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 Wild game coverage

Mike Yeo unhappy with team's Game 1 performance

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 3, 2014 - 12:59 AM

Last year, the Wild played well enough to win Game 1 in Chicago, lost in overtime and got smoked in Game 2.

I don’t think the Wild was nearly as bad as coach Mike Yeo portrayed tonight. I think he was doing a bit of postgame coaching because if the Wild actually thinks it played well and still lost 5-2, where does it go from here? It better fix its game for a Game 2 response. It’s kind of like his Game 5 reaction last round when the Wild was the victim of some questionable officiating and he bit his tongue. If the Wild actually thought it was cheated (sorry, Todd McLellan term), where does it go in Games 6 and 7?

The Wild lost this game for four reasons:

1. Jonas Brodin is a high-sticking madman suddenly, was in the bin twice tonight and the Hawks made Minnesota pay both times.

2. Its lack of finish in a one-sided second period (despite outshooting Chicago 17-3 and missing another 11 shots, including one hit pipe), the Wild watched Chicago turn its one-goal lead into a two.

3. Lost the special teams battle 2-nothing.

4. Patrick Kane is scary good.

The first two periods, it was a rumor Kane was even in the building. The third period, he decided to surface right after Clayton Stoner and Kyle Brodziak turned a 2-0 deficit into a 2-2 tie.

With the Madhouse on Madison eerily silent, Kane scored the eventual winning goal 1:26 after Brodziak’s tying goal (8:22 into the third) on a terrific play, then shot. Dangles through neutral zone, walks into the zone, cuts to his right on the backhand, turns toward the net and around Brodin and roofs a backhander because Ilya Bryzgalov wasn’t covering the short-side.

 

After the goal, Kane apparently yelled, "Showtime."

Kane then scored again with 3:13 left and Bryan Bickell an empty-netter, so the lopsided score isn't indicative of what actually happened on the ice.

Yeo said, “We had some good moments, but we're not happy with our game tonight. I felt that we didn't have everybody at the level we needed to be at, so we'll rectify that.”

Asked about Brodin and his poor play, Yeo said a handful of guys were below average at best. He didn’t know if that was because of the quick turnaround or because they didn’t get reset and refocused and adjusted for a new series.

“Obviously, it was a very winnable game for us,” Yeo said. “It didn’t have the feel of a game that we were going to win for sure. But to get yourself in that opportunity, you know, you’re starting to come on five-on-five, we were pretty good for a lot of points there, for a lot of periods of the game. But you’ve got to buckle down in those key moments and those key situations. We’ve been stronger than that lately, but this is nothing to hang our hat on. It’s about the next challenge in front of you.”

On Stoner, who was a physical menace and knocked Andrew Shaw out of the game with a lower-body injury, Yeo said, “I thought he was a difference maker and this is the way he's played all playoffs for us.”

On Bryz, Yeo said he didn’t have a problem with his game (and right now he has no choice to talk him up): “Obviously this a talented team that can capitalize and don't need 30 opportunities to put five in the net so we have to limit those quality opportunities.”

Bryzgalov gave up four goals on 21 shots.

Jason Pominville again can’t seem to find his game. Missing nets galore, although he set up a couple nice chances tonight.

In the first, the Wild had a chance to take a 1-0 lead when Nate Prosser connected with Zach Parise with a home-run pass near the far blue line. But on the shorthanded breakaway, Blackhawks speedy defenseman Nick Leddy, the 2009 Wild first-round pick, hustled back and impeded Parise’s shot with a swinging stick check.

That proved gigantic because 20 seconds later, Bickell, a Wild killer in last year’s playoffs, tipped Brent Seabrook’s shot past Bryzgalov for a 1-0 Blackhawks lead.

The Wild caught a break with 2:44 left in the period when Brandon Bollig appeared to make it 2-0 off a goalmouth scramble. But referee Dan O’Halloran ruled that he blew his whistle to stop play prior to the puck crossing the line.

The Wild had a chance to tie early in the second period, but Mikael Granlund, with no goalie in front of him, redirected a pass off the crossbar. It was the third time in the game the Wild hit iron. Heatley and Matt Moulson did the same in the first. Granlund missed some golden chances.

Here are some more quotes (transcribed by our stringer, Blake Schuster (@schustee19):

Kane

Backhander

·      It was a good play by Sharp to throw it over to my side. I had some time and space so I tried to cut through the middle. It was one of those plays where I was about to drop it to (Sharp) but I saw both defensemen kind of go to him so I just tried to get in on the backhand and made a good shot and it went in. It’s a good feeling.

·      It’s not like I looked up and saw him go down. I wish I could say that, but it’s not the way it happened

Sharp

On Kane’s backhander

·      The thing I like about Kaner the best is the big stages, he always seems to put one in, whether he's back home in Buffalo in a big game, time and time again in the playoffs he scores goals and it seems like he wants that puck all the time. So, big goal, big third period for Kaner."

On getting outshot in five of seven playoff games so far:

·      "You've got to give them credit as well. They're a good team and in the second round of playoffs, every team is going to be relentless and they're going to keep coming at you. So, they made their push. It's 2-2 in the third period. It's anybody's game. But what I liked the best was the way we responded once it was tied. I thought we played pretty good hockey down the stretch in the third, and that's something to learn going forward in the series. Minnesota's a great team. They're going to make it tough on us. It's going to be a heck of a series."

