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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Good win for the Wild tonight, hanging on to beat the Rangers, who are similarly desperate in the East, 2-1, in a tight-checking, in-your-face affair.
These are the type of games the Wild must win down the stretch. Wild wins 2-1. Phoenix loses 2-1, and now the Wild can feel a little more breathing room.
Coach Mike Yeo loved that both goals the Wild scored were “the kind of goals that you can score in the playoffs,” one off a hard forecheck by Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke to create Nino Niederreiter’s 12th goal of the season and the second in a net-crashing display by the Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line.
Granlund attacked the net from the side and Talbot turned away three shots by Granlund and Pominville before Parise scored his 23rd goal (10th in the third period) and 46th career game winner 1:03 into the third.
From there, Darcy Kuemper was brilliant. In his 18th start in 19 games, he made 16 of his 29 saves in the third period to bounce back from a rare average game against the Oilers.
One of the subplots tonight was Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle.
The most impressive part of Granlund’s game the past two months has been his consistency. But like most young 20-somethings, we’ve seen large variance in performances from Niederreiter and Coyle. I thought both were real good against St. Louis, I thought both had tough games against Edmonton.
Tonight, Yeo felt Niederreiter was going early, so in the second period, Yeo popped Niederreiter up to the Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu line and dropped Coyle to the Cooke-Brodziak line. From that point, Coyle was outstanding.
“The switch in lines kind of sparked Charlie,” Yeo said. “Whether he wanted to make a point or I’m not sure what it was, but from that point on , he was really moving his feet and attacking. Nino was a presence right from the start.”
Yeo said when he knows both players are going is when they’re engaged physically, and when that happens, “everything else falls into place.” That was the case for Niederreiter all game, Yeo said, and Coyle the last two periods.
Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin looked to have a tough start to the game, but they rebounded nicely and rebounded from a tough night Tuesday by being plus-2’s.
Granlund won 11 of 16 faceoffs and has now won 22 of 29 the past two games. The Wild won 40 of 69 tonight. There were a lot of stoppages tonight. The first two periods were tough to watch at times just because both teams checked really well and gave the other very little. These are the type of games the Wild will have to win down the stretch, Yeo said.
The Wild has played in six straight one-goal games. I joked on Twitter that the Wild is on fire because it now has points in three straight overall (1-0-2) and nine in a row at home (7-0-2). That’s called, fun with numbers, NHL-style.
Nice response from the Wild after Hastings’ Derek Stepan tied the score on a power play in the second. Brodziak has been in the penalty box three times in four games when the opposing team has scored a power-play goal, so he best cut that out. He took a delay of game penalty also with 3:20 left, which caused a frantic last few minutes.
So, the sky isn’t falling after all. The Wild closes its homestand Saturday against very scrappy and very desperate Columbus, which always plays the Wild well home and away, especially under former Wild coach Todd Richards.
The Wild’s now five points up on Dallas and six on Phoenix, which lost tonight to the Bruins, who have won seven in a row. The Wild opens a three-game trip in Boston on St. Patrick’s Day Monday. The Wild’s 6-0 all-time at Boston, but this Bruins team is a true Cup contender and plays a Western Conference brand of hockey.
That’s it for now. Check out the game story for all the quotes and stories from the game, including Mike Greenlay taking a stick to the face during the game. Yeo said Greenlay is day-to-day with an "upper-body injury."
Talk to you Friday from practice.
You’re all Wild fans (at least I assume since you read this blog), so you should be well accustomed to this by now.
For as long as I’ve covered this franchise at least (nine seasons), the Wild is absolutely incapable of doing things the easy way.
So there’s just no chance you really believed that when the Wild built a nine-point playoff lead on ninth place eight days ago that it was going to actually soar into the playoffs.
So naturally, the Wild blows two points in Dallas and then gets only two points in its next two games. Sunday was forgivable because it at least outchanced and arguably outplayed one of the best teams in the NHL.
But tonight wasn’t. There’s just no excuse to build a 3-0 lead at home and end up losing in a shootout to one of the worst teams in the NHL, the Edmonton Oilers. The Wild got what it deserved when it couldn’t pick up that extra point.
Up 3-1, the Wild managed one shot on a 1:24 5-on-3. Then, to start overtime, the Wild gained a 1:51 4-on-3 and couldn’t muster a shot.
Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu scored in the shootout, but three of four shooters beat Darcy Kuemper, who gave up a couple regrettable goals in the third, including the tying goal with 4:53 left to Jordan Eberle.
