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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Posts about Rookies

Niederreiter takes Cooke's spot on checking line; Cooke suspension length coming

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 23, 2014 - 4:14 PM

Wild veteran left Matt Cooke and GM Chuck Fletcher were in New York today for an in-person hearing stemming from Cooke’s knee-on-knee hit on Colorado’s Tyson Barrie on Monday.

Cooke faces a significant suspension, one that is expected to be announced later today (I'll blog later when ruling is out). Remember, Cooke can appeal any suspension to Commissioner Gary Bettman and any suspension six games or more to a neutral arbitrator. He cannot play during any appeals process.

So at the very minimum, we shouldn’t expect to see Cooke again in the first round. Want to hear my thoughts on Cooke and other interesting things? Last night, I did another edition of Denver Post Avs beat writer Adrian Dater’s Podcast, “Hockey Talk.” Fox 9’s Dawn Mitchell also joins! We talk about a number of interesting things, I think. Here’s the link!!! It’s about an hour. Last week’s one is also on iTunes. (free).

Good day from the X, the site of Game 4 Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. CT. The NHL has announced that Game 5 will be at 7:30 p.m. MT/8:30 p.m. CT on Saturday from the Pepsi Center in Denver.

With Cooke suspended, youngster Nino Niederreiter will take Cooke’s spot on the left side of the shutdown line with rookies Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine on Thursday. Haula, Fontaine and Cooke were largely credited for helping slow the Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Nathan MacKinnon line in Monday’s 1-0 OT win.

Fontaine and Haula were quick to say it was a team effort of five-man units, good gaps and large portions of the game played in the offensive zone. That must continue.

If you remember, in almost identical circumstances, the Wild returned to Minnesota to play Game 3 last year against the Blackhawks. In almost identical circumstances, the Wild needed an overtime win (Jason Zucker’s heroics off Matt Cullen’s setup) to beat Chicago in a game the Wild dominated. Sound familiar?

The Wild then came out in Game 4, started well, didn’t score, went 0 for 6 on the power play and lost 3-0 to the Blackhawks. That set the stage for a Game 5 blowout.

You know that Colorado will come out a desperate team in Game 4 because it knows a victory means it can close the series at home Saturday. The Wild must exceed that desperation Thursday to even up the series.

With Cooke coming out of the lineup, Kyle Brodziak enters back in the fray. Scratched in Game 3, Brodziak will center the fourth line with Dany Heatley and Cody McCormick.

Here’s some of coach Mike Yeo’s thoughts from today:

On putting Niederreiter on that third line: "Yeah, obviously like I said yesterday there's some things we discussed, different scenarios we could have tried. Probably looking at the way Haulzie and Fonzie played, trying to keep that intact. Adding a guy who can be strong on the puck, whose responsible defensively and can play a strong two-way game and that was important to us. Obviously a good challenge for three young kids."

Concerned about youth? “Listen, they're a big part of our team. We have confidence in those guys so we're not going to try to hide anybody out here. Obviously if we feel it's not working, I'm comfortable with any line. I'm comfortable with any of our centermen. If that's their assignment they'll take care of it and if we put somebody else on the task they'll have to take care of it too”

Evaluate Niederreiter’s year: “I think it's been very good. It would be easy to sit here and say he started off one way and finished another. It's the time of year where the hockey has improved and the pace of play has improved. What I really appreciate about him is we've been able to insert him into different roles. We've put him in a scoring role, we've put him in a checking role and he's always sort of adapted. To me, that's the sign of a good player. That's the sign of a guy who's going to have a good career. He's not pigeon-holed. For a player like that, big strong, physical guy he has skill. I feel really good about how he's developed and I think it's been a good first year for him here.”

Urgency needed Thursday: “Well, there better be. It’s not like we’re ahead in the series here. We’re down and I think we recognize that they’re going to come in with a real strong effort next game. i think that they recognize the importance of the next game, let’s not kid ourselves, and I think we should too. We would love the opportunity to go back to Colorado with some momentum, we’d love the opportunity to go back to Colorado and hopefully they’re feeling a bit of pressure. I think that game is going to be an important one.”

Last year proof of that?: “That’s part of it. Let’s not kid ourselves, we know it’s a swing game, for sure. I look closely at that game last year, we had a real good start and then the game kind of got away from us. I think what’s important is, we understand the result we want to have but there’s a way we have to do it and there’s a way we have to play the game. We have to make sure we’re ready for that.”

