Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
Also find Russo on Facebook.
Email Michael to talk about hockey.
I’m going to do my best to look ahead to the playoffs because that’s exactly what the Wild did during tonight’s 7-3 regular-season ending loss to the Nashville Predators.
I’ve been warning on here and on the radio the last few days that I expected tonight’s game would be like a glorified exhibition game and that’s exactly what it was. Wild players were in do-not-get-hurt mode. They dodged checks, dodged blocking shots, and from that standpoint, mission accomplished, coach Mike Yeo said, because the team got out of it healthy.
May sound like an excuse, but it’s reality. Yeo said the Wild will reset, start from scratch after a 6-1-1 end to the season and really begin prepping Tuesday in practice.
The one highlight was Jason Pominville having his second 3-point night in three games and becoming the third Wild player in history to hit the 30-goal mark. He also hit the 60-point mark. Marian Gaborik and Brian Rolston scored at least 30 eight times with the Wild.
Rookie Erik Haula scored a goal and an assist for his first career multi-point game and had seven points in seven games since replacing Mikael Granlund as second-line center. The Wild has Monday off, and the expectation is Granlund will ramp it up with the rest of the team Tuesday and Wednesday and get into more battle drills as the Wild prepares for Game 1 of the playoffs Thursday in Denver.
If Granlund can play, Yeo made it clear that Granlund will reassume his No. 2 center spot.
“I think that Haulzy deserves an awful lot of credit for what he’s done, there’s no question,” Yeo said. “But when it comes to Granny, we’ll see how practice goes this week, but we are talking about a guy who led our team when Mikko [Koivu] went down playing against No. 1 D pairings and No. 1 centermen. You look at what he did in the Olympics playing against the best players in the world, … this is a pretty good player. So it’s great what Haulzy’s done, and we haven’t made any decisions yet, but we’re getting a pretty good player back if Granny’s able to come into our lineup.”
Said Haula: “[Granlund] deserves it. He’s had a great season. He’s played well with Pommer all year long. I jump in when he gets hurt. When he’s healthy he’s going to come back and take that spot on that line, I’m sure. I’m ok with that. Whatever the role, I’m ok with it.”
A reader brought up an idea on Twitter that somebody in the hockey industry mentioned to me in the press box tonight: It’s clear Yeo understandably wants to have a Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak shutdown line in the playoffs. Maybe an option is to put Haula on right wing at that line. This way he can take draws on his strong side instead of Brodziak at times and also it creates more of a scoring threat for that line and he would get more minutes than he would as fourth-line center. In addition, it seems like Cooke (by the way, he was in playoff form tonight getting under Shea Weber and Rich Clune’s skin) and Haula have had chemistry for a lot of the second half when they’re on the ice together, particularly shorthanded.
Then, you go with a fourth line of Cody McCormick centering Stephane Veilleux or Justin Fontaine and Nino Niederreiter. If there are times Yeo wants elevate Niederreiter’s role, he has got that option.
As for the Avs, Matt Duchene is still working his way back from a sprained MCL. Defenseman Jan Hejda injured his hand tonight and Tyson Barrie got hurt in San Jose. They’re day-to-day. Patrick Roy also announced tonight that John Mitchell has a concussion. That’s a big loss. He plays the Wild well and is their second-line center.
“This is a good team, a really good team,” Yeo said of the Avs. “Winning their division the way that they’ve gone from start to finish, this is a team that we have to have a lot of respect for. Skill level, very dynamic, very creative, so defensively it’s going to be a challenge for us. With that, they’re an in-your-face team and how we execute is going to be very important, too.”
The Wild can’t get into a run-and-gun game against them.
“We can’t play that type of style against them, there’s no question,” Yeo said. “It’s not one element. This is a very good hockey team and there’s not a lot of areas where you can look at them and say they’re really weak there. They’ve defended well this year, they’ve been very creative and skilled, especially with their forward group. And obviously they’ve had the goaltending, so we’re going to have to be ready to be sharp in all areas of our game.”
“I feel like against them, we have to keep the puck going forward,” said Zach Parise. “That’s where they struggle. When we didn’t do well against them, we tried to do a lot of cross-ice passes and they broke up a lot of plays in the neutral zone. When we did well against them in spurts, we just kept putting pucks behind them and making them turn. That’s when we got a lot of odd man rushes against them.”