Brodziak

28 minutes, three shots allowed and two goals

·      “A kick in the teeth is a little extreme. We've talked about it all along. There's going to be highs and lows. We did some good things. There's a lot of areas we can be better in, but it's a long series. We feel that if we're doing the right things over the length of a series, that's when we see the results we want.”

Bickell

What's changed on PP from Blues series?

·       I  don’t think a lot. We just need to get through high shots and capitalize on our second opportunities I think. we were making a couple too many passes. Seeing Shaw go down … he’s a big net front for our first unit. Ben stepped up and had an opportunity to be on it.

Brodin

·       

PENALTIES

·       

·      Two unlucky high sticks there, I don't  know. I need to keep the stick on the ice there.

·       

·      It's not very fun to sit in the box.

Stoner

Goal

·       Honestly, I don’t even know how it went in.

Crawford

·      (do you hear when the crowd chants your name)

·      Yeah, I could hear it.

·       

·      (you cool with it)

Yeah. It’s way better than booing me, if that’s what you’re saying. (smiles)

Blackhawks have availability at 12:30, Wild practices at 2 Saturday. Talk to ya after.

Nino the OT hero as the Wild moves on to meet Chicago in 2nd round; Kuemper injured

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 1, 2014 - 3:49 AM

Nino Niederreiter’s in big, big trouble now.

One game after Mike Yeo said he watched Niederreiter take his game to another level, Niederreiter raised that bar to new heights by scoring his first two career playoff goals and assisting on another ginormous goal to lift the Wild to a 5-4 overtime victory over the Colorado Avalanche and hoist his team into the second round for the first time in 11 years.

The Wild now advances to play the defending Cup champ Chicago Blackhawks in the conference semifinals. They beat the Wild in five games last year and are playing great hockey right now. But the Wild is a different team right now and had the edge during the season series.

Date                         TIME (CT)        Chicago vs. Minnesota        Networks (Games 4-7 TV announced later)
Friday, May 2               8:30 p.m.        Minnesota at Chicago                NBCSN, TSN, RDS 
Sunday, May 4              2 p.m.               Minnesota at Chicago                NBC, TSN, RDS 
Tuesday, May 6            8 p.m.               Chicago at Minnesota                CNBC, TSN, RDS2       
Friday, May 9               TBD                Chicago at Minnesota                TSN 
*Sunday, May 11         TBD                Minnesota at Chicago                TSN 
*Tuesday, May 13        TBD                Chicago at Minnesota                TSN         
*Thursday, May 15       TBD                Minnesota at Chicago                TSN   

Niederreiter, the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft, was acquired last June from the Islanders for Cal Clutterbuck.

On the first day of training camp way back in September, Yeo said the first thing he noticed about Niederreiter was his “silly hard shot.” Tonight, Niederreiter let the hockey world see that weapon.

Four times tonight the Wild rallied from a one-goal deficit (they finally figured out to go high on Varlamov; same could be said for most goalies, and Crawford in Chicago, by the way). Once, less than four minutes after Paul Stastny made it 3-2 2:55 into the third, Niederreiter ripped one over Semyon Varlamov’s blocker. In overtime, Dany Heatley sprung Kyle Brodziak and Niederreiter on a 2-on-1. Brodziak fed Niederreiter coming into the zone and he sailed one over Varlamov’s shoulder.

The thing was in and out so quick off the back bar, even Niederreiter wasn’t sure it was in. Brodziak sure did. He began jumping up and down screaming. The bench exploded onto the ice, the coaches and trainers were in elation on the bench. After the game, so many happy players in the locker room, including congratulating owner Craig Leipold and GM Chuck Fletcher.

After Erik Johnson made it 4-3 with 8:44 left, Niederreiter also set up Jared Spurgeon’s game-tying, overtime-forcing snipe with 2:27 left.

What a victory. The Wild never led til that final Niederreiter shot, it overcame a goal that probably should have been wiped out to open the game when Jamie McGinn was on top of Darcy Kuemper, it overcame a rollercoaster of emotions all game long. And it controlled play most the game. The Avs went through long stretches without chances, but as we have learned all series, it doesn’t take much for Colorado to bury one.

“I’m incredibly proud of our guys right now,” Yeo said. “This game in a lot of ways reflected the series, just continually having to battle, and battle back and deal with adversity and keep pushing forward. Obviously very proud.”

The Wild is the first team in NHL history to score four tying goals and win a Game 7, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. 

So many unsung heroes tonight.

Heatley, scratched in Games 1 and 2, scored a tying goal and had two assists. Outstanding.

Brodziak, a goat in Game 1 and scratched in Game 3, was elevated back up to the third line with Niederreiter and Heatley, provided great play all night and had three assists.

The biggest question coming out of this game is Kuemper’s health.

