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 expects Blues to respond in Game 2; No lineup changes for either team

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: April 17, 2015 - 5:53 PM

The Wild and St. Louis Blues practiced at opposite sites today. The Wild had an optional, one though where the majority of the team skated. The Blues had a full skate.

Coach Mike Yeo said all players are healthy from Thursday’s 4-2 Game 1 win over St. Louis and there will be no lineup changes.

“I don’t really see a reason to,” Yeo said.

Similarly, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said no lineup changes, although he reunited David Backes and T.J. Oshie with Dmitrij Jaskin and Patrik Berglund moved to the Jared Schwartz-Paul Stastny line.

“We’re not making any lineup changes,” Hitchcock said. “We need to play better. We need to play our way at a higher level and if we do that, we'll be in good shape. I think every aspect of our game needs to be amped up a little bit if we expect to beat this team here. They're a real good team and we're going to have to be on top of our game to beat them.”

The Wild expects the Blues to respond and Yeo is interested to see how the Wild handles being up in a series for the first time in his tenure. Remember, the Wild trailed the 2013 series against Chicago, never led last year’s Colorado series until winning Game 7 and never led the Chicago series in the second round.

“It shouldn’t be hard to stay hungry,” Yeo said. “If anything, it should fuel it a little bit more. I think we still recognize the tough challenge we have ahead of us. We got the first game. Rhat’s great. But we there’s an awful lot of work to be done still.

“I would fully expect them to come out and play a real physical brand of hockey, try to impose themselves on us. I expect them to try to throw everything at the net and try to crash the net real hard. I don’t think that’s a real big secret, but we’ve just got to make sure we’re not sitting around watching and waiting to see what they’re going to bring at us. We have our own gameplan that we’ve got to make sure we’re aggressive in how we approach ourselves.

“I think the idea is when you grab the lead, you want to push harder and try to extend it. I think for us to feel any kind of satisfaction or be overly pleased with ourselves, I don’t think you’re going to see that with our group. We know it’s going to be a tough test. All we can do right now is make sure we put our best game on the ice and go all-in with the way that we have to play and see what that gives us.”

Hitchcock said, “I thought they outchecked us. Their determination to defend was greater than ours was. Both offensively and defensively they had more minutes where they made it hard on us. If you look at the 60 minutes, there were ebbs and flows. We were really good in stages, they were just better in more stages. They were much better than we were in the second period and we mounted a pretty big comeback in the third, but I think their checking and compete on the puck was at a higher level throughout the lineup than ours was.

I think they make you earn your stripes. So, it's our job to earn our stripes. They make you earn your ice whether it's in the D-zone or in the neutral zone, they make you earn your stripes. They check well. They're well-coached, they check well and I thought we had times where we let them off the hook when we didn't have to and that fed the engine that fed the odd-man rushes. We gave up too many odd-man rushes, but it was a lot of time when we had the puck and it was us having the puck in the offensive zone, getting checked off it, turning it over, forcing offense and then boom, they're gone and they got the foot-speed to go and we fed that engine a little bit too much.”

Zach Parise said, “From a mentality standpoint, the second one is so important for us and hopefully we can have the same type of game that we did.”

He said the pressure did not come off by winning Game 1: “That can be erased pretty quickly. We’d love to get out of here with a couple of wins. We did the first part of that last night and now we have to find areas to improve for the second game.”

Parise said, “Anytime you lose the first game in the series, you want to rebound and have a great second game. But at the same time, we can be better as well and we’re looking to put together a better second game.”

That was the theme in the Wild locker room today and clearly the message Yeo gave his team.

Nino Niederreiter: “[Saturday’s] a very important game for us. We know they’re going to come out even harder and that’s exactly what we’ve got to do too. We played some good hockey yesterday, but I think we can still crank it up another level.”

Charlie Coyle: They’re definitely not happy with their game. They obviously have more and we feel we have more too. You can never be complacent. We won. Put it behind us and stay levelheaded here. Bring that physicality back and it’s going to wear them down.”

Jordan Leopold: “We have a tough Game 2. Do we want it? Yeah. But it’s going to be a tough challenge. I’ve been in their room. I know they’re going to make some changes, look at video and do some things. I know what the mentality is and what the preparation’s going to be. It’s going to be right up there. They’re very focused. We need to be able to match it if not be better. They’re going to respond. We just need to stay with our gameplan.”

I talked to Chris Stewart and Niederreiter about Steve Ott, who was doing his best to get under the Wild’s skin last night. That’s Steve Ott. Just YouTube Steve Ott and Josh Harding to refresh your memory of his act.