I wrote an abbreviated advance on the series in Monday’s paper, so check that out on startribune.com/wild. Also, there’s the game story on Ilya Bryzgalov’s concerning game tonight. Yeo wasn’t concerned, saying, “You look at tonight, and we were brutal in front of him. It’s got to be a team effort. Bryz has done a fantastic job since he’s been here and his teammates have done a fantastic job in front of him to give him that opportunity. That’s the mentality we have to have. It’s got to be top to bottom because [the Avs] have too many weapons over there.”
That’s it for me.
Monday is off. I’ll be on KFAN in studio from 9-9:35 a.m., then I’ll start pounding the keyboard. Lots of playoff coverage coming up in the Star Tribune. I’ll also be on a Podcast tomorrow night at some point on the Denver Post’s site, I believe, with Avs beat writer Adrian Dater.
I’m planning a live online chat Thursday at 3 p.m. CT.
Local TV announced soon, all times in Eastern Time
Date TIME (ET) #1 Colorado vs. #4 Minnesota Networks
Thursday, April 17 9:30 p.m. Minnesota at Colorado CNBC, TSN
Saturday, April 19 9:30 p.m. Minnesota at Colorado NBC Sports Network, TSN
Monday, April 21 7 p.m. Colorado at Minnesota NHL Network U.S., TSN
Thursday, April 24 9:30 p.m. Colorado at Minnesota CNBC, TSN2
*Saturday, April 26 TBD Minnesota at Colorado TSN
*Monday, April 28 TBD Colorado at Minnesota TSN
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD Minnesota at Colorado TSN
Date TIME (ET) #2 St. Louis vs. #3 Chicago Networks
Thursday, April 17 8 p.m. Chicago at St. Louis NBC Sports Network, CBC
Saturday, April 19 3 p.m. Chicago at St. Louis NBC, CBC
Monday, April 21 8:30 p.m. St. Louis at Chicago CNBC, CBC
Wednesday, April 23 9:30 p.m. St. Louis at Chicago NBC Sports Network, CBC
*Friday, April 25 8 p.m. Chicago at St. Louis NBC Sports Network, CBC
*Sunday, April 27 3 p.m. St. Louis at Chicago NBC, CBC
*Tuesday, April 29 TBD Chicago at St. Louis CBC
Date TIME (ET) #1 Anaheim vs. #4 Dallas Networks
Wednesday, April 16 10 p.m. Dallas at Anaheim NBC Sports Network, TSN
Friday, April 18 10 p.m. Dallas at Anaheim NBC Sports Network, TSN
Monday, April 21 9:30 p.m. Anaheim at Dallas NBC Sports Network, TSN
Wednesday, April 23 8 p.m. Anaheim at Dallas CNBC, TSN
*Friday, April 25 10:30 p.m. Dallas at Anaheim NBC Sports Network, TSN
*Sunday, April 27 TBD Anaheim at Dallas TSN
*Tuesday, April 29 TBD Dallas at Anaheim TSN
Date TIME (ET) #2 San Jose vs. #3 Los Angeles Networks
Thursday, April 17 10:30 p.m. Los Angeles at San Jose NBC Sports Network, CBC
Sunday, April 20 10 p.m. Los Angeles at San Jose NBC Sports Network, CBC
Tuesday, April 22 10 p.m. San Jose at Los Angeles NBC Sports Network, CBC
Thursday, April 24 10:30 p.m. San Jose at Los Angeles NBC Sports Network, CBC
*Saturday, April 26 TBD Los Angeles at San Jose NBC Sports Network, CBC
*Monday, April 28 TBD San Jose at Los Angeles CBC
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD Los Angeles at San Jose CBC
Date TIME (ET) #1 Boston vs. #4 Detroit Networks
Friday, April 18 7:30 p.m. Detroit at Boston NBC Sports Network, TSN
Sunday, April 20 3 p.m. Detroit at Boston NBC, TSN
Tuesday, April 22 7:30 p.m. Boston at Detroit NBC Sports Network, TSN
Thursday, April 24 8 p.m. Boston at Detroit NBC Sports Network, TSN
*Saturday, April 26 3 p.m. Detroit at Boston NBC, TSN
*Monday, April 28 TBD Boston at Detroit TSN
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD Detroit at Boston TSN
Date TIME (ET) #2 Tampa Bay vs. #3 Montreal Networks
Wednesday, April 16 7 p.m. Montreal at Tampa Bay CNBC, CBC, RDS
Friday, April 18 7 p.m. Montreal at Tampa Bay CNBC, CBC, RDS
Sunday, April 20 7 p.m. Tampa Bay at Montreal CBC, RDS, NBC Sports Network
Tuesday, April 22 7 p.m. Tampa Bay at Montreal CBC, RDS, NHL Network U.S.