In the second period tonight, Matt Duchene collided with Kuemper behind the net. Kuemper fell and his head hit Ryan Suter’s knee. He looked shaken up but stayed in the game. The Stastny and Johnson goals probably should have been stopped. With 8:13 left, Suter went over to Kuemper to talk to him. He skated to the bench, talked to Yeo and Ilya Bryzgalov stood up and finally entered the game after athletic therapist Don Fuller pulled Kuemper.

Kuemper missed the final seven regular-season games and couldn’t start Games 1 and 2 of this series with a concussion. I think he had a relapse and Bryzgalov will likely start Game 1 of the Chicago series (John Curry served as backup in overtime).

The Wild did an extraordinary job protecting Bryzgalov. He didn’t have to make a single save the final 8:13 of regulation and only one in overtime, a “series-saving save,” Suter called it, when he stopped Stastny’s snipe with his shoulder.

From Elias: 

The winning goaltender for Minnesota in its Game 7 victory at Colorado was Ilya Bryzgalov, who faced only one shot on goal after he relieved injured starter Darcy Kuemper with 8:13 remaining in the third period. The only other seventh game in NHL playoff history in which the winning goaltender did not start the game was Edmonton's 7-4 victory in the decisive game of the 1984 Smythe Division Final against Calgary. Grant Fuhr recorded the win for the Oilers after replacing starter Andy Moog, who allowed three goals in the first 26 minutes of the game.

-----

Suter also made a series-saving save perhaps when he dropped to his belly shortly before Niederreiter’s winner to stop Gabriel Landeskog’s 2-on-1 pass to Stastny alone in the slot.

Yeo didn’t have an update on Kuemper postgame. He said Kuemper wanted to keep going, keep battling, but it was clear he couldn’t any longer.

“If only we had any experience dealing with this,” Yeo said sarcastically. Zach Parise jokingly called the goalie carousel and a “never-ending circus.”

Yeo said, “We’re fortunate we got good depth in that position and it shouldn’t change anything for us.”

Yeo talked a lot postgame about the growth and maturity of his players and he’s starting to “feel the soul” of his team. Parise said the same stuff postgame, about how this is why he came to Minnesota, and how we’re seeing the growth of the Granlunds and Coyles and Ninos and Haulas and Brodins and Scandellas right in front of our eyes.

Just a roller coaster of a series and a roller coaster of a game. Mikko Koivu, Heatley and Niederreiter all scored their first goal of the series.

The Blackhawks will be quite the challenge. They’re playing better than they’ve played all year, they’re not just skilled, but they compete so hard and they just rallied against St. Louis after being down 2-0 in the first-round series.

“We’ve got more confidence [than when we played them in last year’s playoffs, we’ve got more momentum,” Yeo said.

But there will be challenges. Chicago is rested and the series opens Friday, meaning the Wild coaches are in the air right now preparing. Oh, yes, that’s right. The Wild, for a 2-day trip to Denver, packed for 5 days, you know, just in case the team had to immediately go to Chicago. A certain beat writer did the same.

The Wild’s on the way to the Windy City right this moment. It has Thursday off and will be on the ice at the United Center on Friday morning for the first time.

The Wild will have to enjoy the day, then reset and refocus, Yeo said.

For more quotes, read the gamer and my Twitter account. I’ve got to get some shut-eye. Flying to Minnesota in the morning, then onto Chicago. No practice Thursday. I’ll talk to you at some point, but as you can imagine, I’ll have to accelerate a series preview into Friday’s paper, so I’ll be in and out of communication with you.

I’ll be on KFAN at 9 a.m.

Here's some quotes courtesy of Avs PR.

AVALANCHE PLAYERS

Colorado G Semyon Varlamov

On Minnesota’s Win: “It’s not easy to win against a good team, like I said. I mean, I think they played well against us the whole series.”

On The Season: “I think we started the season really well and I think we just kept doing well all season long. We won the division, you know, that’s a big deal for us, but nobody wants to lose in the First Round. I think the whole organization and coaching staff and the guys did a great job.”

Colorado C Paul Stastny

On The Highs And Lows Going Into Overtime: “When you get excited about goals, I don’t think it is really over. They ended up scoring a couple of goals elbow in, post in. They were just unbelievable shots. You’ve got to tip your hats off to them. The goalie had no chance. I think we kept battling back, and then they would battle back throughout all seven games. I think going into overtime was a coin toss. They capitalized on their chance.”

Colorado C Matt Duchene

On If Minnesota Had More Jump: “No, not at all. It was a back and forth game and very evenly played. I thought we came out really well in the third period. I think we are going to have to learn here and see what we can take away from this. At the end of the game like that when we need to clamp it down, we’ve got to execute even better with the puck and without it, we have to be sharp. You don’t let your heart race too much and you have to stay in control and get it done. It’s too bad we couldn’t get it done, but we were right there. We got the lead, I think, pretty much all game. Their only lead was the one that wins the game. It’s disappointing.”

On The Organization Taking Huge Steps: “Absolutely. We should be very proud of ourselves. That’s a good hockey team over there. They are going to play every team tough, no matter who they are playing against. I know Chicago (Blackhawks) are going to have their hands full with them. They have some veteran guys and won some big games. We are young. It’s tough to win with the little experience we have. It was a great one to help us go forward.”

