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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Koivu reminds, angry Mikko is the best Mikko; Spurgeon injured in comeback win

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: October 31, 2014 - 1:14 AM

I never got into it in the game story because I really didn’t have the room and we never did end up getting Mikko Koivu after the Wild’s come-from-behind 4-3 shootout win over San Jose tonight, but maybe the best part of Koivu’s game came between overtime and the shootout.

Koivu got into it with Jumbo Joe bigtime. The second the final whistle blew, Koivu went right at Joe Thornton and got into a war of words. Thornton had hit Koivu earlier, but I’m pretty sure Koivu was also fuming because Thornton got in Zach Parise’s face in OT. Koivu was fiery hot at the bench (I’ve been there), and just stared at Thornton and stared and barked after Thornton comically motioned to center ice to fight Koivu.

Yah, would have loved to have seen that.

That stare from Koivu, I’ve been there, too. It’s frightening.

Koivu got the last laugh so to speak with his signature shootout move. They all know it’s coming. Heck, Antti Niemi, Koivu’s countryman, certainly knew it was coming. And yet Koivu still has the ability to stick that puck right under the bar for the equalizer after Logan Couture gave the Sharks an early 1-0 lead in the shootout. It was Koivu’s 37th career shootout goal, tying Parise and Brad Boyes for first in the NHL.

As we always say, an angry Koivu is the best Koivu, and he played angry, inspired hockey all night. One goal, nine shots to tie a career high, 22 of 28 in the faceoff circle and the shootout goal on a line that was motoring all night with Jason Zucker, who just keeps getting better and was awesome right from the first shift tonight, and Charlie Coyle, who tied a career-high with six shots (five in the first period).

Big come-from-behind win for the Wild tonight – the second time in two games it rallied from a 3-1, third-period deficit. It outshot the Sharks 46-28 and has now outshot all nine opponents this season (320-209).

Tonight was a weird one because despite the shot count, the Wild was sloppy and had a propensity for turnovers in the first 30 minutes, especially the top line and most notably Mikael Granlund, who had by far his worst game of the season. He had to have eight or nine turnovers, and big ones. The line was minus-2.

But the Koivu line luckily was going. The third line wasn’t heard of with Nino Niederreiter-Kyle Brodziak-Thomas Vanek for much of the first two periods. But coach Mike Yeo loved Justin Fontaine’s game on the third period and said to himself that he had to get Fontaine more ice time.

So he downgraded Niederreiter and upgraded Fontaine. On the very first shift Fontaine was elevated, Matt Dumba sent a headman pass to Brodziak. Then, tic-tac-toe – Fontaine to Thomas Vanek to Brodziak after Vanek, in what Pominville said was typical Vanek fashion, fired a slap pass on net that Brodziak, who didn’t get a puck up on a breakaway move in the first period, made up for it with a goal.

Then, of all players, Brodziak tied the game. Nate Prosser hit Vanek to send him off to the races on a 2-on-1. On his backhand, Vanek saucered a pass to Brodziak for the tying goal with 9:28 left. The Wild got to overtime and got the extra point in OT.

So, Brodziak two third-period goals. Vanek, who has no goals, two big assists and leads the team with seven.

Brodziak, after a great game in Boston, has another big game tonight. Pretty impressive for a guy that was scratched in five in a row.

“It feels good for sure,” Brodziak said. “I guess that’s why you have to try to stay professional and make sure you stay ready. I’m just glad I got the opportunity.”

Yeo admitted he was worried coming into this one, saying sometimes games after emotional wins are tougher than after emotional losses. Coming back home, Yeo warned his team to guard against that, but it was very clear the Wild wasn’t on its game early even though it got good looks on Niemi.

“We weathered it,” Yeo said. “Certainly way too many [turnovers].”

Bigtime issue though. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon got hurt in the third when he crashed hard into the boards after a check from Joe Pavelski.  Yeo said he was “pretty sore” as he left the ice and hopes to have a better update Friday.

The Wild, already without top-2 defenseman Jonas Brodin, had to play the final 16 minutes and overtime with five defensemen, including (7th/8th D to start the year) Nate Prosser, Justin Falk and rookie Matt Dumba. In overtime, Pominville played defense.