*Thursday, April 24 7 p.m. Montreal at Tampa Bay CNBC, CBC, RDS
*Sunday, April 27 TBD Tampa Bay at Montreal CBC, RDS, NBC Sports Network
*Tuesday, April 29 TBD Montreal at Tampa Bay CBC, RDS
Date TIME (ET) #1 Pittsburgh vs. #4 Columbus Networks
Wednesday, April 16 7:30 p.m. Columbus at Pittsburgh NBC Sports Network, CBC
Saturday, April 19 7 p.m. Columbus at Pittsburgh NBC Sports Network, CBC
Monday, April 21 7 p.m. Pittsburgh at Columbus NBC Sports Network, CBC
Wednesday, April 23 7 p.m. Pittsburgh at Columbus NBC Sports Network, CBC
*Saturday, April 26 TBD Columbus at Pittsburgh CBC
*Monday, April 28 TBD Pittsburgh at Columbus CBC
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD Columbus at Pittsburgh CBC
Date TIME (ET) #2 NY Rangers vs. #3 Philadelphia Networks
Thursday, April 17 7 p.m. Philadelphia at NY Rangers CNBC, TSN
Sunday, April 20 Noon Philadelphia at NY Rangers NBC, TSN
Tuesday, April 22 8 p.m. NY Rangers at Philadelphia CNBC, TSN
Friday, April 25 7 p.m. NY Rangers at Philadelphia CNBC, TSN
*Sunday, April 27 Noon Philadelphia at NY Rangers NBC, TSN
*Tuesday, April 29 TBD NY Rangers at Philadelphia TSN
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD Philadelphia at NY Rangers TSN
* if necessary
TBD – To Be Determined
For the third time in franchise history, the Wild will face the Colorado Avalanche in the postseason.
The Avalanche won the Central Division this afternoon thanks to the plummeting St. Louis Blues’ home loss against the Detroit Red Wings.
The Wild-Avs series is expected to start in Denver on Thursday.
The Avs, who are 8-1-1 in their past 10 and play a meaningless game tonight at Anaheim, has gone from 29th place to a division championship in one year with Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy in his first year as coach.
The Wild went 1-3-1 against the Avalanche this season. Since March 5, 2006, the Wild is 32-14-6 against Colorado and 13-3-3 in its past 19 in Denver.
But the Avs are a different team. Semyon Varlamov, a potential Vezina winner, just broke Roy’s single-season record with 41 wins. Guaranteed Calder winner Nathan MacKinnon, 18, is already one of the most threatening players in the West. Gabriel Landeskog is a rock-solid two-way forward, as is Ryan O’Reilly.. Bloomington’s Erik Johnson has had a terrific season on the blue line.
The Avs average the fourth-most goals per game in the NHL (3.00), although they rank 14th defensively (2.63 goals against per game).
In 2003, the Wild rallied from 3-1 down to beat Colorado in the first round. Andrew Brunette scored the most famous goal in franchise history and sent Roy into retirement by scoring the series-clinching goal in overtime. In 2008, after the Wild won the Northwest Division, Jose Theodore and the Avs stoned the Wild in six games.
“They are completely different than what they were last year,” said Jason Pominville. “They only added a couple players here or there, but their coaching staff must have done a great job there. They’re just playing with really, really good confidence. They’ve got a lot of skill up front that can make you pay.”
Added Ryan Suter on playing in Denver, “It’s a tough place to play with the altitude. If you get caught out there, that really hurts you. We enjoy playing there though. It is a tough building to play with good atmosphere, but we’ve had success there.”
The Wild closes the regular season tonight at 7 against the Nashville Predators.
If the St. Louis Blues lose to the Detroit Red Wings, the Wild will play the Colorado Avalanche for the third time in Minnesota’s five all-time postseasons (1-1). In the second period, Detroit leads 2-0. I will update this later, of course.
In 2003, the Wild rallied from 3-1 down to beat Colorado in the first round. In 2008, after the Wild won the Northwest Division, Jose Theodore and the Avs stoned the Wild in six games.
The Avalanche, with Patrick Roy in his first year as head coach, has gone from 29th place to a near Central Division title in one year. Colorado is 8-1-1 in its past 10 heading into tonight’s finale at Anaheim and went 4-0-1 against the Wild this season.
In tonight’s Wild-Preds game, Kyle Brodziak’s 231 consecutive games played streak will end. He has played every game since Feb. 25, 2011, but coach Mike Yeo said it would be “silly” to play him tonight. This way, Brodziak will be given every opportunity to get healthy for the start of the playoffs, which are expected to begin Thursday for the Wild.