But Stewart, Niederreiter and Jason Zucker (Ott grabbed hold of his collarbone real obviously) all ignored him, which could have the opposite effect, they said. Ignore him, smile and he and the Blues get more frustrated. Stewart said though don’t think for a second he won’t take an opportunity to return the favor at some point in this series after getting drilled by Ott yesterday.

More on that in Saturday’s paper.

Yeo on Jason Zucker today: “We needed speed to be a factor and I think we saw that last night. Speed for us is not about one guy and I think if you look at that one line, that line played fast all night too. That’s one thing, for sure he’s a guy that has the ability to break plays and push the D back and challenge them with his speed individually. But I think the thing that I was pleased with last night was the speed game that we played with and that’s not an individual thing, that’s how we play the game.”

I found this quote interesting on Zucker: “We’ve all know that he has the ability to finish, to create chances to score goals. His evolution has come and how he’s grown as a player and No. 1 how he plays without the puck. He finds himself in much better positions because of that, but his competitiveness is miles from where it was the first couple of years in here. He recognizes how he has to play the game, there is a conversation, I think we were in Long Island a couple of years ago (Russo note: this had to be last year) and just basically told him there is no reason you can’t play the game like Zach and that should be sort of a mentor for him in how he approaches the game, his tenacity, his work ethic his compete level and doing so, generate a lot more offense because of that.”

The Blues are 1-7-1 after long breaks. Yeo was asked about that: “We had the same break as them, so I wasn’t real concerned. We’ve got a lot of bodies right now. We had a period of time where we had a long break before we played the Rangers and we used that as a template of how not to use the week (chuckled). We kind of changed some things and I felt our guys would be ready to go. Plus, a long break in the dog days of a season are a different story than before you start the playoffs. Obviously you’re going to be pretty amped up and there was no shortage of intensity right from the start of the game. I was certainly pleased with how our timing looked right from the start.”

By the way, those changes he talked about? Basically that extra line of red jerseys were bystanders during a lot of line rushes.

Lastly, a cut and paste of Kevin Shattenkirk today. The always quotable Blues defenseman had a lot of good stuff to say, and you can sense the respect level he has for the Wild.

On the Blues being 1-7-1 when having three or more days off? It's a pretty weird stat. They had the same thing too. It's a matter of getting back into game form. Yesterday was a big game, there was a little bit of nerves there at the start. We just didn't get to our game right away, which ultimately hurt us, not being able to get on top of things early enough. We know what we did right yesterday and how we looked when we did and that's what we have to do tomorrow from the start.

Beating Minnesota? I think you just have to remember what the formula was. We were chipping pucks in, we were hard on our forecheck, the D men were getting shots to the net, that's important, they seemed to be playing passive in their zone, getting into shot lanes, not allowing anything to the inside, it's going to be hard ice to fight for, but when we did it, that's when we're successful. That's what we need to work on.

Hitchcock talks of keeping it simple? They can be a frustrating team at times because they're so patient in the neutral zone and their defensive zone. They're not really letting us into the middle and that can cause you to try to make plays that aren't there or force things. That's when we keep it simple, that's when we stick to our game of grinding things down physically and just trying to get pucks to the net and looking for those rebounds.

We know how to win at home. We still have the advantage on our side that we have a home game tomorrow. I think that's how we're approaching it. The first one slipped away from us, that's for sure, today we came with a fresh attitude. Tomorrow is important absolutely but we can't put too much pressure on ourselves.

Was the time off good for him? I felt good out there. I thought last night was the best I've felt since the injury. For me, that was the most promising thing out of yesterday, I felt more like myself than I pretty much have all year.

Back to the time off? That's part of it. They did it before too. They had three days off. I think when you're playing on the road it's easy not to force things and feel that pressure of having to get that game. I think we let that get to us a little early on. We settled in and that's the most important thing, that's what we have to remember and remember how we looked when we did.

Things you learned from seeing them in person, rather than on film or in previous games? I think just one thing that I've seemed to learn from them is you can't forget they played last year too and they had a pretty good playoff run. They showed a little more experience than maybe we knew they were going to have. They're a great team. They're deep like us, they play a very good team game, they have a goalie in net who's pretty confident and playing great hockey right now. We have to find a way to expose them and be able to pick on their weaknesses and open them up this series.

Puck possession a key to counteracting Minnesota's speed? That and not turning the puck over in those crucial areas, at their blue line, when we have possession in the neutral zone, making strong plays, that's what's key to really not feeding into that team speed they seem to have.