Built up momentum in Game 3, does Cooke let air out of the balloon?: “It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen. We started the game really well, we built momentum and they started to come on as the game went on. I thought we were actually tight starting overtime. Getting that goal was big for us because it felt like that was the first sign of us starting  to fear that maybe something was getting away from us. I think getting that goal was huge, for me momentum it’s always there, it’s always something that you feel but at the same time, it’s always something you have to establish and keep or establish. So, going into next game, I think both teams will recognize the importance of the start. I know they’re going to come out hard and obviously our guys are going to have to too. We’re going to have to be ready to, not only come out hard, but sharp. If they’re going to pressure harder, we have to move the puck a little bit better, if they;re going to play more physical, we’re going to have to be ready to take hits to make plays, whatever the case is, at the same time, we’re gotta make sure that we’re ready to dictate and not just sit there see what they’re going to bring.” 

Brodziak, what do you want?: “You know, the same things that we always want from him. Obviously penalty killing will be important and sort of a defensive-minded presence on the ice but a guy who’s going to be play the game hard both ends of the ice and a guy who’s going to be strong on the puck. That’s really not a big change for him, and I’m confident he’ll come in and play well.”

Heatley, and how well he played: “I was real happy to see the way that he came in. I give real credit to him the way that he’s handled himself since being out. For a veteran guy like that and the success that he’s had, to not start in our lineup, he handled it with a great deal of professionalism. But more importantly he made sure that he was ready. The fact that he’s been around, that he understands that there’s going to be changes for injury or performance. He made sure that he was ready, and obviously if he keeps going the way he’s at, it’s a great thing for us and he’ll continue to get more opportunities.”

Who initiates physical play now without Cooke?: “I think that typically we’re not a team that one looks to one guy and sees how he’s playing and then we all react to it. We had the opportunity before Game 3 where I met with every player and just kind of figured out where they’re at mentally, and they sat there and told me what they were going to bring. We have an attitude as a group that we all play sort of the same way of how we play without the puck, how we play with the puck and again, whether that’s finishing a check or how you play in your own zone, or how that’s how you execute with the puck, we try to all be on the same page. So I would expect the same tomorrow.”

On Thursday, I'll be on KFAN at some time in the morning on P.A.'s show (9:55 a.m. subject to change), on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio Sirius 207 XM 211 at 3:20 p.m., on NHL Network's NHL Live (arena cam) at 5:35 p.m. and on KFAN with Barreiro at 5:55 p.m.

Joey Hishon, the 2010 first-round pick by the Avs, has been recalled and will make his NHL debut on Colorado's fourth line and the power play. Ryan Wilson replaced Barrie on the blue line.

Postgame: Wild pulls out a North Carolina 'W' by going 3 for 3 in the extra-extra session

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 9, 2013 - 10:34 PM

The Wild enjoyed its first trip to Raleigh in almost four years exactly. A little hoops, a nice dinner and two points.

It wasn’t the prettiest game of the Wild’s season, but the Wild played plenty of pretty games early in the season against L.A., Anaheim, Nashville and Toronto and didn’t grab the full two-point allotment.

So, as they say in the biz, they’ll take it.

3-2 shootout winners against Carolina. The Wild entered 0-3 in shootouts and 0 for 7 in shootout shooters this season. That blemish disappeared tonight when Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville scored career shootout goals No. 33, 31 and 19, respectively, to ruin Justin Peters’ night. The kid has given up eight shootout goals in 11 attempts in his career.

Parise said somebody (probably goalie coach Bob Mason) radioed from atop prior to the shootout that Peters bites on the fake. Parise deked and deked until Peters was faked out of his breezers.

The goals came after the Wild killed off a 67-second 4-on-3 disadvantage to end overtime. Boneheaded play by the Hurricanes as they much to the chagrin of their moaning fans working the puck astonishingly for 30 or 35 seconds on the delayed penalty.

“If it were me, I would have thrown it right on net and tried to get a whistle and get a 1:40 4-on-3,” Parise said. “We were all on the bench confused why they would do that.”

In regulation, Pominville scored a breakaway goal after he shrewdly read a blocked shot and took off in the neutral zone. Ryan Suter indeed blocked the shot and sprung Pominville for a breakaway goal, the 200th goal of his career. He now leads the team with 11 and has 7 in his last 7 games. He has 14 goals in his career vs. the Canes.

Josh Harding stopped 27 of 29 shots and was only beaten once in the shootout. He leads the NHL now with a 1.22 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

Suter only (kidding) logged 35 minutes, 28 seconds. He was a horse. Yeo joked the Wild cut him a break tonight because he played 36:51 in Washington.