“It’s an easy game back there,” Pominville joked.

Not an easy way though to chase a hockey game. That’s why the win was that more impressive, rallying from two goals down with a shorthanded D. Ryan Suter had to skate 33:49 tonight.

Yeo hopes Christian Folin and Brodin can return Saturday. Like I mentioned earlier though, Brodin didn’t look comfortable to me skating today.

“Good teams get through it and we will,” Yeo said.

Anyways, Wild is now 7-0 in the past seven vs. San Jose on home ice. Wild won 47 of 71 draws tonight. Besides Koivu, Brodziak went 11 of 15. Brodziak’s 12th career multi-goal game. Great response by Darcy Kuemper from Monday’s meltdown with 25 saves and the shootout win.

Vanek’s 2 assists was his 140th multi-point game.

That’s it for me. I’ll talk to you Friday. I have a feeling it won’t be a quiet day.

Haula, Brodin, Cooke out vs. San Jose; Kuemper looks for bounceback; Falk on Rangers time

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: October 30, 2014 - 1:13 PM

Wild and San Jose Sharks tonight at Xcel Energy Center.

Darcy Kuemper, after giving up cinco in the third period Monday in Nueva York, will get a chance to put that behind him and bounce back tonight vs. Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Company. Since 2007-08, Sharks are 326-157-68, best in the NHL.

I was hoping to see local product Alex Stalock in net tonight, but Adam Wilcox’s cuz will be backing up Antti Niemi for the third consecutive game.

Home team has won 15 of the past 16 games in this series, with the Wild beating San Jose six straight games at home. In those six games though, the Sharks have outshot the Wild by a cool hundred.

The Wild has outshot its opponent in all eight games this season (274-181), averaging the second-most shots per game (34.2) and allowing the fewest (22.6) in the NHL. If you have been living in a hole, the Wild’s power play is 0 for 26. It will try to avoid being 0 for October tonight. If it fails to score, it will be a franchise-record ninth consecutive game without a power-play tally.

Watch the Wild defensemen tonight. They continue to jump up into the attack. In eight games, six goals (on 77 shots), 19 points and PLUS-30. In the first eight games last year, Wild defensemen were plus-0.

Wild, by the way, give up a league-low 22.6 shots per game. The Sharks rank 23rd at 32 shots allowed per game.

I’ll be on Fox Sports North++++++++++++++++++++++++++ tonight at 6:30 p.m. and during the first intermission. The game is also on Fox Sports North+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++, so that’s your answer tonight if you tweet my favorite question: “What channel’s the game on?”

Defenseman Jonas Brodin and center Erik Haula will each miss their second straight games tonight, and left wing Matt Cooke will also be out with a lower-body injury. Coach Mike Yeo said that Cooke, who has one goal, three assists and is plus-4 in the past three games, has been dealing with this for a few games and the team is giving him a chance to rest and get better.

We’ll see if this affects a fourth line that has scored seven goals and nine assists the past six games (plus-8, 19 shots).

Defenseman Christian Folin skated this morning and said his mumps test was negative. The hope is with a good practice Friday that he’ll be able to play Saturday against Dallas. However, defenseman Keith Ballard is still sick and went for more bloodwork yesterday to try to get to the bottom of what’s ailing him.

Haula participating in today’s morning skate. Brodin skated for about 20 minutes alone before the skate, didn’t shoot any pucks and seemed to be testing and struggling at times with his stick-handling. As I mentioned after the Rangers game, a couple fingers on one of his hands were wrapped pretty good.

Still, Yeo is hopeful that Brodin and Haula can return Saturday.

I think the Wild considered playing Bickel at defense tonight because he started off the skate wearing a white dman jersey. Then, when Cooke didn’t come out, he switched to a forward’s green jersey. Then, while Bickel was on the ice, the Wild decided it would prefer the speedy Stephane Veilleux would fit better on the fourth line in place of Cooke. To make that roster move, the Wild had to reassign Bickel.

So, same lineup tonight except for Veilleux’s insertion:





Yeo mixed and matched his D pairs all skate, but the ones in Boston were:




Haula said he’s feeling a little better, although not 100 percent.