Wild faster than expected? It's the playoffs. They played to the best of their abilities and I think that's what every team does at this time of year. We knew they were fast, they showed it, they proved it, now we adjust to it, we know what it is, we know how to handle it.

I think the one thing we can work to do is with our size up front, we have the ability to get on those defensemen, younger guys, guys who aren't as big and physical as our guys, just really work and make them play hard. I think it's going to be tough for them to win battles against our big guys out front, that's why we have to get pucks to the net and work to find those rebounds because I think we can win those battles.

Getting more shots on Dubnyk? There was the opportunity to shoot pucks early and I was guilty of it early on, was having it on my stick too long and then trying to get it to the net. They were packing it in pretty tight, so when we get those pucks on the point we have to get it there quickly so they can't set their defense again. That goal was a good example of it.

Importance of scoring on Dubnyk? That's important for us. It's important mentally, to try to put it in his mind that we're coming and that's the way we're going to try to score goals. We did a great job last Saturday and we have to realize there's a way to do it. We need to stick with that game plan.

Talk to ya Saturday. I best write for the actual paper now. Plus, I’m going to the Cardinals-Reds game tonight.

Wild play what Devan Dubnyk calls "fantastic road game" for 1-0 series lead

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild game coverage Updated: April 17, 2015 - 8:46 AM

UPDATED

The Wild outshot, outhit and outblocked-shot (to make up a word) the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.

The Blues pushed hard late and Dmitrij Jaskin fluttered a shot over the net with Chris Stewart pressuring in the waning seconds before the first of two Wild empty-netters, but the Wild held on for a 4-2 victory to take home-ice advantage and put itself in a position to take a stranglehold on the series Saturday at 2 p.m. (NBC).

Lots of great Wild efforts all over the ice. Matt Dumba scored and battled all night, Charlie Coyle played a big boy's game with Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker put St. Louis on its heels early, Sean Bergenheim provided solid shifts from the fourth line, Stewart was physical and blocked a Barret Jackman outlet that led to Dumba's goal, Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line had a solid game, the defensemen looked good, etc. Wild scored two power-play goals (one was empty-net by Pominville, and gave up one shorthanded goal, the first shortie against since Jan. 3).

The Wild, 1-9 on the road in the past two postseasons, snapped a seven-game Game 1 losing streak with its first Game 1 win since the first-ever Game 1 way back on April 10, 2003, against Colorado.

The Wild was especially strong in the second period, holding the Blues to four shots and none in the final 8 minutes, 32 seconds. The Wild jumped out to a 1-0 lead 2:47 into the game on an awesome goal by Zucker.

With the Wild on a line change, Zucker caught Zbynek Michalek off guard by turning on his jets and flying into the offensive zone. Zucker took a tight-angle shot, Jake Allen kicked the rebound right to him and in one motion, Zucker sped to the other side of the net with Allen out of position and tucked the puck inside the post with the puck sticking to his blade like it was glued there.

“That guy's a speed demon there,” Allen said. “Good play by him. Wish I could have controlled the rebound a little bit better, but it was a good move by him.”

The Wild played an OK first. Five or six good chances, but a lot of one and done’s in the offensive zone and sloppy in its own zone. But in the second, after Matt Dumba scored his first career playoff goal on a power play, it was all Wild.

“They outplayed us in the second,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They were quicker on pucks, they were faster in the zone. We took some penalties that gave them some momentum, gave them a chance to rest. We didn’t build on the good first period.”

Hitchcock said you have to play simple games in the playoffs, and when the Blues got frustrated being kept to the outside, they played a “very complicated game and it made us look slow.”

The Wild, on the other hand, looked fast for large chunks of the game. Even in the first, the Wild was able to get going with speed and that was especially the case in the second when it sustained pressure in the offensive zone.

Things got hairy in the third when Jaden Schwartz scored on a redirection, but Mikael Granlund scored with an empty-net. That was big because Alex Steen scored with 58.7 seconds left. Finally Jason Pominville scored with an empty-net to seal the deal.

Devan Dubnyk picked up the win with 19 saves in his debut. The Blues are now 4-13 in the playoffs and as I wrote in my gamer you can read on startribune.com/wild, the pressure is squarely on them now after their past playoff losses.

“We have to leave this one behind and take the good things out of it but move to the second one,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “We know the further it’s going to go the tougher it’s going to get. We have to enjoy this one for a couple minutes and start to prepare for Saturday’s game.”

Coach Mike Yeo said, “That’s a good start for us. I think we have to make sure that we use this game, we look at the video and there’s certainly some areas where we know we can be better. But a lot of good things to take from it, for sure.”