MINNESOTA PLAYERS

Minnesota RW Nino Niederreiter

On Getting The Winning Goal: “I mean, obviously it feels great. It still feels kind of unreal but at the end of the day, we got the win, we got the result we wanted.”

On Building On His Confidence From Game 6: “I felt great. I mean, obviously I had a chance to play some minutes that night. There was not many penalties going on so it kind of helped my game and I just had to refocus and I knew there was going to be another big one tonight.”

Minnesota D Ryan Suter

On The Team’s Resiliency Tonight: “The guys did great. You know, we stuck with it. It would have been easy to cash it in, throw in the towel, but this group did something special tonight. Whenever our backs are against the wall, we’ve come out swinging and that’s a good character to have.”

On Moving On To The Next Round: “Yeah head to Chicago and refocus. I mean, we haven’t done anything. We’ve won the series, which was a battle. You know, they’re a very good team, Colorado was. They got a lot of power, a lot of firepower, great coach, great goaltender so it was a big challenge and it took seven games and overtime and we stuck with it and it says a lot about our group.”

Minnesota LW Matt Moulson

On The Team’s Performance Tonight: “We had to battle for every inch and obviously, they’re a great team and they kept coming. Sometimes you get a bounce here or there and you know, Nino had a great shot, wasn’t sure if it was in, but it was a heck of a shot.”

On The Team’s Resiliency: “I think we’ve showed that down the stretch. You know, getting into the playoffs we had some big games down a goal going into the third and we knew we had to win and I think our game plan was to stick to our game no matter what happens and try to stay even-keeled mentally and I think this whole team did a great job of that tonight.”

AVALANCHE HEAD COACH PATRICK ROY

On What He Said To The Team After The Game: “I haven’t talked to them yet, but—I don’t go in dressing rooms after games, but I guess I have mixed feelings.  There is a side of me that is very disappointed because I thought that we could have won that game.  But, there is a side of me that is very proud of our players.  I love the way we were all year.  We compete, and tonight was another good example of how our guys have been playing. I don’t have enough words to say how proud I am of our players.”

On If There Is A Silver Lining To Losing Game 7: “Yeah, but it’s a process and it’s a learning process.  At the end, unfortunately injuries were a factor—losing a guy like (Colorado D Tyson) Barrie and a guy like (Colorado C John) Mitchell would have probably made the difference for us and (Colorado C Matt Duchene) Dutchy coming late, but these are not the excuses we want to use.  A team is a team and we played like this all year.  We always found a way to go through adversity in a great way, and we got beat by a team that played really well, a team that was well coached and a team that probably deserved to win as much as we did.”

On The Players Saying They Weren’t Happy With A Moral Victory To The Season: “Absolutely (that’s what you want to hear from your players)—all year we were never satisfied, and certainly we are not going to start tonight.  It was a great experience this year.  It was fun for me to be part of it, and one thing we are all proud of is to see the Avs back on top.  I think that should motivate us to have another good year next year and prepare ourselves really well over the summer.  Seeing our fans be excited about the team makes me so happy, and to see our fans coming back to the building—it was electric out there.  It was fun to be part of it, and I didn’t want to see it ending—that’s how fun it was.  I had goose bumps when I see them at the start of the game, at the start of overtime, start of the third period.  I just want to say thanks to them, thanks for making it fun—they’re a big part of it, and so are the players.  Like I said, the players gave everything they have, and it’s a great season for us.  It’s hard to talk like this right now because everyone knows how much I love to win, but at the same time we have to admit that was a heck of a year.”

On If It Says More About Minnesota Or Colorado That Minnesota Tied It After Colorado Scored First On The First Four Goals: “It was a mix of both.  When you learn how to win—when you have more experience in the playoffs, then you start to know how to win those big games and on those two goals our neutral zone forecheck had been good all night long, and then we started making some mistakes here and there and they took advantage of it.  This is a team that went through that last year with Chicago—they got beat four straight by Chicago or five, I can’t remember.  It’s a learning process and I think next year in the playoffs our guys might be a little more calm in those situations and react differently.”

Also from Elias: Niederreiter is the third player in NHL history whose first two postseason goals came in the seventh game of one playoff series. The other players to do that were the Penguins' Jiri Hrdina in 1991 against New Jersey and the Devils' Adam Henrique in 2012 versus Florida. Hrdina and Henrique, like Niederreiter, also scored the winning goal in that Game 7, with Henrique doing so in double-overtime.

And ... back to Denver for the Wild, where Game 7 awaits

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 29, 2014 - 1:26 AM

Game 7. Wednesday night. 8:30. Denver.

Nothing better than a Game 7 and the Wild will play in its first since 2003 after beating the Colorado Avalanche, 5-2, tonight in front of a raucous crowd at the X.

The Wild is 2-0 all-time in Game 7’s. In 2003, the Wild rallied from two 3-1 deficits to beat Colorado and Vancouver in Games 7s. The one in Colorado ended Patrick Roy’s goaltending career. Wednesday, the Wild will try to end the coach’s season.

“We fought all year to be in that position if there was a Game 7,” said Roy, who coached the team that won the Central “It's in our building, in front of our fans. I think it's going to be exciting. It's great for our team. It's going to be a great experience. We're not happy to lose tonight but I thought both teams played really well, and it was a great hockey game. That game could have gone either way.”

