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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“Two really good teams going at it right now. It’s really good hockey. It’s hard, very demanding of the players. Really good hockey. It's going to hopefully continue to be that type of series.” – Blues coach Ken Hitchcock after Saturday’s 4-1 win over Minnesota to send the series back to Minnesota tied at 1-1.
This is shaping up to be a heck of a series. Game 3 is Monday night at 7 at Xcel Energy Center.
4-1 final. The game was not indicative of the score.
Despite the Blues jumping out to a 2-0 lead, the Wild was right in this game until the 58-minute mark and would ultimately be victimized by almost amazing bad puck luck.
The Wild didn’t cower to a Blues team that tried to set a physical tone early. In fact, the hits were even at 36-36.
The chances were even, too, if not favoring the Wild.
But Jake Allen was great with 24 saves and the Wild somehow had three pucks that were stopped right in front of or right on the goal line. The first, a Ryan Suter dump-in, hit a stanchion or a camera hole, took a left hand turn and completely caught Allen off guard. He saw it at the very last second and it somehow didn’t go in.
“We have some weird glass here,” said Allen, a quote that may make Wild fans choke on their breakfast because Wild fans especially know funky glass. “I didn't really see it until it hit my pad, so I was lucky on that part.”
Later, Jason Zucker centered himself and whistled one just wide off a 2-on-1. The puck landed on Mikko Koivu’s stick to the right of the goal with the net open. He shot, the puck got by a sliding T.J. Oshie and a sprawling Allen made the save and Jaden Schwartz swatted it out of harm’s way.
In the third, after a Thomas Vanek pass across the blue line, Charlie Coyle dangled between defenders and into the slot. His shot hit the crossbar, caromed off Allen’s buttocks and slithered to the goal line before David Backes pulled it right from on top. All of these plays happened with the Wild either down 2-0 or down 2-1.
“I'll go talk to him, buy him a beer for that one,” Allen said.
Schroeder also just missed on a glorious chance in the third.
Vladimir Tarasenko, whom I planned to feature in Monday’s paper coincidentally, got the hat trick after not getting a shot in Game 1. The last went into an empty net for the first hat trick against the Wild in playoff history and the 13th in Blues history and the first since Mike Sillinger (“Silly”) in 2004.
The backbreaker came with 1:58 left though after Marco Scandella got caught at the red line trying to corral a loose puck. It went to Jordan Schroeder, he gave it to Patrik Berglund and he was off.
“It was a goal-scorer's goal,” Hitchcock said. “If you're going to have an odd-man rush, he's going to shoot, which is good for us.”
Coach Mike Yeo was not overreacting at all after the loss.
The Wild played an even game with the Blues and came up on the short end. But it just shows how small the margin of defeat will be in this series.
“You don’t want too happy when you lose a game, and we definitely aren’t,” Yeo said. “But the outcome of the game was a little bit frustrating probably because we only generated the one goal and I don’t think that we played a one-goal game. A few pucks that got to the goal line that didn’t go over the goal line, a few empty nets or a few opportunities that we just didn’t capitalize on.”
On the mood going back to Minnesota: “You lose a game, and it’s frustrating, it’s disappointing. I thought we did a pretty good job. We knew we were going to face their best game. They were able to get a lead on us, but the way our guys stayed with it, the way we battled and gave ourselves a chance to tie it up, we didn’t. We’ll find a way to get better. That’s one thing I’m confident with our group. We’ll continue to push the pace, we’ll continue to get faster and stronger in our game and as we do that, then hopefully the results will follow.
“Listen, we would have loved to have won both games in here, but what it comes down to, I think we can take some confidence out of the fact that we won the one game and played pretty strong in the second game and even to battle back against a team that is tough to generate offense against, that’s a pretty good sign. But going back home doesn’t guarantee anything either. They’re a good team. We have a lot of respect for them, so we know we’ll have to be at our best.”
Ryan Reaves tried to throw his weight around. Steve Ott was a menace all game by smack-talking, taunting, cross-checking and slashing. Devan Dubnyk got him back at one point by slashing him two or three times in the leg.
“Just one good one,” Dubnyk said. “The first one was a poke. The second one was good. But it was fair game. He crashed into me a couple of times before that, a few times after that. They just gave a goalie interference call at the other end. I don’t mind getting involved like that sometimes. It gets the heart rate going a little bit when you’re not seeing too many pucks.
“I’m sure the whole building heard him scream. He was trying to let everybody know that it hurt him.”