Dumba had a great game, and not just the goal. He battled all night. Yeo said, “He’s a strong kid. He’s a competitive kid, and certainly not afraid to go into the corners. He’s got the skating ability to escape and help us execute in certain situations, but he’s got that competitive nature that’s a huge part of it too, especially against a team like this. It’s one thing to say you want to execute, but they’re going to find a way to create some turnovers and you’re going to have to find some opportunities to separate guys from pucks. That’s not an easy team to do it against.”

Dumba, during his celebration, said some words into his left elbow. Dumba was coy about what he was saying and said he may tell us after the playoffs.

Here’s some of David Backes’ thoughts:

“They came out and played a solid road game and we needed to capitalize on a few more chances, create scrums around their net with loose pucks. We just didn't get to the inside enough. The result is they win the special teams battle by a goal and a 2-1 lead before the empty-netters.

“I think we got better as the game went along. I don't know if it was nerves or too much time off or what. We didn't bring our 'A' game from the drop of the puck and they were able to score a goal early and then add a power play goal after that. Combination of staying out of the box... I've got to block that or Petro's got to block that; Jake can't see it. We'll take blame and blame where it's due and need a much better effort on Saturday. But the good thing we know it's in this room to bring that better effort.

“I think it's a conscious effort by us to go set up shop in front of their net. We finally did. Schwartzy gets a nice tip and scores a goal there from getting there. That's what we need to do. We can't do it again until Saturday, but one game's in the books. They get a 1-0 lead. Now's the time for us to make a few adjustments and find a way to win the next one.

“He made all the saves he was supposed to and on some he shouldn't. The power play goal he can't see because we're in lanes but not blocking pucks. The wraparound, (Zucker) gets around there pretty quick. He makes a pretty good play.

“You get down one at home and you hope to pick it up a notch and that'd be a wakeup call. It almost took until the third period until we finally got our legs going and played our brand of hockey. We had great chances and created o-zone time, looked more like our game and we needed that for a full 60 in order to win games against this team and another chance on Saturday.”

Lots more in the paper from Chip and I, and quotes in the game story from Zach Parise, Dumba, Dubnyk and Yeo.

Good win. Lots of series still to go, but great start. Talk to you after Friday’s practice. By the way, I'll be doing a 2 p.m. live chat on startribune.com before Game 3 Monday.

Wild-Blues more than ready for Game 1 of the playoffs tonight

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: April 16, 2015 - 1:59 PM

Game 1, tonight, 8:30 p.m., Fox Sports North.

Good afternoon from Scottrade Center, where I’ll be bunkered until about 1 in the morning.

Let’s get this hashtag trending: #NoOvertime#NoOvertime#NoOvertime.

#BadDeadline

I’ll be doing a podcast with Jim Souhan at souhanunfiltered.com at 4 p.m. and will be on KFAN at 5:30 p.m.

I’ll also be on Fox Sports North around 7:35 p.m., roughly.

Sean Bergenheim gets the fourth-line left wing spot for Game 1. His 12 goals and 17 points in 23 playoff games is the reason, coach Mike Yeo said.

“Third time I get to play the playoffs. I’m very excited. These are the best games for a hockey player to play,” Bergenheim said. “I don’t really analyze [why I’ve been good in the playoffs]. I have to go out, as everybody on this team, and do my best. Previously, it’s worked for me. That’s what I’m going to try to do and more importantly it’s what we do as a team.”

Niklas Backstrom will back up Devan Dubnyk’s playoff debut tonight. Darcy Kuemper, ill yesterday, is flying to St. Louis today and should practice tomorrow.

Yeo was loose this morning. As the tech guy was giving instructions to the media before the press conference, the guy who looked strikingly like Yeo (I may add) was unaware Yeo was waiting at stage right. Finally, as everybody was chuckling and the guy not picking up on it, Yeo finally chimed in, “How do you fix your power play?”

“Well, finally,” Yeo said, referring to Game 1 finally being upon us.

Why Bergenheim over Ryan Carter? “Comes down to Bergenheim’s production in the playoffs. Before we acquired him, we watched a lot of video and we watched that playoffs when he was real instrumental in their team probably achieving more than anybody thought they would. And the way he was scoring the goals are ways we would need to score goals in this type of playoff series against this type of team. Part of it as well is just matchup-wise, what they’re going to face as a line, we need to make sure we have guys that can defend but we also want to make sure we have guys that are a threat. If they’re on the ice against skilled type players, you have to be ready to defend but there might be opportunities maybe where you can take advantage of something too.”