Yeo said playing Suter this much is not ideal, that he doesn’t want to play him 35 minutes every game, but if the game is on the ice, “who do you want on the ice? And if he’s not showing he’s tired and still can perform at a high level, when there’s two points hanging there for you, you want him on the ice.”

Marco Scandella was outstanding, assisting on Justin Fontaine’s tying goal in the second. Fontaine now has six goal, tied for third among rookies, and five in his past nine games. He also had a nasty gash around his right ear after the game from being clocked by a Suter clear.

Scandella was just solid as I said and Yeo said he hasn’t seen him play at this level.

In 12 games since he was scratched for three, Scandella is a plus-7 with only one minus-1 game included.

Sloppy game overall. Ice was awful. Carolina pressures well. Matt Dumba had a bunch of turnovers and only played 10 minutes. If Clayton Stoner can play Wednesday, he will likely sit again. But a lot of guys just seemed off tonight. Even Charlie Coyle played one of the poorest games I’ve seen him play.

Kyle Brodziak had a real good game with Fontaine and Matt Cooke. Brodziak had five shots and they were out there a lot against the Staaaaaaaals.

The Wild (10-4-4) has 24 points, tied for the most points in franchise history after 18 games (2006-07, a team I actually thought was better than the 2008 division winner).

Parise’s 33 shootout goals are tied for first in NHL history (9 years) and Koivu’s 31 are tied for fifth (but second-most). 

The Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Pominville line has been the Wild’s offensive engine during its hot streak. The trio has 10 goals and 22 points in the past seven games.

That’s it for me. Wild is off Sunday, which means no blog unless there’s news. I didn’t see it, but Jason Zucker got a five and game for his second checking to the head penalty of the season. So he could see his second suspension on the horizon.

Rachel is covering for me Monday. I’ll be back with you Tuesday, although I plan a story on Niklas Backstrom in Monday’s paper.

Clutterbuck dealt to Islanders, reunited with Tavares; Wild acquires El Nino

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 30, 2013 - 5:53 PM

 

Early look at the trade...Clutterbuck and Garth Snow quotes are below
 
Chuck Fletcher didn’t trade into the first round of Sunday’s NHL draft, but in the mind of the Wild general manager, he did the next best thing.
 
Fletcher traded hard-hitting fan favorite Cal Clutterbuck and one of its two 2013 third-round picks to the New York Islanders for the Swiss kid known as “El Nino” -- Nino Niederreiter, a 20-year-old projected power forward who was drafted fifth overall in the 2010 draft.
 
“Two years from now it’ll be interesting to see how many of the kids that were selected today are at the level that Nino is right now,” Fletcher said. “This is a guy that’s knocking on the door. All the hype around the top picks today, and deservedly so, were on this guy two years ago and we’re just two years further down the road.”
 
The highest-drafted Swiss player in NHL history, Niederreiter finished 10th in goal scoring in the American Hockey League last season, scoring 28 goals and 50 points in 74 games for Bridgeport. He’s a European who decided to play Canadian juniors early, scoring 130 points in 120 games for the Portland Winterhawks.
 
"I’ll try to bring my size, my physical play as a power forward, and would like to bring the game I played in junior. I’m capable of scoring goals," Niederreiter said.
 
Clutterbuck, 25, a third-round pick in 2006, scored 62 goals and 110 points in 346 games for the Wild. He gained a reputation as one of the NHL’s most physical forwards, leading the league in hits (1,010) his first three full seasons.
 
But Clutterbuck was in the last year of his deal, coming off a tough year and the Wild, which is also strapped for salary-cap space, felt it was time it could parlay him into a player it hopes can contribute offensively.
 
“We’re acquiring a 20-year-old guy who’s been a proven goal scorer at every level short of the NHL so far,” Fletcher said.
 
Clutterbuck’s will be reunited with John Tavares, the No. 1 pick in the 2009, draft. The two were linemates in Oshawa, where Tavares was a superstar.
 
Fletcher said there was a lineup of teams in the East that sought Clutterbuck. He told teams from the West not to bother.
The trade gives the Wild three of the 30 first-round picks in 2010 (Mikael Granlund, 9th overall and Charlie Coyle, 28th overall). In fact, two hours before that 2010 draft, Niederreiter said the Wild, which was undoubtedly taking a forward with its first pick, called Niederreiter for one final meeting.
 
There, he said, the Wild told him how much it was interested in selecting him. The Islanders chose him four picks earlier.
 
But the relationship between Niederreiter and the Islanders became strained last year when he was called up from Bridgeport and played a handful of minutes a night on the fourth line. He was in and out of the lineup.
 