Haula said John Moore, the perpetrator of the Monday’s hit to the head, called him Tuesday after getting his number from Justin Falk.

“It caught me off guard, but I thought it was a class act,” Haula said. “I’m the type of person not to be mad at him. It’s hockey. Whether you mean it or not, I’m sure no one really wants to hurt anyone in the league. Thought it was nice.”

Haula said the organization is just trying to be careful with him even though he is anxious to play. He said head injuries can’t be taken lightly and noted that Tony Lucia and Jay Barriball both had their careers cut short because of head issues.

Haula said Barriball texted him.

“He said, “Don’t force it, please,’ basically. That’s just the main message I have gotten from everyone, to be smart no matter how anxious I am to play. Don’t push it. It’s only Game 9. Long ways to go.”

On the hit, Haula said, “Hits happen like that. It’s part of the game. They’re trying to take that away, but it’s going to happen sometimes. I was lucky it wasn’t worse.”

On Kuemper, Yeo said he wants to see him bounce back.

“He’s a good athlete and he’s a young goaltender who’s learning there’s a lot more than just strapping on the pads and feeling like you’re ready to play. He’s done a good job at that and this will be another good opportunity for him to improve it,” Yeo said.

Personally, I feel Matt Dumba could be coming when Folin returns. Yeo even subtly alluded to it today. The turnovers have been a little erratic and the Wild has so far overcome them.

We’re putting him in some tough spots.

“I do want to see improvement,” Yeo said. “He’s always been an impactful player. He’s always been a guy who makes great plays, but he has to understand there’s times to make great plays and times to make good plays. What you want to do is make sure that by trying to make a great play when it’s not there that you’re not making a bad play.

“I want him to continue to do some of the things he’s doing, but as he continues to do those things, gets rid of the bad plays. That’s how he’s going to get better, that’s how he’s going to stay with us.”

I didn’t even pick up on Yeo’s last line (“stay with us”) until I transcribed.

Yeo was real happy with Kyle Brodziak’s game in Boston. He said it was proof of how mature Brodziak was with his preparation during the five games in a row scratched. Brodziak’s forecheck helped lead to the Vanek to Niederreiter goal, and he had three hits and four blocked shots.

He also won 8 of 13 draws, which is big for a Wild team that hasn’t been good on the draw this year. Granlund going up against top drawman has been mostly bad. Same with Haula and Carter.

Koivu is the only one above 50 percent, and he’s still way below his norm.

The Wild ranks 29th in the faceoff circle after finishing 12th last year.

Falk is excited to make his home debut two days after his season debut. The Wild traded him to the Rangers at the 2013 draft. He only played 21 games last season and was a routine healthy scratch after playing 128 NHL games for the Wild in parts of four previous years.

He had to be Dumba’s safety net against the Bruins and also made the play that led to the tying goal.

“Last year was an adventure,” Falk said. “Going to a city like that, it’s quite the city to live in let alone play in. Hockey was a roller coaster. … The opportunity wasn’t there that I hoped for. Every year you want to get better, and I wasn’t able to take a step forward last year. So the sooner I can flush that and worry about getting my game back and getting better, that was the whole point of accepting going down to Iowa and working on things. I’ve played some good hockey in this league and can contribute and I just have to work hard to find it and get it back.”

Zach Parise by the way got the “shoelace” taken out of his face yesterday and restitched. The old stitches honestly looked like a Hollywood makeup job. It was the thickest stitches I have ever seen, hence the shoelace joke Parise made.

“I think the [Rangers docs] were just trying to be quick because I wanted to come back and play,” Parise said.

John Moore suspended five games for hit on Erik Haula

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild news Updated: October 29, 2014 - 5:16 PM

The Wild didn't practice today, so injury updates will have to wait most likely until the morning skate, but coach Mike Yeo wasn't confident that Jonas Brodin would be able to play against the San Jose Sharks and Erik Haula might.

As reported in today's paper, the Wild is concerned Brodin could be longer. As for Haula, Yeo said yesterday that he wasn't diagnosed with a concussion, but the team wanted to be cautious because of how often concussed players show symptoms a few days later. The Wild especially has experience with that.