Matt Cooke a possibility for Game 2? “Possibility. I’ve given zero thought to Game 2 right now, so I’m not sure on that.”

Yeo on the officiating: I try not to come in with an expectation. That way you’re not really caught off guard too much. You meet with the supervisors. It’s a pretty safe presumption on our part as far as the gameplan that they’re going to have trying to establish a physical tone. We’ve got no problem with that. you hope that the stuff after the whistles are eliminated. I don’t think that’s good for the game. As long as everything’s clean, we’ve got no problem with that.

Matchups: The depth on both teams makes it a little bit different. You probably don’t have to chase your matchups quite as hard. We’ve got six D and four forward lines that we’re comfortable being on the ice with anybody. For us to try to hide guys or we lose guys or play guys too much because we’re trying to chase a matchup, that’s not going to happen tonight. So I can’t speak for how they’re going to play the matchup game, but we want to make sure we get everybody in the game early and obviously you evaluate how the games going along.

Good to be healthy: Huge key for sure. It’s great that we have depth, but important guys are healthy right now and getting a guy like Zuck back before the playoffs was really important. He had a couple games to find his game and get used to game speed again, and probably more important for us to see that he’s at that level so we have the confidence throwing him on that line and on the ice as much as we have. That’s always a huge factor. You want your best players available, and then as the playoffs go on, then injuries are always a part of it and how you overcome that, the depth and guys coming into the lineup at certain times, that’s always part of it.

Jake Allen?: I actually [coached] against him in the minors a little bit too when I was in Houston. As a team, we break down the other team’s goalies. Our goalie coach, Bob Mason, does a good job of that. we have a scout, we show video. When the game starts, I think you have to be careful. I always believe the quick shot is the best shot, especially against a team like this. If you take an extra second to try to make sure you’re shooting to one particular spot, then odds are you’re not going to get the shot off or it’s going to have to be the perfect shot to beat the goalie. We try not to have too much thought into it where we’re focusing more on them than ourselves, but with that said, he’s a good goalie. First off, he plays the much well, so that will challenge us as far as our puck placement, even our forecheck off of that. But he’s a battler in the net, good athleticism and good positioning.

Was yelling at the team in January a turning point beyond Dubnyk? No, I’m not going to say that at all. I think that it was just something that happens. We were going down the wrong path, and we had tried a few different things. Status quo. And we had to try something different. It was more of a reaction than anything. That was caught on tape that day accidentally. These type of things happen behind closed doors most of the time and reaction to that was part of what we’ve been doing, but just the lull that we were going into that practice with. We had stopped practice once. That wasn’t caught on tape. Quietly and collectively just said this is not good enough and it continued on, so I had to try a different approach.

Matt Dumba’s debut and balancing the fact he can be an impact but needing to lasso him in? I think it’s important for him how he approaches the morning skate. I had a conversation with him yesterday (to say) the game doesn’t change. There’s definitely more intensity and there’s definitely more emotion and that’s the big thing. As far as his game, he should have the same approach, the same preparation going into the game. His play without the puck I’ve been real pleased with. He has to make sure he has a strong focus on that. And then just as far as what I’d like to see – early in the game things happen quite quickly. Things happen on the road, the other teams crowd is going to be into it, they’re going to be pressuring hard. Things happen quickly, so your first decision is the right decision right now. That’s what I want to see. Don’t try to over complicate things. I hate to say make simple plays, but start the game that way, give yourself a chance to get settled into the game. But at the same time, he’s a guy that has impactful and the chance to make dynamic plays. Our execution from our defensemen is going to be a huge factor in this series as far as how they want to get in on the forecheck, how they play in the offensive zone. Any time we can break that and execute to get our game going the other direction, that’s going to be a big factor.

Dumba, by the way, I’ll be writing about tomorrow and I got great stuff today was partner and former Blue Jordan Leopold.

Central Division? Five teams last year, too. And the two teams that aren’t in it, were in it last year. It’s a tough division. But with that, and we’ve said this before, any team that gets in is well prepared. You’re playing all the best teams and you’re playing tough hockey every night, tough matchups. The intensity is always high and the level of play that you have to have both with and without the puck I think prepares you well.

You seem to do better when they score first? I think we have a better resiliency and part of it is we have more offense in our lineup. To be able to come back, for sure it’s an attitude. You have to be able to trust your game and stay with your game. But you also have to trust your goalie and know that he can make some saves for you so the other team is not extending the lead. But for sure we’ve got some skill. And I think there’s that confidence with the group knowing some guys are capable of going out and scoring goals and different guys are capable of going out and doing it is a big factor in that.