NHL playoff schedules come out late tonight.
With Brodziak hurt, Nino Niederreiter will play center for the first time in his NHL career on a line believed to be with Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine. Niederreiter has played center previously in his junior career and has been so defensively responsible, Yeo feels he should be able to slide in for a game and provide a big body and good presence. Cody McCormick is expected to center Stephane Veilleux and at times defenseman Jon Blum.
That’s because Dany Heatley left today’s skate with “lower-body discomfort,” Yeo said.
Clayton Stoner, who sprained his MCL March 22 against Detroit, returns and will be paired with Nate Prosser.
Yeo said tonight may be a meaningless game, but “our goal should be to get to 100 points.”
The Predators are 5-0-1 in their past six and Yeo wants the Wild to “match their intensity.”
“We have to make sure we’re keeping our foot on the gas as much as possible,” Yeo said. “We’ve talked so long about how we feel good about our game. That can leave you in a hurry, too, so we should make sure we’re able to keep our intensity up and carry that momentum into the playoffs.”
Yeo said his primary focus tonight is to get Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville quality ice time because they were essentially “rested” last game and Yeo wants them getting enough of a workload to get them ready for the playoffs.
Pominville hopes to get Goal No. 30. "It would have been nice to get it the other night when they threw me out there with an empty net (he just missed), but at the same time, it's only a number," he said.
Yeo said Mikael Granlund had another good day on the ice. If the Wild opens Thursday, the Wild will have Monday off and then have a couple hard practices in St. Paul Tuesday and Wednesday. Yeo hopes Granlund can participate in those so he can get the green light to return for Game 1.
Josh Harding is still around. The Wild has talked about Harding having a rehab stint with Iowa (four games left), but so far that hasn’t come into fruition and Yeo said he’s not sure if it will.
By the way, good to see Preds GM David Poile in the house. Last time he was here, Poile was struck by the puck and suffered major facial damage, multiple surgeries, lost vision in his right eye and missed the Winter Olympics as Team USA’s GM.
Poile said he needed to come back here just to show himself he could.
The Anaheim Ducks clinched the Western Conference a second ago. That means the division winner with the second-best record will be Colorado or St. Louis.
That means the Wild, the top wildcard team in the West, will face one of those teams in the first round of the playoffs this week.
The Blues face Detroit at home at 11:30 a.m. CT. The Ducks host Colorado at 7 p.m. CT. The Wild hosts Nashville at 7 p.m. CT
- If St. Louis loses in regulation to Detroit, the Wild plays Colorado.
- If St. Louis gets a point vs. Detroit, Colorado must get a point at Anaheim to play the Wild, or the Wild plays St. Louis.
- If St. Louis beats Detroit, Colorado must beat Anaheim to play the Wild, or the Wild plays St. Louis.
Playoff series schedules will be released Sunday night. I believe the Wild will open Thursday because are there are arena conflicts in both Colorado and St. Louis on Wednesday.
Talk to you Sunday morning after the morning skates. I'll also be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission.
|Vikings (33)||Gophers injuries (2)|
|Gophers on TV (1)||Gophers coaches (2)|
|Gophers players (7)||Gophers game day (6)|
|Gophers postgame (12)||Gophers awards and honors (1)|
|Gophers post season (1)||St. Cloud State (1)|
|Wild news (482)||Bears (5)|
|Lions (1)||NFL draft (1)|
|Packers (2)||Super Bowl (6)|
|Vikings fans (3)||Ex-players (1)|
|Injury report (1)||On the road (194)|
|Rookies (37)||Roster moves (14)|
|Vikings draft (91)||Vikings trade talk (3)|
|Fighting (3)||Stanley Cup (28)|
|Wild coaching (32)||Wild game coverage (407)|
|Wild management (15)||Wild off-season news (421)|
|Wild player moves (125)||Wild practice (344)|
|Wild pregame skate (367)||Wild trade news (37)|
|Wild training camp (121)||Adrian Peterson (4)|
|Ben Leber (1)||Bernard Berrian (1)|
|Brad Childress (3)||Brett Favre (5)|
|Jared Allen (2)||Leslie Frazier (1)|
|Brad Childress (3)||Leslie Frazier (1)|
|NHL news (1)||2010 Winter Games (5)|
|Olympic hockey (27)||Olympic luge (3)|
|Olympic ski jumping (2)||Olympic skiing (2)|
|NHL draft (7)||Gophers sports (3)|