The men with the letters on their chest – Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter – helped lead the Wild to a big Game 6 win.

Parise scored the winning goal with 6:29 left as part of a career-high four-point (two goals) night. That's also a Wild playoff record. He has points in all six games of the series and leads the Wild with 10. Koivu had two assists and was sensational on the winning goal, winning two board battles, pressuring Jan Hejda into a turnover and shooting the puck that Parise deflected.

“I knew we had someone in front of the net, I didn’t know it was Zach, so I just threw it in from the point,” Koivu said.

Koivu also won 17 of 28 faceoffs. And Suter recovered from a bigtime boo-boo by having two assists in a solid 26 minutes, 41 seconds.

The Wild got early goals by Parise (fastest playoff goal in Wild history 49 seconds in) and Mikael Granlund for a 2-0 lead. But with a chance to make it 3-0 on a 67-second 5-on-3, Suter shanked a shot and Ryan O’Reilly hit Paul Stastny for a shorthanded breakaway goal.

“I kind of fluffed that shot, and it ends up in our net,” Suter said.

The Avs tied the game on an early second-period power play, and that made for a tense rest of the second and third period.

But with the fans in the lower bowl standing the entire third, Parise scored the winner. And, for a change, Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella scored empty-netters. Remember, in the two overtime losses in Denver, the Wild failed to score with the net empty and it came back to bite them both times (a lot more on that in the game story on startribune.com/wild).

“There was a lot on the line for us, I thought for the most part we played a pretty solid game and dictated a lot,” Parise said.

When the game turned in the second, Mike Yeo shortened his bench and scrambled his lines. In the third, he reunited the Parise-Koivu-Charlie Coyle line. I wish I could go back to Twitter to see how many fans have to eat their words after Koivu and Parise teamed for the winner.

“I wanted to get Mikko and Zach together,” Yeo said. “The season was on the line for us and kind of the way the game was going, both of those guys were leading the charge up front, and for me, their determination, their kind of get-after-it attitude, I wanted those guys going out together, and I thought that everybody else did a real good job of it too.  We didn’t have enough of a spark, and we can’t just ask them to change mentally, we got to do something on our part to help them along.”

Most impressive about tonight is how the Wild did recover from that shortie.

“We have an opportunity to go up 3-0 and they score a shorthanded goal,” Yeo said. “It gave them an awful lot of life, and eventually we started to get a little bit of fear in our game, not necessarily afraid of them, just afraid of what we were losing, and with that we weren’t dictating, we weren’t on our toes, and we were kind of letting them come at us, so for me it was a shift mentally that we had to recognize that what we have to do here is win a period, and if we win a period at home, we give ourselves a chance to go play in a game 7, so seize the opportunity.”

On Game 7, Yeo said, “We have to be excited about this opportunity and go in there and play our best game of the series.  We are going there with a real purpose in how we play that game. And so it’s going to be fun. The way we played the third period was really big for me.  I looked at the overtime losses we had and when something happened in the game that shifted the momentum we were able to get it back.  And certainly having the intermission helped with that.  The other team is going to have a push, that’s a skilled group, they are going to make some plays, there is going to be a point in the game where they come at you and for me, this is kind of the one game in particular where we did a good job pushing back.  We said not tonight.”

The home team has won all six games in the series.

“You’d like to think the road team has a chance to win a game. The only thing that matters is we get ready to play our best game of the series,” Yeo said.

Yeo didn’t let matchups dictate tonight. He had no problem getting anybody out against Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Stastny. Landeskog and MacKinnon were each minus-3.

“It's all or nothing now,” said Matt Duchene, who returned from a knee injury tonight. “Win or go home. I think it's a great opportunity for a lot of us in here, a great experience. It's been a homer series so far. I think our home fans are going to be outstanding, and we can't wait to get back in front of them.”

Said Roy (I didn’t fact-check this yet), “In my Game 7, I might be wrong on a few numbers here, I think on the road I'm 0-6 and at home I'm probably 7-1, something like this. It is tough to win on the road Game 7, it is tough. When the home team is playing solid hockey, the fans, it's tough to win Game 7 on the road. I'd rather have it at home.”

The Wild practices in Denver on Tuesday afternoon. Talk to you afterward.

Wild must move past crushing Game 5 overtime loss to Colorado

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 27, 2014 - 2:08 AM

The Wild must move on. Must-win Game 6 Monday night at 8 at the X.

That’s why Mike Yeo absolutely took the right tack in his postgame presser after the Wild’s back-breaking 4-3 overtime loss tonight in Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.

Nathan MacKinnon, held to no points and three shots in Games 3 and 4, capped another 3-point night by becoming the second-youngest player in NHL history (18 years, 237 days) to score a playoff OT winner (Don Gallinger was 17 years, 339 days when he scored an OT winner for Boston on March 21, 1943 against Montreal.) He now has 10 points in three home games.

The Wild coach could have come in screaming and yelling about Paul Stastny looking offside (eerily for the second time this season against the Wild on a Colorado goal), this time leading to P.A. Parenteau’s tying goal with 1:14 left to force overtime.