John Moore, the New York Rangers defenseman who struck Haula on Monday with an illegal check to the head in the second period, was suspended five games today by the NHL. He had an in-person hearing and could have been suspended more than five games, but the NHL's Department of Player Safety gave him five games. That number means Moore won't be able to appeal the suspension to a neutral arbitrator. Not saying that's why he got five, just pointing out the significance of it being less than six.

Here is the video

The gist of the video: After Haula snaps a shot on net as Moore closes in, Moore drives his shoulder into Haula. The initial contact, the league says, was with Haula's shoulder, but the main point of contact on the hit was Haula's head.

Stephane Quintal notes Haula is eligible to be checked here, that the hit wasn't late, but if Moore's to render this extremently difficult check, "his timing and angle of approach must ensure that he hits squarely through the body and that Haula's head is not the main point of contact. Moore does neither. Haula’s head absorbs the brunt of Moore’s shoulder."

Moore, a repeat offender, loses $51,859.75 in salary because his lost money is based on 5, 82 game checks rather than 5 days of salary.

In the meantime, the Wild opens a three-game homestand against Brent Burns, the NHL's leading scorer among defensemen (yeah, he's a blue-liner again), and the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.

I'll be on KFAN live from the penalty box from 9:55 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Thursday and on Fox Sports North Plus Thursday at 6:30 p.m. and during the first intermission.

Some highlights from my preview box:

-- The Wild has outshot all eight opponents this season (274-181), averaging the second-most shots per game (34.2) and allowing the fewest (22.6).

-- D Marco Scandella, who scored his third career winning goal Tuesday, is tied with D Ryan Suter for first on the team with a plus-8. Scandella has been an even or better in every game.

-- C Ryan Carter, a White Bear Lake native, has an assist in five of the past six games and leads the Wild with 16 hits. LW Jason Zucker has three goals and an assist in the past three games.

-- G Darcy Kuemper will probably get a chance to bounce back after allowing five goals in the third period Monday at the Rangers.

-- The Wild’s power play is 0 for 26 and has gone eight straight games without a power-play goal, which is tied for the team record according to the Elias Sports Bureau (five times).

-- The Wild has been shorthanded the fewest times in the NHL (22), has the NHL’s third-best penalty kill (90.9 percent) and is tied for the second-fewest minor penalties (29).

-- According to Elias, last night's 4-3 win over Boston marked just the third time in Wild history the team has won a game in regulation time when trailing by two goals in the third period. The other such occasions: Jan. 16, 2004 vs. PIT (trailed 2-0 and won 4-2) and Dec. 18, 2007 vs. NSH (trailed 2-0 and won 3-2). So, first time on the road.

-- I wrote an article for Thursday's paper on the Wild's ongoing attempt to spark offense from Mikko Koivu and goals from Thomas Vanek, so give that a read.

One night after meltdown, Wild impressively responds with comeback win of its own

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: October 28, 2014 - 10:29 PM

“Funny sport, eh?” I said to Mike Yeo to begin his postgame media scrum.

“Funny trip,” coach Mike Yeo retorted.

One night after it seemed like the Wild’s world ended after blowing a 3-0 third-period lead in New York by giving up five goals in the last 20 minutes to the Rangers, all’s right again in the Wild’s world after it rallied from a 3-1 third-period deficit to beat the Boston Bruins, 4-3.

Suddenly, the Wild looks like a good team again, a team that has controlled – if not dominated at times – play for the majority of every game this season. It’s 5-3, yet in those three losses, the Wild should have won in Anaheim, easily should have won in L.A. and should have skated out of the Garden with a simple win Monday night.

Sure, wouldas, couldas, shouldas. The Wild still lost. I get it. But at this stage in the season, even more so than results sometimes, it’s about the way you’re playing and the Wild loves how it’s playing right now.

Fast, up-tempo hockey and tonight it rallied on one of the NHL’s best defensive teams, a team that was 136-7-6 when ahead by two goals since the start of the 2010-11 season, despite it being the less fresh team on the second of a back-to-back, in a tough road building and without Jonas Brodin and Erik Haula.