The summation by many in New York and Niederreiter’s camp was that the Islanders only had Niederreiter on the team so they could stay above the cap floor.
 
Niederreiter asked to be traded. That upset the Islanders. Niederreiter wasn’t invited to training camp, nor put on the playoff roster despite the fact he had a strong year in the minors.
 
“I didn’t have a strong year [in 2011-12], I didn’t get the chance I was hoping for, and then I didn’t get invited to camp, but I knew I had to work as hard as I can,” Niederreiter said. “I never really heard anything from the team, so I was just a little bit of disappointed about that. I wanted to see if they still wanted me and stuff.
 
“Now I got a new opportunity and I’m very excited about it.”
 
He has a $2.795 million cap hit, but that's including performance bonuses. You can go 7.5 percent over the cap, and his bonuses are major award-laden. So it may not be an issue. If it is, that's a good thing.
 
Fletcher said it's good to have four guys on two-ways like Niederreiter, Coyle, Granlund and Jason Zucker and nothing will be promised to them.
 
Islanders GM Garth Snow

We got a good young player that’s established in the NHL. We love the element of grit and he obviously has had success putting the puck in the net and creating offense. He brings immediate help and we’re happy about the trade.

Whenever you have a good, young player it’s tough to make a deal. But if we didn’t get Cal in return, it’s not something we would have considered. We got a quality player that’ll be inserted into our lineup to help our team win.

(Problems with Nino?) I’m not going to speak from (Niederreiter’s) perspective, but for us, no.

You’ve got to give up something to get something, and that’s what we did.

Clutterbuck

I had some foresight that I might be traded ahead of the draft, so it wasn’t a total shock. It’s a good situation for me and I’m excited.

I’ve known John (Tavares) since he came into the OHL as a fresh-faced, 14-year-old. We go back a ways. And he’s obviously a great player. It bodes well for the franchise going forward.

It’s tough to leave (Minnesota) for sure. It would have been a whole lot tougher if it were a midseason thing -- the summer is a little different, you have a little more time to let it sink in.

 
More later
 
Here's a Clutterbuck-Tavares story from a few years ago
 
By MICHAEL RUSSO
 
If you want to witness a trash-talking extravaganza tonight, keep an eye on Cal Clutterbuck during warmups.
Just for fun, the Wild’s king of smack is planning to hurl a bunch of one-liners at the direction of Islanders prized rookie John Tavares, the No. 1 overall pick in last June’s draft.
“Just to get him thinking, I’ll be in his ear,” Clutterbuck said, laughing. “I know too many things about him, so it’ll be easy. Some of them I probably won’t even use because I’d probably break his heart if I did. I’ll make sure to tell him I still run his show.
“I’m excited to know what it’s like to play against him.”
Clutterbuck sure loved playing with Tavares, who scored the most goals in Ontario Hockey League history (215).
“He definitely helped my career, which I’m appreciative of,” said Clutterbuck, 22, who’s three years older than Tavares.
At the 2005 OHL trade deadline, Clutterbuck was dealt to the Oshawa Generals. The Generals were awful and were able to draft Tavares, then a 14-year-old phenom, first overall after the league created an “exceptional player” clause so Tavares could enter a year sooner than rules permitted.
“I used to make fun of him being so young. I called him, ‘My little pigeon, my little puppet,’” Clutterbuck said.
For two years, Clutterbuck and Tavares were linemates. In 2006-07, Tavares scored 72 goals to break Wayne Gretzky’s OHL record for goals by a 16-year-old and registered 134 points. That same year, Clutterbuck scored 35 goals and 89 points.
When Clutterbuck, the Wild’s third-round pick in 2006, left for Houston the following season, Tavares’ production “slipped” to 40 goals and 118 points.
“I realized last year how much I missed Cal’s presence,” Tavares said earlier this year. “He always had guys looking over their shoulders. He made guys second guess things and turn pucks over, and that created a lot of opportunities for myself.”
Clutterbuck said the most infamous hit was on superpest Patrick Kaleta, the former Peterborough Pete who now plays for the Buffalo Sabres. Kaleta used to take runs at Tavares every game until …
“I hit him with a football block,” Clutterbuck said, laughing. “He was going into kill Johnny and I came out of nowhere and just hammered him. Just laid him out. He never hit Johnny again. Johnny was the franchise guy and my job was to make sure nothing too crazy happened to him.”
Tavares said Clutterbuck “wasn’t always the most-liked guy in the league. I think he probably was the least.”
After several false rumors minutes before the NHL draft that the Islanders were going to select Matt Duchene, Snow snatched up Tavares. He hasn’t disappointed, leading all NHL rookies with nine goals and 19 points.
“He’s exactly as good as everybody said he was,” Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said.
Like the debate currently going on now between 2010 draft-eligible OHL stars Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, every facet of Tavares’ game was picked apart last season.
“Go back and look what he did in junior hockey and just go look at his numbers. They’re ridiculous,” NHL analyst and former North Stars Director of Player Personnel Craig Button said. “I go back to [1984] with Mario Lemieux and Kirk Muller. There were public arguments that maybe Kirk should be No. 1.
“Mario Lemieux had more goals than Kirk Muller had total points. But people watched them so much, they were picked apart. It’s like in [2005]. People were saying if Phil Kessel was in that draft that Sidney Crosby might not go No. 1. That’s laughable.
“Last year, it was one thing if you were going to debate taking a 6-6 unique defenseman like Victor Hedman over Tavares. You can make that argument. But when people were trying to make the argument between Brayden Schenn and John Tavares, or Matt Duchene and John Tavares, I mean, come on.”
Clutterbuck found all the second-guessing of Tavares hysterical.
“There’s always been a question about his skating. Well, look at any level he’s played at, his skating has never hindered his ability to do anything,” Clutterbuck said. “He just manages to score. He’s 19 and he’s already a dangerous offensive weapon in the NHL. He’s going to score a lot of goals in this league.”