So, the Wild’s lead over Dallas is down to three and lead over Phoenix is down to four.
The Wild better figure out a way to salvage the rest of this homestand with the Rangers and Blue Jackets coming to town Thursday and
Friday Saturday because what’s staring the Wild in the face is eight out of 10 games on the road.
Coach Mike Yeo always says he doesn’t care about the teams behind him, that the race is how many points you need to get to make the playoffs. And that’s accurate. But right now, the Stars and Coyotes are flying and the Wild, a team that was on a 9-2-2 run only eight days ago, is 0-1-2 in its past three and coughing up 3-0 leads at home to the Oilers.
The momentum has turned south for the team you care about the is heading north for the other two teams.
The Wild’s chemistry has run afoul. Chuck Fletcher and Craig Leipold made moves at the deadline as a show of faith to the team. But the Wild’s responded by being winless in three since and the mojo that was there is now MIA.
The moves to bring in Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick caused two lines to change, Dany Heatley to drop to the fourth line and 12-goal scorer Justin Fontaine to be removed from the lineup. With seven healthy defensemen, Yeo has also tinkered with his third defense pair for three straight games. Koivu’s also trying to jump into a playoff race after not playing in two-plus months.
So right now the Wild is trying to find the right mix and the right chemistry and better do so fast.
But tonight’s loss wasn’t about cohesion. It was about an alarming amount of players lacking energy and urgency. It was about an alarming amount of players being completely off early. How many times in the first period did Wild players have pucks slide off their sticks or misconnect on passes?
“I thought we were a little bit lucky to be up 3-0. You could tell we weren’t on it right away,” Yeo said.
The one area where the Wild passed well was the power play. Unfortunately though, it didn’t shoot, and these were the big guns, the go-to guys.
On the two-man advantage, it was Parise, Koivu, Suter, Pominville and Moulson. On the 4-on-3, it was Parise, Koivu, Suter and Pominville.
Pominville said the 5-on-3 was easy to defend because with two lefties at top, the Oilers didn’t have to respect the one-timer.
I know most coaches have to defer to the big guns, the veterans, but it is a shame in a game like this that Mikael Granlund wasn’t used. He set up goals by Parise and Pominville in the first period on terrific passes and looked to be feeling it. Hey, if you’re going to pass all power play, you may as well use your best passer to actually set up a scoring chance.
“We’ll talk about these things for sure,” Yeo said. “In that situation, those guys are leaders on our team and high-skilled guys, so we wanted to give them the opportunity to put it away for us.”
Yeo pointed out how there were questions about not using Parise and Koivu in shootouts or at least fiddling with his shootout order and Parise and Koivu both scored back-to-back in the shootout tonight.
“Sometimes you have to be careful not to overreact and sometimes you have to make hard decisions,” Yeo said.
There were a couple quality efforts. One guy who had a ton of energy and was a constant threats shorthanded was Erik Haula. He also assisted on Jared Spurgeon’s goal. Maybe Haula should have gotten more ice time.
But the Wild just lacked urgency tonight and besides the momentum-killing 5-on-3, the Wild took three minor penalties – two by Charlie Coyle, one by Kyle Brodziak – in the second. The Oilers didn’t score, but it just gave the sense that they were back in the game. And then in the third, they eventually got back in the game.
The Oilers had nothing to lose and didn’t quit.
“We were trying to challenge the group with that,” Yeo said. “And I actually mean it as a compliment to Edmonton, where they don’t care if they win or lose right now. They’re just going to keep playing hard. We knew they were going to keep coming.
“We’ve got to be on our game, doesn’t matter who we play, and we weren’t.”
“This is one game. We can’t overreact. We didn’t lock it up, we weren’t tight enough, we weren’t strong enough, it was the back end of three in four, we have to find ways to win games where we’re not perfect.”
Read the gamer for some of the other quotes. Parise was pretty candid. That’s it for me.
Rachel Blount is actually covering Wednesday’s practice and I’ll be back with you Thursday. I am co-hosting Common’s show on KFAN from noon-3 live from the car show. We’ll be talking some hockey and NFL draft. Some of the hockey guests include Rangers play by play man Kenny Albert and the Wild’s Matt Cooke.
I’ll also try to line one of my reporter pals who covered the GM’s meetings.
I tweeted a bunch of quotes about how positive the Wild was after its 3-2 shootout loss tonight to St. Louis. I was hit back with so many cynical replies, my Twitter followers would make awesome sportswriters.
Read the game story on www.startribune.com/wild for some of the best.