Chris Stewart? He’s something that we needed in terms of a big, physical presence. He’s a guy that is always willing to stick up for his teammates, he’s a guy that’s going to be strong along the boards and is tough to get the puck off of. On top of that, he’s a very underrated playmaker. We know that he can score goals, we know that he can be dangerous around the net. He’s got very deceptive speed and I’ve been real impressed with some of the subtle plays he’s made. He’s been a big factor in some key goals for us since he arrived. One thing that I’ve been real impressed with is quite often you get these guys (rental players) in a trade. And a guy like him doesn’t have a contract for next year, but I think he’s handled it the right way. He’s gone all in to our team. Obviously he’s got a lot to gain by performing well and having lots of points, but he went all in to the team first and I think he’s been getting rewarded for that.

Sense him getting pumped up? I had a good talk with him yesterday. Of course he’s pumped. He’d be pumped if we were playing anybody in the first round of the playoffs. But there’s some excitement going against a former team. The big thing we talked about is making sure you use that emotion, you use that energy. But you have to control it as well. He’s ready for it.

Stay away from emotions? That’s part of the challenge of playoff hockey – the emotions are so high. Whether it’s through the course of a game when the other team is pressing or you have some success, you have to keep your focus, stay level headed, stay on task. And likewise from game to game there’s going to be times when things go your way and you’re feeling really good and you have to make sure you manage that. And likewise if things don’t go your way, it’s how you come back to the rink the next day and get ready to be at your best. 

By the way, Stewart is real tight with Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan Reaves. Both were in his wedding. Really close with Vladimir Tarasenko, too. Tarasenko, whom I’ll be featuring soon in the playoffs, told me today Stewart really took him under his wing. You wouldn’t believe how good Tarasenko’s English is. The dynamic player is ready to go and said what he did during the regular season means nothing now (37 goals).

Ken Hitchcock said he’s ready, too. “Nah, I'd like to practice some more,” he said, sarcastically. “The players are really enjoying that. Let’s get playing. Find out what we got, make adjustments, move from there.”

Nervous at this time of year? Not in the playoffs. I do in the regular season because there's so much watching of others. Not now. You've got so much time to prepare. It's the fun part for us, sure it's agonizing for the players going over details, this is really the fun part for coaches. Then you have to adjust after today's game and make inroads on getting better whether you win or lose. I think the wakeup call for all of us was the road team won so many games last night. It shows you how even things are. You talk about home ice advantage, it turns on a dime and you have to make adjustments.

Special teams? I don't think you're going to get a lot of power play in this series. I don't think the power plays are really relevant. This series is going to be won 5 on 5. I think your penalty killing is going to get challenged. There's a lot of really competitive players that play on the power play so how you kill penalties is going to be really important and whether you can get penalty killing done at the right time in the right phase of the game. I think it's going to be really important. I think teams that are on the power play are going to have a really difficult time. So many good, good players – they use their top players to kill penalties, we use our top players to kill penalties. You've got a lot of good players out there, it's going to be hard scoring against that many committed players. If you have a tough time killing, you're going to have a tough time controlling the series because there's going to be that little advantage a team is looking for.

More prepared to handle ebbs and flows of series this year? I would say last year really unfair to even evaluate this team based on the lineup we tried to put in at start of series, which was not even close to the lineup all year with. I think our team deserves way more credit that criticisms for how they mustered it up and played through the things they did. We had a lot of players who spent two months in rebab playing one series. They came in banged up, got banged up worse. It was a tough go. I don't think you can evaluate that. For me, when a team says that they're ready, it's that they're ready to handle the ups and downs emotionally. Because there's an upheaval during the game, what you think is normal in league play is not normal. You're looking at a playoff game in Nashville, yesterday, in the first period of overtime, there are seven odd man rushes. You're just going to have to deal with that. It's the emotion that the players put in the. The games in first series have the most energy, have most bizarre plays at times. You're just going to have to feel through that. I think that's where we're better equipped. We've gone through these emotional … last year the series was four overtime games, two of them really long. We've gone through a lot of that so I think we're capable of handling that a little bit better than we were two or three years ago.

Not many penalties. Why? I don't think players are going to be cautious. I think both teams are built on structure and discipline. I think both teams recognize you don't want to let other teams best players on the ice. My feeling is, like any playoffs series, at the end of the day, you end up winning it 5 on 5. We spend all this time practicing on the power play and then we spend 50 of 60 minutes 5 on 5. I think that's where the series is going to be won.