 

Jonas Brodin makes All-Rookie Team; More on Cal Clutterbuck's future

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 29, 2013 - 12:20 PM

Sunday's 2 p.m. CT NHL draft is fast approaching (NBC Sports Network from 2-7 p.m.; NHL Network after 7 p.m.), and the Wild continues to shop Cal Clutterbuck and Tom Gilbert, especially.

Typically, deals like this come down on the draft floor or just before the draft because the Wild is looking for either a first-round pick in the Clutterbuck deal (teams are hesitant to give up firsts right now because this draft is so deep) or a second so it could potentially use two seconds to try to move into the first round.

And often times when picks are involved, the teams involved want to make certain first the player they want to take is still sitting there. For instance, in 2006 when the Wild acquired Pavol Demitra for a first and Patrick O'Sullivan, the L.A. Kings didn't agree to the deal until they were certain Trevor Lewis would still be there.

As you saw in today's story,  it is looking increasingly likely that Clutterbuck will be traded this weekend. He has value, he is a restricted free agent and the Wild's cap space is limited. The Wild is looking for a second and prospect, but perhaps the price can go up if there's a bidding war for Clutterbuck.

I do hear that GM Chuck Fletcher would prefer to trade Clutterbuck to the East. As I reported the other day, Fletcher had lunch Thursday with Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis. Boston may make sense, too. In the West, as I reported last week, I hear Edmonton has shown significant interest. But I'd be lying if I said I know all the teams involved.

Again, Gilbert's future is almost certainly elsewhere. If he's not traded, the Wild will likely buy him out and create an extra $4 million of cap space. It'll also be interesting to see if the Wild moves guys like Devin Setoguchi or Kyle Brodziak or Torrey Mitchell. It's listening to offers at least.

As I've reported, with Jake Dowell likely going to be the fourth-line center next season and Mike Rupp also in the fold, Zenon Konopka is also on the block. Fletcher said recently that the Wild have a few guys who play the same role.

I've gotten lots of emails and tweets asking if the Wild's going after this guy and this guy and this guy and, uh, Vinny Lecavalier, in free agency. Again, unless the Wild frees up cap space, the answer to virtually everything right now is, "No." If space is freed, then we'll see then. Remember, if Clutterbuck is traded for a non-roster player and pick, that doesn't add to the Wild's roughly $3.6 million in cap space.

That cap space doesn't include unsigned restricted guys Clutterbuck, Jared Spurgeon and Justin Falk or unrestricted center Matt Cullen.

In other Wild news:

Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin, who finished fourth in the Calder Trophy race, was named to the All-Rookie team Saturday. He became the first Wild player in history to be honored with an All-NHL nomination.

Ryan Suter is a likely contender for First or Second-Team All-Star. That may come out tomorrow.
 
Last season, Brodin, the youngest defenseman in the NHL at age 20, drafted 10th overall in 2011, led all rookies in total ice time (1,044:35) and average time on ice (23:12 per game), becoming just the eighth rookie skater in league history to average more than 23 minutes a game.
 