Sure, Brodin and Haula aren’t like playing without star defenseman Zdeno Chara, and the Wild did catch the Bruins without the behemoth. But pretty decent victory, nonetheless.

Even when the Wild was down 3-1, it liked the way it was playing. And in third, even though naturally the Wild didn’t score on the power play, an early power play helped gain some momentum and less than two minutes after Brad Marchand’s holding minor on Matt Dumba expired, Zach Parise sparked the comeback with his fourth goal of the season.

The man with fresh zippers on his face, who relentlessly worked all night (especially in the final minutes as the Wild desperately tried to keep Boston from tying it), won a puck battle in the corner, got the puck to Jared Spurgeon and drove the net as Spurgeon passed to Mikael Granlund.

Kinda like Jason Zucker’s smart spinning goal against Tampa Bay last weekend, Granlund spun and threw the puck at the goalmouth, only this meant for a pass. And Parise scored a goalmouth beauty.

Parise said that between periods, the Wild made a smart tactical adjustment that “really caught them off guard” and it led directly to his goal.

I asked Parise to explain to laymen like me, and he said they noticed the Bruins kept going D to D all the time in their own zone retrievals. Usually, the Wild is a little more patient on the weak side, but during the second intermission, Yeo had the forwards all the time no matter what challenge the weak-side D. Look at the replay of Parise’s goal, and he completely caught the defenseman off guard when he was in his face on the wall. Parise said the Bruins had a hard time breaking out the rest of the game because of that.

Yeo didn’t want to get as specific about the adjustment as Parise did, but he said, “You can draw whatever you want up on the board, but it’s only as good as the players executing it. The way they went out and executed, that was tremendous.”

A little more than two minutes after Parise scored, Justin Fontaine scored.

Matt Cooke deflected the shot of Justin Falk, only here because of Brodin’s injury (see previous blog and Wednesday’s paper). Then there was mad scramble for the puck. Ryan Carter, who has five assists in the past six games from the fourth line!!!, jammed at the puck and finally Fontaine tied it at the 6:34 mark.

Finally, with 5:53 left, Marco Scandella took Jason Zucker’s pass and let her rip for the winner.

Yeo felt it was justice after Monday’s blown lead and the fact that even when the Wild was down 3-1 tonight, he was happy with its game (Wild outshot the Bruins 42-28, and Niklas Backstrom won his first game since Jan. 9 with 25 saves).

“At 3-1 we didn’t feel we were out of this game,” Yeo said. “I was looking at the bench and I’m not disappointed the way our guys were playing. I felt like we were getting some chances, some pressure, and I knew there would be more opportunity if we could stay with it.”

So, big win and a bunch of good learning lessons on the trip.  

Yeo’s line changes seemed to work. Breaking up Koivu and Vanek resulted in Vanek setting up Nino Niederreiter for the game’s first goal. Vanek still though has one shot in the past four games and no goals. Koivu has no assists and one goal.

I’ll have more on them in Thursday’s paper (no practice Wednesday, so I’m holding a bunch of extras for a follow), but a lot of good learning lessons this trip for the Wild.

Its power play? Still 0 for 26 and tonight tied a team record (five times) by not scoring for an eighth consecutive game.

That’s it for me. Pretty soon, my rewritten gamer will be on startribune.com/wild with some real good quotes from Parise, Yeo, Scandella, Vanek and Koivu are in there. So check that out. Also, check out the notebook on the injuries to Brodin and Haula and Parise’s cut-up face.

No practice Wednesday, and I have a long travel day ahead of me (have to connect home to Minnesota), so barring news, other than Twitter, you may not hear from me til after Thursday’s morning skate.

Three-game homestand coming up starting with Brent Burns and the San Jose Sharks. Bye.

Brodin, Haula sidelined; Vanek-Koivu split, new power-play units tonight vs. Bruins

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild pregame skate Updated: October 28, 2014 - 6:15 PM

Good evening from TD Garden, where the Wild visits the Bruin at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT minus two key players. The game can be seen on NBC Sports Network and heard on KFAN. If you get NESN, I'll be on there at 6:45 p.m. ET.