The goaltending choice, Jake getting hot when he did, winning the games against Chicago impacted our decision a little bit, not saying made it easier, made it more defined. The pairs we have right now are natural. We're missing a pretty good player. We're missing a player that can add to the group, if we need to put Bortuzzo in, he's played very well for us. That's why, a month ago, when Shatty came back, why we practice him so much on the left side. We just felt that Bortuzzo was a lot better player than we thought we were getting, which was good for him and great for us. We needed to put things in place so if get to that it's not going to be a surprise. Shatty played a lot with Petro, he played the left side, did very well on it, we're prepared to make that change if we have to.

Making big changes in the postseason, like pulling a goalie? I think you deal with every game a separate entity. I don't you say anything is long term, not in this day and age. I think if you've got two goalies that you trust and one's not going well, you move in a different direction. You honor the start and then you deal with everything day by day. You look at the series last year between Minnesota and Chicago, players that weren't even in the series had a major impact halfway through. You have to gauge all that stuff. You can't look at anything longterm, you can't look at anything, where are we going to be at Game 3 or Game 4. You look at it every day individually and then you make decisions from there. You've got to put guys in you think can make a little bit of a difference because that's the little edge you're looking for every day. Once the next day starts, you have to look at things pretty critically.

Be back tonight after the game, and follow me on Twitter @russostrib for live game tweets.

Oodles of Wild links to set the table for tonight's Wild-Blues Game 1

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news Updated: April 16, 2015 - 8:54 AM

Finally, Game 1 between the Wild and Blues is upon us. Well, hours and hours and hours away still, but at least it's finally game day.

Good morning from St. Louis, the morning after some awesome first-day playoff games: Chicago rallying from three goals down to beat the Predators with Scott Darling in net, the Calgary Flames proving they're third-period comeback kids again by rallying on the Canucks in the waning seconds, Fireworks already in the Montreal-Ottawa series with the Habs winning, PK Subban nastily slashing Mark Stone and Senators coach Dave Cameron likely drawing a fine by basically demanding the league to suspend him or they'll slash one of the Habs best players and the Islanders beating the Capitals in precisionlike fashion behind two goals from Brock Nelson.

--Soooooooooooooooooooooo, today I'm going to do something I'm sure I'll regret. I'm going to give Periscope a try. Like I need another social media platform. I'll give it a couple test runs during the Blues 11 a.m. morning skate and Wild's noon afternoon skate and during pregame warmup, so download the periscope app, follow me on Twitter at @russostrib and you'll see when I'm live streaming. I think that's how Periscope works. If it's not that simple, somebody please email me and give me intructions. smiley

--I'll be on CBS 920AM in St. Louis at 9:20 a.m. You can listen live at insideSTL.com, I believe.

--Jim Souhan and I will be doing a live podcast today at 4 p.m. You can listen live or come back later and listen at www.souhanunfiltered.com. Or, you can listen on spreaker, iHeart Radio, iTunes, your cool podcast app on your iPhone, etc.

--I'll be on KFAN with Dan Barreiro at 5:30 p.m.

--I'll be on Fox Sports North tonight. FSNorth, by the way, has an hour pregame show and also a five-hour Becoming Wild marathon leading up to the game (Jonas Brodin, Ryan Carter, Jared Spurgeon, Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Thomas Vanek).

I hope you enjoyed the Wild coverage in the Star Tribune leading up to the game. If you didn't catch the coverage in the past few newspapers, go out and grab them or go back in my blogs to find the links.

Today's newspaper is a must grab. Awesome cover of Devan Dubnyk.

But here we go with today's links:

My fun read on the man behind the mask, Devan Dubnyk

Wild notebook: Mike Yeo keeps auditioning fourth-line left wingers, Kuemper ill, etc.

Jake Allen gets the start vs. Wild, by Rachel Blount

Chip Scoggins on the increased Wild expectations

Wild scouting report

St. Louis Blues scouting report

Series at a glance (Wild/Blues statistical rankings, leaders)

Sid the Kid Hartman on the series

Also, your Blues peeps to follow:

@jprutherford

@lkorac10

@normSanders

@andystrickland

@chriskerber

@panger40

@tomtimm

I'll be back later after the, uh, afternoon skate. Thanks 8:30 p.m. game!

St. Louis Blues name Jake Allen starter for Game 1; Matt Cooke out for Game 1

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: April 15, 2015 - 1:07 PM

The Wild held its final practice of the week this morning at Xcel Energy Center and is now headed to the airport for a flight to St. Louis.

Game 1, finally, is at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

Our coverage today:

My big profile on Jason Zucker. Give it a read to learn a little more about the Wild speedster.

The Wild will be looking for Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter to step up again in the playoffs.