Picture courtesy of John Moulson on Twitter (@johncanref)

He could have pointed out how Gabriel Landeskog, after holding Mikko Koivu’s stick for an eternity, jumped on Koivu’s back and began swinging away and somehow the faster, more skilled Avs get the benefit of yet another 4-on-4 in the series and score to make it 2-1 in the second.

He could have pointed out how Brad Meier watched every moment of Cody McLeod charging to the Wild bench to hit Matt Moulson from behind without the puck late in the second and somehow the ref gives the Avs a power play after Charlie Coyle goes in to defend Moulson (Coyle and McLeod were battling in the zone moments before, and maybe Meier felt he should have called Coyle, who was no doubt the more aggressive of the two, there).

And Yeo could have complained how Coyle was held by Landeskog before the tying goal in the neutral zone. That kept Coyle from getting to a loose puck and maybe an empty-netter (although, to be fair, the Wild was given a gift of a power play with 4:33 left when Landeskog snow-showered Darcy Kuemper and Minnesota failed to make it 4-2).

But Yeo, knowing that the Wild better erase its mind and focus on Monday, did none of that. His skin was red. His eyes looked fiery, but he walked the tight-rope well.

“To sit here and dwell on [the missed offside], I don’t think it’s going to do us any good,” Yeo said. “Obviously, frustrating, obviously disappointing, but bottom line is it’s not going to do us any good.
 

Yeo continued, “We know what’s ahead of us here. We knew coming in that we’re playing a team that won the division, a team that is an extremely skilled group. Never once did we think things were going to be easy. So the task at hand now is pretty simple. We go and play the same way we did at home [in Games 3 and 4].”

On the dubious officiating, Yeo said, “I would say that we’re due for, I’ll say, I don’t want to say luck, but we’re due for some stuff here to go our way a little bit. I’m not going to dwell on what could have been’s. This is playoff hockey. You get highs and you get lows and it’s how you deal with it. Hey, listen, we’ve got an opportunity to go home in front of our crowd and win a hockey game to push to a Game 7.”

Home teams are 17-3 now in the Western Conference playoffs and the Wild knows it must not only win Game 6, but if it’s going to win this series, it better break that trend.

It certainly looked like the Wild was on its way when Zach Parise and Kyle Brodziak scored 1:51 apart early in the third period to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead.

Parise was bottled up pretty good before, but Pominville fed him for a beauty of a shot and Parise’s first goal of the series. Soon after, the Wild’s fourth line put forth a suffocating forecheck. Jan Hejda, dead tired, coughed up the puck to Jared Spurgeon and moments later Brodziak, who had a tough Games 1 and 2 and was scratched because of it in Game 3, scored. Dany Heatley picked up his second assist of the night (he assisted on Matt Moulson’s first goal of the series in the second).

But then, the tying goal. Just like Game 1, Patrick Roy pulled Semyon Varlamov early, this time inside less than 2 ½ left, and for the third time in the series, the Wild couldn’t find an empty-netter. That cost them with the Parenteau tying goal.

“It was offside and they missed a call and it's a damn shame,” bristled Ryan Suter.

Added Zach Parise, “The play, just the way it developed, something about it didn’t feel right. It felt like they had too much of a step on the play. But I didn’t know that for sure until we came in here and somebody said it.”

How does the Wild respond to such a crushing loss? “Same way we did last time,” Parise said. “At home, we said we had to win one here. It wasn’t this one, so it’s got to be Game 7. It’s another one it felt like we had a chance to win it. It just didn’t happen.”

The questionable offside call was a bang-bang play. Linesman Pierre Racicot, a veteran and considered one of the best linesmen (several Cup Finals), had MacKinnon right on top of him and got bent, so it was a very difficult call.

“You can’t point fingers,” Brodziak said. “That’s part of the game. There’s going to be breaks that you get, that you don’t get. That’s the way hockey goes. Keep playing hard. Try not to worry about little things. If you’re focusing on the right things, usually at the end of the day these things even up.”

In overtime, Moulson had 3 great chances to score his first shift. He couldn't. It just didn't feel right after that - just like game 1 last year when Zucker hit the post and game 1 this year when Pominville hit the post. The Wild gave up the losing goal soon after in both. 

It was a fun hockey game to watch (well, like all these late starts, it's almost impossible to watch the third because you're punching the keyboard) and Colorado's top line had a lot more offensive zone time and MacKinnon again made the Wild pay. 

Here’s Patrick Roy’s postgame quotes:

On If It Is Hard To Believe That Nathan MacKinnon Is Only 18 Years Old: “I don’t think we need to check, we knew when we drafted him what kind of player we were drafting, and he had a solid game again tonight.  Their line moved the puck well, and that was a big goal for us, big goal.  The save of the night was by (Colorado D Nick) Holden—he made a really good save on that (Minnesota LW Matt Moulson’s shot in overtime) before we got the puck back and went on the other end.”

On The Whirlwind Of Emotions After Scoring Another Late Goal To Force Overtime And Winning It In OT: “It was hard to remain calm after the call.  But, I looked at the clock and thought we’d have two minutes and 30 some seconds and we had to kill that one—that was a huge kill.  Penalty killing was, without a doubt, outstanding for us tonight.  Guys sacrificed their body, blocked shots—I was very happy with them.  They gave us a chance to win this game.”