Ott came back to the net after the slashes and tripped up Dubnyk. The refs just called Zach Parise for a dubious goalie interference penalty a few minutes before, but the refs didn’t call this one, probably because they knew they let Dubnyk get away with the chopjob on Ott’s knee.
Ott on all the run-ins with Wild players today (he cross-checked Mikko Koivu in the back of the neck, slashed Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke, pet Jason Zucker on the helmet and trash-talked Jordan Schroeder (Schroeder just laughed at him), Ott said, “This is playoff time. They're doing the same thing out there. They're trying to compete as hard as (us) and we're trying to match effort for effort out there, and hopefully like tonight, you get out on top of a game. The goal scorers do their job and your role players do their role and it continues throughout the lineup.”
On taunting Zucker, Ott said, “You guys watch that stuff more than me. I think it's just reactionary. Sometimes my brain is shut off.”
On Backes calling him a pesky mosquito, Ott said, “Hopefully I just keep ticking, that's the only thing. It's a role guys. Everybody has a role out there and you try to play extremely hard. For myself personally, the only time I get offense is usually from being physical and our line with [Ryan Reaves and Marcel Goc], we want to be hard to play against. ... We had a solid night. But that was every line. Every guy had something solid throughout our lineup. That's what you need is that whole team effort in games like this.”
If you didn’t see Saturday’s paper, I wrote more about Ott from Chris Stewart’s perspective. Remember, the Wild talked to Ott about a contract last summer, by the way.
The Wild now heads home, where by the way, it has been very mediocre in my opinion all year.
But last year in the playoffs, the Wild went 5-1 at home and the fans were awesome and loud.
“I’m excited to get back home,” Yeo said. “I know that our crowd in the playoffs, it’s something special. Our guys feed off that. The energy in the building is outstanding.”
By the way, there was a last-second, fourth-line wrinkle when Justin Fontaine, who missed Friday’s practice, showed up to Scottrade Center sick.
Because the Wild wanted a right-shot on the right wing, Schroeder made his playoff debut. That caused the Wild to scratch left wing Sean Bergenheim, who played well in Thursday’s Game 1 win, because Yeo explained the Wild needed a penalty killer with Fontaine out.
Cooke, who missed Game 1 with abdominal soreness, played his 104th career playoff game. Kyle Brodziak centered the two.
Scandella scored his second career playoff goal. He had two goals in his last two games of the regular season after going goalless since Dec. 29. Scandella had 11 goals this year.
Dubnyk on the offense: “Not a lot of luck down there today. We definitely could have had three or four goals. The guys played well. That’s just the way goes sometimes. I thought we did a good job generating chances. It’s just unfortunate that some didn’t go in the net, but if we keep playing like that, we’ll be fine.”
Dubnyk on the physical game: “It was a little different than the first game. I’m sure it’ll continue to become more and more that way as the series goes on. We know how to play that way and how to handle it and use our speed, and we’ll keep doing a good job of that.”
Dubnyk on Tarasenko’s second goal where Dubnyk left his post to cheat expecting a cross-crease pass: “That’s just a mistake by me. It’s not a good goal. I came off my post on a guy like to shoot, who’s got a pretty good shot and he made me pay for it. That’s a mistake by me that cost me a goal against. Make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
On the mood: “We’re fine.”
Coyle on his missed chance: “So many chances on our part. We have to bury those. That’s what it came down to. They buried theirs. We were right there with them. It wasn’t like they took over at any point. We played a solid game. just those chances we have to bury.”
Did you see how close it was? “I actually didn’t see it. I knew it hit a bar. I didn’t know if it was inside or not. Good play by them to keep it out. Like I said, we’ve got to bury those.”
Coyle on the game: “They played a great game. they came out like they wanted to, but we were right there. They came out physical, and we matched it if not better. We’re in a good position. It’s a tied series right now, going back home. We’ll take that.”
Zach Parise said, “We played a good game, we got a lot of good chances, we just didn’t put them in. That was the difference.
“I thought we played two good games here. Down 2-0 in the first period, you can find yourself in a hole. But again, we had great chances not only to make it 2-1 but to tie it up. We just couldn’t get that equalizer. But we had a lot of good chances.”
On the mood, Parise said, “I thought we played two good games. You find yourself down 2-0 here early, but we got ourselves back in the game. It was just a couple that we couldn’t capitalize and put in the net. Overall we’d love to be going home 2-0 but it’s 1-1. There’s a lot of things we can feel good about. Of course there are areas for improvement, but there’s a lot of things that we’ve been doing pretty well.
“It’s always a good atmosphere in our building in the postseason. Really looking forward to that.”
Big game Monday.