My feature on St. Louis Blues captain David Backes.

Rachel Blount on the importance of special teams and the need for the Wild's power play to get its head out of, uh, the sand.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock named Jake Allen Game 1 starter today.

"I'm looking forward to it," Allen said. "It'll be a good challenge. I've been working for this moment all year. To be able to get the start, it's going to be huge. I know we're all ready and excited to go. It feels like a long four-day break here."

Allen gave up four goals in his last four starts and will contend with Michael Hutchinson as goalie on the NHL's All-Rookie team.

Allen went 22-7-4 with a 2.28 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.

'It's been quite the year for me, a little bit up and down, but I found myself, I found my game. It's something that I've been working for since I first turned pro. I finally get an opportunity and I'm looking forward to the challenge. We're ready for a big effort tomorrow night."

Left wing Matt Cooke practiced today and isn’t expected to play Thursday. Sean Bergenheim took the spot that was occupied by Ryan Carter on the left of Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine today.

Coach Mike Yeo said they’ll take the decision into tomorrow. Bergenheim has been a playoff performer before, scoring 12 goals and five assists in 23 playoff games for Tampa Bay and Florida.

“It’s something different with every player,” Yeo said. “It’s kind of luxury for us. We have different players with different identities and one player can kind of change the dimension of the whole line. All those players have their strengths. With Bergie, he’s had success when he’s been in the players in terms of how he goes to the net, how he gets in on the forecheck, he’s created some offense. Certainly an energy type player.”

Yeo said, “We are expecting a tough matchup for that line. We need guys that are, No. 1, be solid defensively because I’m expecting matchups that we have to be strong in our defensive part of our game, but you also don’t want to defend the whole time. If you are out there against offensive-type players, then certainly there are opportunities to create offense against those guys as well. I think that that’s a line that would have that capability if he were to be there.”

Bergenheim said, “If I’m playing, I’m playing. I’ll be happy about it and I’ll do my best…I want to play in the playoffs and help the team. If I’m not, then I’m just going to keep on working every day and wait for my opportunity.”

On his success in the playoffs, Bergenheim said, ““I think it’s been the most fun I’ve had playing ice hockey. It is the playoffs. I enjoy it, for sure. I think I’ve had success before and partly it is because of the style I play.”

With so many forwards here, Bergenheim said, “Obviously it’s been tough that way, not being in the lineup some of the nights. Now we’re in the playoffs, we’re a team, everybody, if you’re in the lineup or not, you’re going to do the best you can every day to help the team whatever the role is.” 

Asked if he may consider Erik Haula or Jordan Schroeder for Game 3 (in other words, going with gritty guys on the road, speedy guys at home), Yeo said, “We’ll see what the first two games look like. I don’t have a plan beyond Game 1. We have a pretty good idea of where we want to go with that. Once we get into Game 1, it’s a matter of adjusting, seeing what’s working and what’s not working and identifying if it’s not working because you’re not doing it well enough or because you need to make a change.”

Cooke said he pushed hard Monday and it was nagging. Yeo said yesterday the discomfort wasn’t related to Cooke’s previous sports hernia, but Cooke said, “It’s all related. The first injury caused the second injury. I’m just dealing with it all right now. General soreness, tightness.

“I knew I was going to be in for this process. I pushed it pretty hard to get back and get on the ice a lot and skate a lot to make sure my conditioning was where it was supposed to be. It felt pretty good in the two games that I played. But it’s still going to be, I’m still in a situation that throughout the playoffs, I’m going to have to gauge how it recovers.”

Cooke said he’s available for Game 1, but it’s Yeo’s decision.

Yeo said, “I don’t think he’s ready for tomorrow. Certainly I don’t see why Game 2 would not be a real strong possibility.”

Goalie Darcy Kuemper missed practice today because he’s sick. The Wild sent him to the doctor to figure out what’s up and Yeo said the team will probably keep Kuemper away from the group. Niklas Backstrom is expected to back up Devan Dubnyk if Kuemper doesn’t meet the team in St. Louis.

Big game Thursday.

The Wild has lost seven consecutive Game 1’s and have fallen behind 2-0 in each of its last three series.

Of the eight series the Wild has been in all-time, it trailed 0-2 (’14, 1st round), 0-2 (’14, 2nd round), 0-2 (’13, 1st round), 0-3 (’07, 1st round) and 0-4 (‘03, 3rd round) in five of them.

Of the 10 times the Wild has played the first two games on the road, it is 2-8.

That's it for me. I have a flight to catch. Talk to you from St. Lous. Big Devan Dubnyk profile in Thursday's paper.

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