On If Tonight Reminded Him Of Game 1 In The Series: “No, I liked our game—I thought we played a good game.  We made a few adjustments and I thought our guys reacted well to them.  I thought we were sharp early on getting the puck out of our zone.  I thought offensively we had a few good chances.  Our power play moved the puck well as well, we finally had some chances—I think we’re going in the right direction.  I thought it was very positive.”

On If The Avalanche Can Carry The Momentum From Tonight Into Game 6: “We had two looks in games over there.  We know what’s going to happen over there, we just have to play like we did tonight.  If we play that way, I really believe that it’s going to be a good game.  I can say one thing, our fans had a heck of a show tonight, and hopefully they’re going to give another one over there as well.  It’s a team that is playing very well, but I was extremely happy to see how resilient we were again tonight—down a goal, we never panicked, we stayed calm, waited for our opportunity and it happened.”

Roy said there is a chance Matt Duchene plays Game 6.

Here are some Colorado quotes, courtesy of correspondent Michael Kelly:

MACKINNON

(on goal) Pauly forced the puck down in their end, Landy got it on the half-wall and I was screaming for it. Definitely a good play by him. Little saucer pass to my blade and I found the top corner.

(tying goal) That was all Pauly. He made the whole play happen.

(pulling goalie again) We believed, even when we got that penalty with four minutes left. Usually you get a warning for that. It was important for us to believe and stay confident. We stuck with the game plan.

(how do you keep doing it) We don’t want to be on this emotional rollercoaster. We wanted to hold that 2-1 lead the whole third period. It’s cool to comeback but we want to hold that lead.

PARENTEAU

(on MacKinnon) The kid’s special. The sky’s the limit for this kid. I know it’s cliché to say but it’s pretty impressive to see. They tried to shut him down all night, they tried to shut him down in Minny and he got a huge goal for us. On our second goal he made an unbelievable play. This is the kid we want on our side.

(your goal) It’s a great feeling. I knew Pauly likes to put those pucks in front of the net. He’s a pretty good passer so I just came in. I knew he was going to make a play and it was right on my tape. We’ll take it, it’s a huge goal for our team. After they scored two bang-bang goals it kind of deflated us but we stuck with it and it’s the sign of a team that wants to win.

(doing it again) It’s a resilient group. It’s a group that doesn’t give up. We’re pretty confident. When it happens a couple of times you know you can do it. We have the skills and the patience to do it.

STASTNY

(on tying goal) I knew when I shot it both their D were on the outside so I just threw it in front soft. P.A., the game he played all night was unbelievable and he was just at the right spot and was rewarded. We just rolled with it. We get that momentum and we know we’re going to win.

You’re not going to win 1-0, 2-1. Sometimes you do but you know they’re going to keep coming. We had a big kill with four minutes left and Patty pulls the goalie.

(MacKinnon) That one he just backed the D off. He could have taken it himself, but he drops it and Benny shoots it and Holdy tips it. In overtime Landy and Willy make a good play.

LANDESKOG

We’ve had our backs against the wall numerous times. When you do it once, you do it twice and three and four times it’s like teams, they start shaking a little bit, they get nervous once they’re up a goal. It’s almost mental. We believe in ourselves more when we’re down a goal. It’s exciting to be a part of. It’s not something we want to make a habit of doing.

That’s it for me. Early flight. I’ll talk to you after Sunday’s Wild availability. I’ll also be on Rosen’s Sports Sunday on, well, Sunday night on WCCO.

After two big home wins over the Avs, the Wild now must win on the road

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 25, 2014 - 1:14 AM

Nobody has won on the road in this series. The Wild knows that if it wants to advance to the second round and play the winner of Chicago-St. Louis, it must win one in Denver.

After the way the Wild played at home these past two games – the latest being tonight’s 2-1 victory in Game 4 to even the series, you know the Wild’s feeling confident heading back to Denver for Game 5 on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. CT).

And you know the young Avs are feeling the pressure now.

If you watched the 125 minutes, 8 seconds of hockey played in Games 3 and 4, you know the Wild played two of the most dominating 1-0 and 2-1 games ever played.

There was barely a minute of these two games that the Wild didn’t dictate or at least control. The Wild almost always had the puck. The Wild almost always won the battle or got to the loose puck first or spent time in Semyon Varlamov’s end.

The Avs wasted two dominating performances by Varlamov.

“You just have to keep shooting and getting traffic and making it tough on him,” Zach Parise said. “I like our chances if we’re throwing 35, 40 on him a night. We’ll get a few by him.”

Monday, Varly stopped 45 of 46, beaten on the last shot of the game by Mikael Granlund. Tonight, the Avs were outshot 32-12, 14-3 in the first period. Between Ryan O’Reilly’s goal with 6:35 left in the second on Colorado’s seventh shot of the game, the Avs went the next 14 minutes without a shot.

The 12 shots against were a franchise-record by the Wild in the playoffs.

