line from his mentor, Manitoba Moose coach Claude Noel, on Thursday morning, Todd Richards talked about getting “joy” in his life.
 
The Wild coach said his players could deliver that “joy in my life” by pulling out a big win against the Avalanche.
 
Nine hours later, the Wild delivered that Christmas present -- wrapped in paper with a pretty bow on top. It was a nice win. We'll see if the momentum continues after the break because even by winning three straight, they're still in 13th. It'll take a string.
 
I wrote a feature on Jason Zucker for Sunday’s paper, so check that out. I’ll also write my Sunday column on Jacques Lemaire’s return to New Jersey.
 
Have a great holiday folks. Kent will be on Sunday and I’ll be back with you on Monday.

 

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