This is Michael Russo's 18th year covering the National Hockey League. He's covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005 following 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. Michael 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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Niklas Backstrom, who did not accompany the team to Chicago, flew commercial to Chicago last night and was on the ice sharing the cage with Darcy Kuemper this morning.
Josh Harding had one to himself and will get the start for Game 2 tonight at United Center. Darcy Kuemper will back up.
Yeo would only say the plan was for Backstrom to always fly to Chicago. Regardless, he'll be in street clothes tonight and will accompany the team back to Minnesota after the game.
Backstrom took shots this morning and still looked to me like he was having some issues. But the fact he was on the ice so soon is obviously a good sign. I haven't talked yet with Backstrom. I can only imagine how disappointed he has to be. You wait all year for the playoffs and minutes before Game 1, you get hurt? Ugh. If you know Backstrom, it has to be an awful feeling.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville on Harding and Backstrom: "One's a lefty; one's a righty."
It'll be interesting to see how Harding plays tonight. Completely different mentality when you're a last-second emergency substitution to knowing for three days you're probably starting Game 2. Today's a long day, too, with the odd 8:30 puck drop, so that's a lot of time to think.
Clayton Stoner and Jason Pominville are out tonight and didn't make the trip to Chicago. 6-foot-5 blue-liner Justin Falk will play for Stoner.
"He actually has played some good hockey," coach Mike Yeo said of Falk. "It's nice to insert him into a place where we feel we can give him a good chance to succeed, too. You'll see him out there more against more of their third and fourth lines -- bigger lines, a little bit more physical. That's the type of game that he should be playing. ... With his size, we're looking for him to bring a physical element to the game, too."
David Bolland and Ray Emery are again out for the Blackhawks.
Tonight feels like Game 1 all over again with two off-days oddly in between. Jonathan Toews expects a better playoff pace at the beginning of the game. The Blackhawks have been talking over and over again about a better start tonight, so the Wild will need to weather the storm or better yet look to dictate this pace.
I'd expect a much more physical game than Game 1, one more emblematic of the playoff games we've seen around the league thus far.
"I hope so," Yeo said. "I think that serves us well. I think we're comfortable playing in those type of games. Against a team like that, if we can get engaged in a game like that, then I think that it helps us. That said, we have to make sure we're doing it the right way, doing it within the structure of our game."
More on this, Yeo said, "I know that our guys are emotionally engaged in this and I think it will increase as the series goes on. I'm not comparing us to any of the other series' that's going on."
On the 8:30 start, Yeo said, "It makes it a longer day. That's about it. But these players are professionals."
I will be on KFAN at 4:35 p.m. with Dan Barreiro.
I will be on the Fox Sports North "Wild Live" pregame show at around 7:40 p.m. tonight.
In a potential nightmare for the Wild, No. 1 goalie Niklas Backstrom got hurt during warmups tonight and will not start Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Backstrom, who tied for the league lead with 24 wins, looked like he stretched awkwardly when reaching for a rebound early in warmups. Looked like a lower-body injury on the left side.
Harding hasn't started in the NHL since giving up two goals on four shots and being pulled 6:45 in against Chicago on Jan. 30. His lone postseason action came in 2008 when he played 20 minutes and stopped all 11 shots.
He missed more than two months due to complications for multiple sclerosis.
There is no backup behind Harding. For some reason, the Wild doesn't have Darcy Kuemper here even though Houston doesn't have a playoff game tonight and they're in nearby Grand Rapids.
“When they play like they want to, they can score four or five goals a night and keep it out of their net with maybe one of the best defensemen in the league [in Suter]. It’s a dangerous team. You definitely have to be careful with them. They’re a team that I’ve watched throughout the year and it seems like one night they look like the best team in the NHL and the next night they look like they don’t even want to be out there.”
The Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Dallas Stars 3-1 tonight to keep their playoff hopes alive.
A regulation loss, and the Wild would have clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2008. Instead, the Jackets moved into a tie with the Wild with 53 points but sit in ninth place with one game left. The idle Wild fell one point behind the Detroit Red Wings into eighth place.
The Wild can clinch a playoff spot with a victory over the Edmonton Oilers, who are 1-9-0 in their past 10 games, Friday night at the X. The Wild also plays at Colorado on Saturday night.