Brodin, who scored 11 points in 45 games, led rookie defensemen with 18 takeaways and was fourth among all rookies with 60 blocked shots.
 
Other members of the All-Rookie team are St. Louis goalie Jake Allen, Edmonton defenseman Justin Schultz, Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher, Florida forward Jonathan Huberdeau and Chicago forward Brandon Saad.
 
--Also, the Wild has yet to extend a qualifying offer to potential restricted free agent Justin Falk, his agent confirmed to me. The Wild, which has been shopping Falk, has until Tuesday to decide if it wants to retain the defenseman’s rights.
 
If Falk isn’t qualified, he would become unrestricted when free agency opens Friday. I did get an email sent to me regarding a comment on one of the stories where a reader thought Falk was unrestricted already. He is indeed restricted.
 
More later if news breaks.

Wild vs. Blackhawks blog: Pominville returns to practice; PHWA voting process

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 6, 2013 - 5:25 PM
With the Wild hoping to even its series with the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4 Tuesday (8:30 p.m.), injured Jason Pominville took part in this morning’s optional practice. He was unavailable to the media and coach Mike Yeo was vague about his availability for Game 4 – partly because it’s the playoffs and probably because he doesn’t know.
 
After all, Yeo thought Pominville was ready before Game 1. But the winger woke up in Chicago not feeling right following a strenuous practice the day before and hasn’t played in the three games since.
 
My guess is he’s not ready yet. Stranger things have happened in the playoffs, but besides the fact that you don’t want to rush the vet back in if he’s hurt, today was only his second practice (and an optional one at that) since the April 23 injury, so who knows where he is fitness wise?
 
“Today was encouraging,” Yeo said. “I’m not saying that he’s a possibility for tomorrow. I’m not saying that he isn’t. For me, I’m just glad he was on the ice today and we’ll just see what the plan is going forward.”
 
Afternoon from the bowels of the X, where I've got a ton of writing in front of me. But here is a 2,000-word blog for your review. I will also host a live chat on startribune.com Tuesday at 3 p.m. CT. Be there or be square.
 
Today’s optional included, for the start of the skate, Sunday heroes Matt Cullen and Jason Zucker, and for all of the skate Pominville, Justin Falk, Jake Dowell, Matt Dumba, Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Carson McMillan, Mikael Granlund, Stephane Veilleux and goalies Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper.
 
McMillan was called up today because there is a chance he could play Game 4. Dumba was called up because he basically had nothing to gather in Houston. The rest of the Houston vets returned there to pack up their lives.
 
On Tuesday, a handful more Houston players will likely be recalled, including everybody’s favorite UMD Bulldog, Justin Fontaine. The Wild, like all playoff teams, will have a lot of young guys around for the remainder of the playoffs. That doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily play, but they’ll be here to practice and get a taste of the NHL life. That includes everybody's favorite UMD Bulldog. Fontaine is a long way off from being put into his first NHL game.
 
My guess is either McMillan or Dowell play Game in place of Mike Rupp. Zenon Konopka didn’t play Game 3. Rupp played four shifts. Normally, you’d be on the ice for an optional if that were the case. Neither was today, meaning Konopka’s foot is an issue and Rupp’s knee.
 
“Might need some rest,” Yeo said, lying through his grinning teeth.
 
When I noted Rupp played four shifts, Yeo quipped, “They were hard shifts.”
 
Yeo said Rupp and Konopka might play. Or, might not.
 
Stephane Veilleux should earn a second straight game on the fourth line. Played a little under eight minutes, three hits – two on his first shift on menace (and I say that with respect because he’s been great) Johnny Oduya.
 
“We knew there would be energy in the building and we knew that he would contribute to that too,” Yeo said humorously of Veilleux. “Against a team like this, his skating ability was a big factor of why we chose him. He’s able to get in on the forecheck and he’s able to arrive and apply the pressure.”
 
Veilleux joked to me that he didn’t need to drink any Red Bull during the game. Said Yeo, “He’s pretty naturally wired. He does have experience. It’s not like we’re calling up a young kid that’s full of energy. He knows how to bring that energy without going over the line, too.”
 
The big message of the day from the Wild is it’s accomplished nothing so far.
 
It played in well in Game 3. It won. It’s still trailing in the series.
 
The Wild expects the Blackhawks to ramp it up, especially physically, and come with a shoot-from-everywhere mentality in Game. 4. The Wild needs to up its level, too.
 