Just got done with coach Mike Yeo's pregame availability, and here are the highlights:

--Defenseman Jonas Brodin is injured. I mentioned to you after last night's game that he sustained an injury to his hand, but Yeo said he's sore in a couple different spots today and it is very clear that Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher are fearful Brodin could be hurt somewhat seriously. He'll see the Wild's docs tomorrow.

Justin Falk will make his season debut in Brodin's place tonight. Stu Bickel was also recalled and Keith Ballard and Christian Folin were placed on injured reserve to make room. They can come off whenever they're ready.

"You look at that hit [by Chris Kreider], [Brodin] went into the boards and it’s pretty much like being in a car crash, so he’s sore today," Yeo said. "He’s a really tough kid. It’s a pretty amazing that he was able to come back and play last night to be honest with you. We’ve seen him do this over and over again. He’s tough. If he’s sore, we’re a little bit concerned."

--Kreider wasn't suspended by the NHL, but Rangers defenseman John Moore has been invited for an in-person hearing after being assessed a match penalty for launching his elbow into Erik Haula last night. Moore could be suspended six games or more.

Haula won't play tonight. Kyle Brodziak, scratched in five straight after two pretty decent games to start the season, will play and be given a good opportunity, Yeo said.

On Haula, Yeo said, "It was pretty much our call to keep him out. We were told he’s not diagnosed with a concussion, but sometimes those symotoms, a couple days later you end up finding out. So we have to make sure and protect the player in this case. We’re not 100 percent confident that he’s not at a risk of going out and playing tonight and taking another hit.

"We have to look at the big picture and have to be concerned about the player’s health."

-- Yeo will scramble the bottom three lines tonight. I'll update the blog after warmups with the lines, but Yeo would only say that Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville won't be broken up.

Lines 2 through 4




Suter is with Spurgeon, Scandella is with Prosser, Falk is with Dumba

But I asked preemptively if he were to split Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek, what would be the reason.

"We have to try something different for one," Yeo said. "There’s been signs that it might be coming, but there’s been other times where it’s not coming fast enough. We have to be willing to try different things. It doesn’t mean that they wont play together again."

Vanek has one shot the past three games and no goals this season. Other than a seven-shot game in Anaheim, Vanek has two or fewer in the other six.

Asked if that's a concern, Yeo said, "Yeah. I don’t want to say concern, but we have to make sure that we’re looking at everything we can. He was brought here to add offense and we’ve definitely seen his playmaking ability and some of the plays he has set up, but we definitely want to find a way on our end to try to get him on the scoresheet in the goal column as well."

-- The 0 for 24 power play will be scrambled, too.

"Bottom line, we’re starting to get in our own way here, and that’s what’s bothering me," Yeo said. "I think we have the most power-play shots in the league, and even last night, we probably had 10 power-play shots and we missed the net on four great opportunities, but I didn’t like our power play last night at all.

"Some of the things that make us a dangerous group when we’re on top of our game, we’re starting to lose those things. So we can try any combination we want, but the players have to really figure it out and make sure they have the right focus going out there."

He noted that like the Rangers' PK, the Bruins' PK will read the clips and be ready for a hungry power play. So it's up to the Wild to actually go out there hungry, and he didn't feel the Wild matched the Rangers' PK last night.

-- Parise has a deep, ugly-looking cut on his face from his right nostril to the middle of his upper lip on the right side. Took 10 stitches, and he said he only got real scared when he saw all the blood on his visor and the ice.

But he calmed down once he realized he could see and had his teeth. He returned late in the second, but he said he'll see the docs when he gets back to Minnesota to get them restitched.

"Hopefully it doesn't scar up too bad," Parise said. "I don't like them road stitches. Get them done at home."

On today's team attitude, Parise said, "The way I always approach these things, last night's game -- win or lose, mentally if you're in the right place, has no impact -- it shouldn't -- on tonight's game. It happens. It's going to happen to every team. We'll be on the other side of it some time later in the year. But it doesn't and it shouldn't impact our game tonight. It has no bearing on it whatsoever."


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