The 7th-place Red Wings play at Dallas, which was eliminated from postseason contention tonight, on Saturday night, while the Blue Jackets host Nashville. The Predators, who lost 5-2 to the Red Wings tonight, sat No. 1 Pekka Rinne, incidentally, and blew a 2-1 lead.
If the Wild wins out, it can finish as high as sixth if the San Jose Sharks lose in regulation to the Los Angeles Kings in their finale.
If the Wild wins out and the Sharks get a point, the Wild would finish seventh.
If the Wild wins one and the Red Wings lose Saturday, the Wild would finish seventh.
If the Wild wins one and the Red Wings win Saturday, the Wild finishes eighth.
If the Wild loses out and the Jackets get one point Saturday, the Wild is eliminated.
If the Wild loses out and the Jackets lose Saturday, the Wild finishes eight.
If the Wild finishes 1-0-1, the Wild would finish seventh or eighth depending on how they became 1-0-1 and if Detroit wins. I'm not going to burst any brains cells right now with those scenarios.
Regardless of all this, win, and the Wild's in.
Mikko Koivu said he wasn’t going to watch the Stars-Blue Jackets game.
Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown has been suspended the final two games of the Kings regular season. The suspension stems from Brown's elbow to the face of Wild winger Jason Pominville in the second period last night.
He loses $34,324.32 in salary. Here is Brendan Shanahan's video explaining NHL Safety's decision.
Brown, who had played in 314 consecutive games, will be well-rested for the beginning of the playoffs next week.
The first of those games comes tonight against Detroit, which is probably not a good thing for the Wild, which is being chased by the 9th-place Red Wings (three points back with three games left).
"I had the puck on my stick, he’s coming to hit me and I’m just bracing myself," Brown said when I asked him about the elbow last night.
The Wild didn't practice today, but official word thus far is Pominville is day to day with an upper body injury. GM Chuck Fletcher said it was too early to know yet if the Wild needs to recall a forward. If Pominville is sidelined, the Wild has no extra on the roster right now unless Mike Rupp is ready to return Friday from a knee injury. Otherwise, the Wild will have to look to the Houston farm.
Big blow if he is sidelined. Nine points in 10 games, 4, 2-point games, and those came in games the Wild went 3-0-1. He helped elevate that Pierre-Marc Bouchard/Kyle Brodziak line.
The Wild hasn't called it a concussion, but because Pominville was so wobbly getting to the bench, I have gotten a lot of tweets asking if he has a concussion history. His lone documented one in the NHL came Oct. 11, 2010, when he was hit from behind by Chicago's Niklas Hjalmarsson. Pominville, who has played five 82-game season, missed nine games.
This is just the latest blown call from officials. Not only has refs missed about a dozen high sticks in the last month (and I'm not exaggerating), Coyle received a match penalty for a hit against Columbus 17 seconds into a game that was later deemed legal by the NHL. Now, no call on the dirty and blatant Brown elbow on Pominville that's later deemed illegal.
Fascinating. These are critical errors in huge, critical games.
We will see Thursday at practice if there's an update on Pominville or if he's on the ice.
I did contact coach Mike Yeo today about some of the public criticism from fans and media about the Wild's lack of response to the Brown elbow last night. I touched on what my opinion was on last night's blog, which you can see on the below blog, but Yeo said, "Need to win, simple as that. We take a penalty and they score and Brown has hurt a lot more than Poms. If that happens no one would have been more upset than Poms, he wants our team in the playoffs."
Speaking of playoffs, again, two points in the Wild's final two games and the Wild's in for the first time since 2008. But, if the Red Wings lose in regulation tonight against L.A. and tomorrow against Nashville OR Columbus loses in regulation tomorrow at Dallas, the Wild clinches even before Friday's game against Edmonton.
Single-game playoff tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m.
By the way, if you didn't see, Chicago scribes report former St. Cloud State standout and Hobey Baker winner Drew Leblanc will make his NHL debut tonight at Edmonton ... on a line with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. CSN Chicago's Tracey Myers tweeted a quote from Leblanc, a true puck distributor, on his plans tonight: "Get them the puck and get out of their way is my strategy."
He is ineligible for the playoffs though because he was signed after the April 3 trade deadline.
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