Hey, nobody likes moral victories. You pay $100 for a ticket and your team loses a shootout, you walk out disappointed. But if the Wild pulled that extra point out from tonight’s game by winning the shootout, did that really change anything in regards to how it actually played the game?
No. Obviously, it’s disappointing the Wild couldn’t get the extra point if you’re a fan, but the reality is the locker room was upbeat after the game, the team played quite well and I think any Wild fan would have settled for one point after the Wild fell behind 2-zip early in the first.
Now, a lot of the positivity postgame was them trying to convince themselves that they can play and match up against the Blues, and as a fan, you better pray the Wild truly does believe it can match up against arguably the best team in the NHL because not only does the Wild have two more games this season against the Blues, the Wild could very potentially play St. Louis in the first round.
Again, #1 in the West plays the second wildcard team, #2 plays the first wildcard team. So, by St. Louis leapfrogging Anaheim tonight for the top spot in the NHL, if the season ended today, the seventh-place Wild would play Anaheim. But if the Wild falls to eighth OR St. Louis falls to 2 and the Wild stays 7, the Wild plays the Blues.
Now, it’s just one game, and in the end, the Blues did, by virtue of that shootout, beat Minnesota for an eighth straight time and has beaten Central Division teams 15 straight times and are 18-0-1 against the Central. It was a team playing on the road and it was a team that, like the Wild, was playing for the second time in two days and it was a team playing without Ryan Miller, although let’s be honest, Brian Elliott was certainly up to the task and usually is against Minnesota (6-0 in his career).
But the Wild certainly had its chances tonight and certainly didn’t cower to the big, bad Blues, even at times taking it to the Blues. The Wild got pucks deep, spent long shifts in their end and hit their defensemen, forcing them into turnovers. The Wild started to pick up the intensity and play fast hockey, and according to coach Mike Yeo, showed that the Blues aren’t “unlike anybody else. You put them under pressure, you take away their options, it’s going to be tough.”
But again, it’s one game. Did the Wild prove once and for all tonight that they match up with the Blues? Uh, no, they didn’t. I still think it’d be a terrible matchup, and frankly, until the Wild shows they can play the Blues well in St. Louis, I’ll still be skeptical.
But, hey, it was an entertaining game and the Wild played well, so it was natural for the Wild to feel as it did after the game. Even when the Wild was down 2-0, it wasn’t getting overwhelmed, and in fact, held St. Louis to one shot through a 23-minute span between the first and second periods.
Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson (first with the Wild) helped the Wild rally in the second. Moulson, in two games with the Wild, has a goal, an assist, seven shots and three drawn penalties.
With the game tied at 2-2 in the third, the Wild lucked out early when Alex Steen looked to score. But referee Brad Watson ruled Ilya Bryzgalov, who made 21 saves in his Wild debut, had the puck covered.
A few minutes later, Elliott robbed Mikael Granlund’s goalmouth shot with a desperation stick save. The Wild drew a power play with 1:29 left in regulation but failed to score for a third straight time. In fact, Pominville’s turnover inside the blue line (very same spot to his boo-boo in San Jose that led to the Sharks’ OT winner in January) led to Steen nearly winning it. But his hit the post shorthanded with seven seconds left.
That would have been absolutely devastating after the blown game in Dallas. But the Wild got the point and is now four up on Dallas and seven up on Phoenix with Edmonton, the Rangers and Columbus coming in the rest of the homestand.
Yeo on Bryzgalov, who looked like he was fighting it at times, “He didn’t need to be exceptional, but I thought he got better as the game went on.”
Yeo on the 0 for 3 PP: He said they’re still trying to find chemistry with two brand new units, but “bottom line is we’ve got the personnel that we have to find a way to get one in.”
On Parise and Koivu being 3 for 10 in shootouts and whether maybe he should change up his shootout list: “We’ve got more guys down the line that have the ability, but usually when I’m back there and we’re making the decisions as coaches, we want those guys having the opportunity to make the difference.”
I liked this quote from Kyle Brodziak, who fought Steve Ott early and got into it again later when Ott got too close to Bryzgalov: “That’s definitely one of the most intimidating teams in the league. They’re big, they play physical. It was a good response by everybody. Maybe early on, we didn’t go all-in with it, but as the game wore on, we started to have a pushback and saw the benefit. Not a single guy shied away.”
Again, please read the gamer for a more comprehensible look at the game and the quotes.