When teams are tied 1-1 in a best-of-seven series, the Game 3 winner goes on to win the series 67.3 percent of the time (189-92), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Wild didn’t lose two games in the regular season under Dubnyk.
Big win for St. Louis. Down 2-0, the Blues have won one of 19 series and have been swept 10 times.
Early flight in the morning. Talk to you after practice. I'll be very interested to see if Zucker is OK. He was ailing during the game and after as a result of taking an Alex Pietrangelo shot to the left thumb. Not good.
The Wild outshot, outhit and outblocked-shot (to make up a word) the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
The Blues pushed hard late and Dmitrij Jaskin fluttered a shot over the net with Chris Stewart pressuring in the waning seconds before the first of two Wild empty-netters, but the Wild held on for a 4-2 victory to take home-ice advantage and put itself in a position to take a stranglehold on the series Saturday at 2 p.m. (NBC).
Lots of great Wild efforts all over the ice. Matt Dumba scored and battled all night, Charlie Coyle played a big boy's game with Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker put St. Louis on its heels early, Sean Bergenheim provided solid shifts from the fourth line, Stewart was physical and blocked a Barret Jackman outlet that led to Dumba's goal, Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line had a solid game, the defensemen looked good, etc. Wild scored two power-play goals (one was empty-net by Pominville, and gave up one shorthanded goal, the first shortie against since Jan. 3).
The Wild, 1-9 on the road in the past two postseasons, snapped a seven-game Game 1 losing streak with its first Game 1 win since the first-ever Game 1 way back on April 10, 2003, against Colorado.
The Wild was especially strong in the second period, holding the Blues to four shots and none in the final 8 minutes, 32 seconds. The Wild jumped out to a 1-0 lead 2:47 into the game on an awesome goal by Zucker.
With the Wild on a line change, Zucker caught Zbynek Michalek off guard by turning on his jets and flying into the offensive zone. Zucker took a tight-angle shot, Jake Allen kicked the rebound right to him and in one motion, Zucker sped to the other side of the net with Allen out of position and tucked the puck inside the post with the puck sticking to his blade like it was glued there.
“That guy's a speed demon there,” Allen said. “Good play by him. Wish I could have controlled the rebound a little bit better, but it was a good move by him.”
The Wild played an OK first. Five or six good chances, but a lot of one and done’s in the offensive zone and sloppy in its own zone. But in the second, after Matt Dumba scored his first career playoff goal on a power play, it was all Wild.
“They outplayed us in the second,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They were quicker on pucks, they were faster in the zone. We took some penalties that gave them some momentum, gave them a chance to rest. We didn’t build on the good first period.”
Hitchcock said you have to play simple games in the playoffs, and when the Blues got frustrated being kept to the outside, they played a “very complicated game and it made us look slow.”
The Wild, on the other hand, looked fast for large chunks of the game. Even in the first, the Wild was able to get going with speed and that was especially the case in the second when it sustained pressure in the offensive zone.
Things got hairy in the third when Jaden Schwartz scored on a redirection, but Mikael Granlund scored with an empty-net. That was big because Alex Steen scored with 58.7 seconds left. Finally Jason Pominville scored with an empty-net to seal the deal.
Devan Dubnyk picked up the win with 19 saves in his debut. The Blues are now 4-13 in the playoffs and as I wrote in my gamer you can read on startribune.com/wild, the pressure is squarely on them now after their past playoff losses.
“We have to leave this one behind and take the good things out of it but move to the second one,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “We know the further it’s going to go the tougher it’s going to get. We have to enjoy this one for a couple minutes and start to prepare for Saturday’s game.”
Coach Mike Yeo said, “That’s a good start for us. I think we have to make sure that we use this game, we look at the video and there’s certainly some areas where we know we can be better. But a lot of good things to take from it, for sure.”
Dumba had a great game, and not just the goal. He battled all night. Yeo said, “He’s a strong kid. He’s a competitive kid, and certainly not afraid to go into the corners. He’s got the skating ability to escape and help us execute in certain situations, but he’s got that competitive nature that’s a huge part of it too, especially against a team like this. It’s one thing to say you want to execute, but they’re going to find a way to create some turnovers and you’re going to have to find some opportunities to separate guys from pucks. That’s not an easy team to do it against.”
Dumba, during his celebration, said some words into his left elbow. Dumba was coy about what he was saying and said he may tell us after the playoffs.
Here’s some of David Backes’ thoughts:
“They came out and played a solid road game and we needed to capitalize on a few more chances, create scrums around their net with loose pucks. We just didn't get to the inside enough. The result is they win the special teams battle by a goal and a 2-1 lead before the empty-netters.