“That’s the goal, that’s kind of what we’ve been striving for right from Game 1,” Yeo said. “That’s what we said with the playoffs -- you have to elevate your game. Looking at the video, there’s still some areas that we think we could be a little bit better. But at the very least, we have to be ready to bring a lot of the same things that we did last game. Part of the challenge for us next game will be to brace against their pushback. We know that they’re going to come hard and I’m anxious to see how we respond to that.”

There will be a heckuva lot more in the paper. One thing I plan to write about is Jonas Brodin not being named a finalist for the Calder.
 
As you can imagine, Brodin was humble today, seemed to care less and is just ready to keep logging big minutes to help this team win in the playoffs.
 
Yeo said, “I’m disappointed. And congratulations to the other players (Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher, Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau and Chicago's Brandon Saad). They’re great players. And I mean this with the greatest respect to them, but I’ve coached this guy all year and we’re here battling in the playoffs and it’s hard to say that we would be if he’s not on our team. This kid is a very, very good hockey player. So it’s disappointing for me.”
 
Basically, and real quick because I have a ton of writing to do for Tuesday’s paper, but members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association – I’m chapter chairman of the Twin Cities chapter and Vice President of the Northwest Division – votes on the Hart, Norris, Calder, Lady Byng, Selke and Masterton Trophies, in addition to All-Star (First- and Second-teams) and All-Rookie Teams.
 
Votes have to be submitted to an accounting firm in New York just prior to the first playoff game.
 
I talked with Kevin Allen of the USA Today this morning about the voting process this year. He is President of the PHWA (@ThePHWA on Twitter).
 
First, a little history. Ten years ago when Allen took over, there were three votes per chapter. In order to shrink the margin of error (that one or two bad ballots could ruin everything), Allen worked to vastly increase the number of eligible voters.
 
 Slowly, but surely, and in order to try to get a level of geographic balance, there wound up being about 68 votes in the West and 68 votes in the East, including what Allen called at-large votes (national writers that see everybody).
 
Today, the PHWA relies on recommendations from the Chapter Chairperson. To vote, you have to be a member. This year, there were 178 voters – the most in our history (every member doesn’t get a vote).
 
The breakdown of eligible voters this year, according to Allen, were 46.4 percent from Eastern cities, 32.8 percent from Western cities and 20.8 percent from international chapter members who cover no specific teams.
 
Allen doesn’t buy into the Eastern bias theory, saying, “Quality voter is a quality voter regardless of where he’s located. If you look at the way things have turned out historically, there’s no evidence ever to suggest there’s been geographic imbalance.
 
“I have great faith in our ability as an association to vote for what we think are the right people. This isn’t like the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. This is the day of the Internet and the availability of NHL Network. I just can’t believe things happen in the NHL without our members knowing about it. I think our votes knew who he was and what he was about.”
 
“This year, Rookie of the Year was a little difficult. In my mind, our group didn’t pick the guys I thought would be finalists. That doesn’t mean we’re wrong. It just means people didn’t think the same way I did.”
 
Allen provided some examples to show there’s not an Eastern bias. Allen noted that in 2010, Duncan Keith won over Eastern golden boy Mike Green when there weren’t even 60 eligible Western voters. Last year, Shea Weber came within a whisker of winning the Norris. He was on 146 ballots (more than Erik Karlsson). Last year in the Calder, Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado) and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins (Edmonton) went 1-2.
 
One thing I personally think is flawed about our voting system is the imbalance among chapters. I don’t know how to fix it unless you go back to the same amount of votes per chapter, but for instance, Phoenix chapter has 1 person who votes, Nashville 2, Minnesota 7, Montreal 12.
 
Obviously, in a case like this year, you’ve got to see Brodin to really appreciate how good he is and how impactful he was to the Wild. And this year, there were significantly less Western voters.
 
I also think this was a very difficult year for members to vote. West writers only covered games vs. West, East voters only vote for East. There were 48 games in 99 days, so there weren’t a lot of off-days to watch other games between teams we don’t cover on television. Also, the large chunk of our voting members are not traveling beat writers.
 
So to me, it’s incumbent on writers to take voting seriously and do their homework. I didn’t have a good sense of many of the Eastern players this year because of what I wrote above. So I talked to scouts, a few GM’s and lots of Eastern writers for their thoughts on players.
 
Similarly, I received emails and a few calls from Eastern writers about what’s going on this West.
 
Personally, I’m not convinced every writer does the same thing.
 