Jared Spurgeon scored his first career playoff goal. Charlie Coyle, with his pops in the crowd, scored his third goal of the series, first career power-play playoff goal and first career winning goal in the playoffs. And Darcy Kuemper only had to make 11 saves for his second career playoff win. His biggest came in the final minute with the Avs on a 6-on-4 power play (extra attacker, Jonas Brodin in the box).

He denied O’Relly from point-blank range.

Most my gamer centers around the play of Granlund, who assisted on Spurgeon’s goal, drew three power plays, won 8 of 12 faceoffs and blocked three Erik Johnson shots in the final minute of the game, including one without his stick and one with four seconds left to even up the series 2-2.

"He’s one of those guys you want to have on your side," said buddy Erik Haula.

It says everything about the respect level that coach Mike Yeo has in Granlund that three nights ago, he’s scoring a highlight-reel goal in OT and tonight Yeo has him on the PK with a minute left to win a game.

This isn’t your garden-variety, smallish, perimeter playmaker. He doesn’t shy from physicality, traffic, the front of the net or oncoming shots from sharp-shooters.  

Great job by all the penalty killers in the end. First group was Haula-Mikko Koivu-Ryan Suter-Spurgeon; Second group was Granlund-Parise-Marco Scandella-Nate Prosser.

You’ve got to love the job Nino Niederreiter-Haula-Justin Fontaine did tonight. They were solid, especially Haula on the 4 for 4 PK that is now 13 for 14 in the series. Parise now has five assists in the series.

The Wild dominated this game so much, Patrick Roy broke up his top two lines by the end of the first.

Please read the game story on www.startribune.com/wild for more details and quotes, but (most quotes courtesy of Rachel Blount because I had to run back upstairs after working the Wild room and write) …

Yeo on the incredible crowd, who stood for a lot of this game and made noise with sustained energy throughout: “Obviously we’ve had some exciting games since I’ve been here in this building, but I’ve never heard anything like that tonight. That was fun.”

On Granlund’s blocks at the end: “This is sort of the attitude our whole group has. Everybody’s committed to playing a certain way. When you go out and you do that, then a different guy has that opportunity. A guy like that has an opportunity to create a great goal last game, but being out in a penalty killing situation like he was at the end of the game and knowing how important that is and knowing what his teammates need from him, that’s what we've seen from everybody. We want to get better as the playoffs go along. When you’re playing games like that and you get used to playing in moments like that when the game’s on the line and you have to execute or you have to make a play or you have to defend, whatever the situation calls for, and you have to do it when the stakes are that high, those are growing moments for your team and that’s what we have to look at. We saw a lot of that late in the season to help us get ready for the playoffs. And obviously it’s a new level now, so to continue to go out and do that hopefully these are growing moments.”

Yeo on the home games: “We were able to play a more complete game the last couple games. You can’t get rattled and that’s the tricky part right now when the stakes are so high. To be able to stay in the moment, to focus on our game and execute, the good part for me is that our habits, the structure in our game is so consistent from game to game to game that as long as we fall back on that we should be able to do that at that time.

On the Avs, Yeo said, “We still have an awful lot of respect. That’s still a very skilled group over there. It’s not a team that won the division by accident. This is a team that they’ve got a lot of very creative players and a lot of very skilled players. Whether its penalty kill or taking care of the puck or defending we have to make sure we respect that.

“We should feel good about tonight. We're 2-2 in the series, to be in this situation after being down 2-0 that’s obviously a really good thing, but at the same time we have to make sure that we continue to have that focus. The next challenge is the big one. We find ourselves now in a best of 3 and we like the way we're playing, but we can’t hang our hat on what we've done. Gotta make sure we're ready to go out and continue to take the fight to them.

“I feel like we're a better team in game 4 than we were in game 1. That’s the goal, we have to continue to get better.”

Patrick Roy:

“The way I’ve been all year, I’ve been very positive and I’m gonna continue to be today. I’m looking more at how our goaltender played, again very solid. I’m thinking that offensively, it's gonna come. I think our guys know that they gotta be better offensively, there’s no doubt about it.”

(young players nervous?) “It could be, but think about it, one power-play goal and we could have won game 3. Tonight one power play we might be still on the ice. When we get the type of performance we got from our goaltender, there’s no reason to not believe in ourself. Coming back home, we’re gonna have our fans. Offensively we're gonna need more from some of our forwards and they’re gonna have to chip in and be more involved.

“I honestly think the strategy is good. We just need to be involved. We just need to make those plays. Hey, it’s possible if you put a puck on net you're going to receive a body check, and you're gonna have to take those hits. And offensively we have enough talent to find ways to generate more chances and more shots on net than what we had today. In the start of the second period, Ii thought we had 2-3 good shots that missed the net. And these shots need to hit the net. Just look at O'reillys goal. It was in the middle of the net, went through the legs.

“These are the type of shots, we have to hit the net. We have to force their goalie to make the saves. And then our confidence is gonna come back. The thing I'll say is our execution is not quite there. We seem to rush on plays, we're not [being] patient with the puck and these are the things we're gonna have to do a little bit better.”

Duchene come to the rescue? “He won’t play game 5 for sure.”

Talk to you after Friday's availability and before my flight to Denver.

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