The Wild is having a very optional practice Monday after back-to-back road and home games, so there’s a chance there won’t even be a blog. Reminder, I’ll be hosting a live chat on startribune.com at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
Costly loss for the Wild tonight. Up 3-2 in the third on Kyle Brodziak’s go-ahead goal, the Wild handed two points to the team right on its tail.
The Wild nearly crashed Mike Modano's party and could have been seven points up on Dallas with a win. Now it’s three with St. Louis, which can take the top spot in the NHL with a win, on deck Sunday in Minnesota to open a four-game homestand. A win could have given the Wild an eight-point lead on Phoenix, too.
Matt Moulson was talking this morning about how excited he was to parachute right into a playoff race. After all, this is a guy that didn’t have a lot of meaningful games late in seasons on Long Island and certainly not in the past four months in Buffalo.
Tonight’s game had the intensity of two desperate teams fighting for a playoff spot and the Wild battled back twice from one-goal deficits.
But then after taking a 3-2 lead 1:23 into the third, the wheels came off. It started a minute after Brodziak’s goal when Matt Cooke took a tripping penalty. I still haven’t seen the replay because I was pounding on my keyboard, but the Twitterphere was screaming that it was a knee.
Regardless, the Wild killed the two minutes off and it appears Valeri Nichushkin escaped injury.
But two minutes after the kid, Haula, who scored his first career shortie on a great play in the first to tie the game at 1-1, generated speed again. But as he drove the net, he locked skates with Cody Eakin and bulled into goalie Kari Lehtonen.
Lehtonen was injured, leaving the game with blood on his face and what coach Lindy Ruff said afterward was a likely concussion. Haula got a major for charging and game misconduct.
Darcy Kuemper did a terrific job killing the major, but on Dallas’ ninth shot on the power play, Tyler Seguin, who had a hat trick two nights earlier against Vancouver, scored the tying goal for his third point of the night.
Four minutes later, Brodziak sent the puck up top to Clayton Stoner. Stoner quickly slid it to his left to Keith Ballard. The puck barely stayed in the zone. Too bad it didn’t leave because Ballard looked to shoot, then tried to slide it back to Stoner.
It happened way late in their shift, too, so they were gassed and basically dead meat when speedy Erik Cole picked it off. Kuemper was the only hope to save Ballard’s bacon, but Cole scored the eventual winner with 4:49 left.
To Ballard’s credit, he was standing in the locker room just waiting for the buzzards.
“Bad read on my part. It was pretty obvious what I was looking to do. I don’t know if I telegraphed it, but I misjudged how high he was. Split-second decision. Bad feeling. Tough way to lose a game.”
He continued, “It’s not the first time I’ve done that. Every guy in this room has done that. It’s not the last time it’s going to happen. Do something like that, you can really talk yourself into you played a real bad game. I looked at my game a lot different than that. I’m not going to judge my entire game based on one shift. It was a tough mistake and it stinks, but you move on.”
We’ll see if he plays against St. Louis. The Wild has seven healthy defenseman and coach Mike Yeo made the questionable decision to scratch Nate Prosser, who has been nothing but consistent for two months (plus-9 in the past 20 games). I’ve got to think Prosser slides back in.
But tonight, Yeo said the Ballard mistake was bound to cost them eventually. He said the Wild gave up way too many odd-man rushes, and frankly, even the Wild’s most reliable players were playing the puck like a grenade. Normally reliable Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon each had tough nights.
Moulson had five shots, an assist on Charlie Coyle’s goal to snap a 15-game drought (actually had no goals in 25 of his past 26 games) and drew two penalties. Moulson said he has to bury his chances though.
Unfortunately the Haula penalty put a damper on what would have been an awesome story line with his shortie. It was so fitting because Saturday morning, Haula, who led the University of Minnesota in scoring the past two years, and I were talking about the pride he’s taking in his fourth line and penalty kill duties, saying, “I love my role on this team. I've accepted it.”
On the Haula penalty, Yeo said, “I’m not sure what else a player can do. You’re trying to score a goal. Unless you want the player not to try to score a goal. I feel bad for the goalie. He got hurt. But if you watch the replay, he’s trying to make a play to score a goal, he gets tripped up a little bit, there’s really nowhere for him to go. I would say it’s incidental.”
But Yeo stopped short and said he’s not about to complain about that call, saying, “We did enough things in this game to shoot ourselves in the foot. … Just not enough of a 60-minute focus.”
OK, I’ve got to get out of here. It’s midnight, and with the clocks moving ahead, my 4 a.m. wakeup is coming in, what’s that, three hours????
You have to hand it to the Wild. It just keeps on winning and now enters a four-day break in its schedule with a nine-point lead in the playoff race thanks to Monday’s 3-2 win over Calgary.