As for Brodin not being a finalist, I look forward to seeing the final tabulations. I still believe a lot of members are very point-centric when it comes to voting. In other words, they scan the stat sheets and vote. If you do that, Brodin’s not going to jump at you. To disprove that, folks have noted Nail Yakupov to me. He wasn’t a finalist despite leading rookies in points. Of course, he went on a tear the last few days of the season and by then a lot of voters cast their ballots. That’s why I never vote until after the regular season is over. I want to see who makes the playoffs, how players performed through an entire 82-game season (or 48-game season this year).
 
So I’d be very interested to see how many ballots Brodin didn’t even appear on. And if that’s the case, then that’s disappointing.
 
I can tell you, the Wild’s real disappointed in Brodin not being a finalist, and frankly, this could have cost the team bonus money for him. Now, they are worried Ryan Suter will even be a finalist. We’ll find that out Tuesday.
 
Allen did plan to reach out to GM Chuck Fletcher today to discuss the PHWA’s voting process.
 
As for Blackhawks news, no Dave Bolland or Ray Emery for Game 4. Agitating, hard-hitting forward Dan Carcillo has been scratched for three straight games. It wouldn't shock me if he played as a response to the Wild outhitting Chicago last game.
 
Coach Joel Quenneville said he might play. And, he might not.
 
Quenneville and Yeo are speaking from the same coach’s handbook.
 
From Rachel Blount:
 
Here is Coach Q on Calder Finalist Saad: "He’s had a real nice year for us. He’s come into the NHL maybe under the radar when he started the season,  but the appreciation for what he contributed to our team game from start to finish was very strong. I think that line, his consistency, absorbing more responsibility as the season went on, being on special teams, getting quite a few minutes, the confidence that we used him was based on how well he played and how consistent he played. His strength and his size and his anticipation on both sides of the puck are going to make him a nice player going forward. But a real good start to his career."
 
The Blackhawks were careful to say Monday that they do not need to respond to the Wild's effort in Game 3 as much as they simply need to take care of their own business. While they stressed the need to be more physical, they also said that has to happen within the context of their style.
Chicago winger Patrick Kane warned that too much emphasis on hits could knock the Blackhawks off their usual game. If they stick with the speedy, skilled style that won them the President's Trophy and augment it with enough muscle to fight back, he said, they will be right where they need to be.
"You want to be physical, you want to ramp up the intensity and bring a little bit more to playoff hockey,'' said Kane, whose five assists put him in a three-way tie for fourth place in the NHL's postseason scoring race. "But sometimes if you're worried about bringing too much intensity and physicality, you're not worried about doing the things we did to score a lot of goals this year--which we did. We need to just try to get back to the way the Blackhawks play hockey.
"We want to play fast. Teams can try to be physical against us, but when we're playing fast and moving, it's tough to catch us. ... When we're playing well, we have a lot of players rolling. It's a shift after shift continuance where teams are struggling to contain us. Usually, when you bring that heat for a full 60 minutes, teams are going to struggle with that.''
Coach Joel Quenneville reminded his team that it showed flashes of that Sunday. It just didn't sustain it, so that will be the goal Tuesday. He does want to see a little more edge to his players as well. He used words such as passion, emotion, urgency and directness to describe what he wants from them Tuesday and said he does not think Chicago has "given (the Wild) our best.''
"I think we'll see a very intense team,'' he said of what he expects from the Blackhawks in Game 4. "I think when you watch other playoff series, you can see the animosity, the hatred, the battles. That's playoff hockey. That's the level we've got to get to, and we'll go from there.''
 
PREGAME PARTY

The Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League (NHL) announced plans for a pre-game party from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, prior to the team’s 8:30 p.m. faceoff against Chicago in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The party will take place along the sidewalk between Gates 1 and 3 of Xcel Energy Center.

“Minnesota is the State of Hockey, and Saint Paul proudly serves as its capitol as we celebrate the return of Stanley Cup Playoff hockey and an invigorating Wild win on Sunday,” Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said. “With the later start of Tuesday 's game, we encourage fans to come and be a part of the playoff atmosphere. Festivities will include the Wild pre-game events at Xcel Energy Center as well as all the activity at the other downtown establishments.”

The party will include live music by Five Man Advantage, food and drink, including a beer garden, a Hockey Lodge tent with new playoff merchandise, along with a Beard-A-Thon tent. Fans can register to win one of two pair of tickets to Game 4 at the Beard-A-Thon tent. In addition, KFAN 100.3 FM will broadcast live from 3-8 p.m.

The Wild encourages all fans to get downtown early and visit the pre-game party and other downtown St. Paul establishments. Xcel Energy Center gates will open at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Game 4 will be broadcast on FOX Sports North locally, and NBC Sports Network nationally, in addition to CBC throughout Canada.

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