But as Mike Yeo pointed out afterward, we often talk about a “cushion,” but a “cushion” really does mean squat.
Right now, the eighth-place team (Dallas, the Wild’s opponent Saturday in the Big D) is on pace for 91.4 points. So it doesn’t matter how many points the Wild’s up on ninth. The Wild has 74 points. It needs to keep heading north until it passes that 92-point threshold and preferably more so it can make the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Good win tonight because the Wild really had to grind it out in a pretty sloppy, choppy game. Yeo said he expected it after two games on the road, an emotional win in Vancouver, the Wild’s first home game in a month and the fact that chemistry would be messed with a bit with Mikko Koivu and Marco Scandella’s return fiddling with the forward pairs and defense pairs.
“But our guys fought through it. That was a big win for our guys,” Yeo said.
Kyle Brodziak “finally found a way to put one in,” he said jokingly of his fifth goal of the season after Matt Cooke forechecked a frozen goalie, Reto Berra, into a turnover. Then, in the third, Jared Spurgeon and Zach Parise scored goals. Parise’s would become the winner.
Darcy Kuemper made his 15th consecutive start and won his fifth in a row. His 11th win ties Josh Harding for the team’s rookie record. He has given up six goals in his past five starts (three in three since the Olympic break) and is 11-2-2 since Jan. 7 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.
Tonight, his parents saw him play live in the NHL for the second time (both against Calgary) and saw him win for the first time. The kid keeps on trucking, which has to make Chuck Fletcher feel much more comfortable heading into Wednesday’s 2 p.m. trade deadline.
I still believe the Wild acquires a goalie though because of Niklas Backstrom’s abdominal issue, and the Wild continues to talk to other teams, especially Buffalo about Jaroslav Halak. That seems the likeliest scenario.
Fletcher has been on the phone a lot lately, and sources say he has talked with the Sabres often.
It’s that time of year.
Koivu returned to the lineup. Like the team, his line with Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle had good shifts and tougher shifts. One picked-off clear by Koivu led to one goal, but he looked good on a second-period power play and should continue to get better, he said.
He’s a big guy, and as Wes Walz always said, it’s harder for bigger players to get back in the swing of things, especially with the league so ramped up. Tonight was Koivu’s first game in eight weeks.
“I was more nervous than I even told you guys,” Koivu said. “I missed a long time. I wasn’t sure how it was going to react in a game. I thought that after the first couple shifts, I got more comfortable and I thought that power play helped me a lot when we got the puck more and I was moving the puck more. Overall, pretty solid. The things I wanted to be strong, I was pretty strong I thought. So yeah, overall pretty happy. That was the first step. Now I just need to work in practice and get more games under my belt and I’m sure it’ll get better.”
He did say his ankle did feel discomfort toward the end of periods and on the bench, but doctors tell him that’s normal and it’ll continue to improve.
Weird, ugly games at times.
There’s something about these two teams that often produce the ugliest games, and much of Monday’s game looked like it was a game of shinny hockey played with a tennis ball.
Players on both teams misconnected on passes, swung and missed on shots, blew wide-open nets and overskated pucks routinely. The amount of pucks that simply stopped short and were whiffed on by players was remarkable.
It was the first NHL game at the X in almost a month and players complained Monday morning that the ice was sticky, perhaps because of the state wrestling tournament and Luke Bryan concert being on top of the ice the past week.
“Even this morning you could tell in the pregame skate, it seemed a little slow,” Parise said of the ice. “I know a couple times on me personally, it just stopped or just bounced.”
But the Wild got through it.
Now the Wild has four days off. It’ll have a skills practice Tuesday, have the day off Wednesday (trade deadline) and then get back at it for two hard practices Thursday and Friday before playing in Dallas in Saturday. As you know, the Wild rarely has success in Dallas (one win in its past 19 visits, I believe).
That starts a stretch of 20 games in the final 37 days of the regular season.
“This is an opportunity,” Cooke said of the break this week. “This is our last real practice time before we’re in the playoffs. We’re going to have to work and be ready to continue what we’ve built here in the last little while.”
--Season-high five wins in a row overall, six in a row at home.
--The Wild is 9-2-2 in its past 13 and 14-4-2 in 2014.
--Mikael Granlund had two assists and his brother, Markus, recorded his first NHL point. Mikael has 20 points in his past 25 games.
--Zach Parise’s goal was his 21st and 45th career game-winner. He has six goals and 12 points in his past eight games
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