“I think we got better as the game went along. I don't know if it was nerves or too much time off or what. We didn't bring our 'A' game from the drop of the puck and they were able to score a goal early and then add a power play goal after that. Combination of staying out of the box... I've got to block that or Petro's got to block that; Jake can't see it. We'll take blame and blame where it's due and need a much better effort on Saturday. But the good thing we know it's in this room to bring that better effort.
“I think it's a conscious effort by us to go set up shop in front of their net. We finally did. Schwartzy gets a nice tip and scores a goal there from getting there. That's what we need to do. We can't do it again until Saturday, but one game's in the books. They get a 1-0 lead. Now's the time for us to make a few adjustments and find a way to win the next one.
“He made all the saves he was supposed to and on some he shouldn't. The power play goal he can't see because we're in lanes but not blocking pucks. The wraparound, (Zucker) gets around there pretty quick. He makes a pretty good play.
“You get down one at home and you hope to pick it up a notch and that'd be a wakeup call. It almost took until the third period until we finally got our legs going and played our brand of hockey. We had great chances and created o-zone time, looked more like our game and we needed that for a full 60 in order to win games against this team and another chance on Saturday.”
Lots more in the paper from Chip and I, and quotes in the game story from Zach Parise, Dumba, Dubnyk and Yeo.
Good win. Lots of series still to go, but great start. Talk to you after Friday’s practice. By the way, I'll be doing a 2 p.m. live chat on startribune.com before Game 3 Monday.
First things first: Nobody got hurt in the Wild’s 4-2 regular-season-ending loss at St. Louis, a game the Blues handed the Wild its first road loss since Feb. 16 to snap the team’s NHL-record-tying 12-game road winning streak.
It got a little scary in the final minute when Robert Bortuzzo cross-checked Zach Parise hard to the ice, then Olli Jokinen did the same with a kidney shot. But Parise, after lifting himself up off the ice slowly and in pain, scored his 33rd goal, 11th power-play goal and 62nd point to finish his season.
But that would be all she wrote, and now the Wild awaits the outcome of Anaheim’s game at 29th-place Arizona. I guess we’ll see how much the players on the Ducks want to play Winnipeg (if they win in regulation or overtime) or the Wild (losing or winning in a shootout).
If the first scenario happens, the Wild plays the Blues. If the second scenario happens, the Wild plays the Ducks.
The schedule is expected to be released late tonight.
I will write more of a playoff preview in Monday’s paper with quotes from players with their thoughts.
Yeo and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock gave several key players the game off. Captain Mikko Koivu, No. 1 defenseman Ryan Suter, second-pair defenseman Jared Spurgeon and Justin Fontaine didn’t play for the Wild. The Blues were without captain David Backes, first-liner T.J. Oshie, top defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk and checker Steve Ott.
If the Wild had won, it would have needed Colorado to beat Chicago in regulation in order to play Nashville in the first round.
“It’s not like we dressed a lineup that we didn’t think was capable of winning,” Yeo said.
The Wild also played a strong first half of the game, held St. Louis without a shot for the first 10 minutes, to one overall in the first period and was the better team until the Blues struck first.
Dmitrij Jaskin, a sneaky good player, scored after the Jason Zucker-Kyle Brodziak-Chris Stewart spent a long shift in the offensive zone but couldn’t convert. On this shift and the third goal – the first of two goals by sneaky good player (also) Jori Lehtera, Stewart’s backcheck was less than be desired.
Yeo felt it was a “Game 82 of the regular season” shift and “not a concern.”
Players said this is a tough game to play. Jason Pominville said you want to put on a good showing and win, but it’s also in the back of your mind that you don’t want to get hurt with the playoffs on the horizon.
He said some players were “going through the motions.”
It was the first time the Wild allowed more than two goals in 13 road games, and Devan Dubnyk watched the third period from the bench. The plan before the game was to put Darcy Kuemper in for the third, I believe, only if the Wild was down a couple goals.
The Wild was trailing 3-1.
To me, the biggest storyline of the game was that fourth-line left wing spot.
It was also a final audition for players like Matt Cooke, Erik Haula and Sean Bergenheim. Those three forwards, along with scratched Ryan Carter and Jordan Schroeder, were essentially battling for one fourth-line left wing spot available for Game 1 of the playoffs.
The Zucker-Koivu-Stewart and Parise-Mikael Granlund-Pominville lines are set. Thomas Vanek, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter are lineup locks, and Yeo has indicated that so are Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine.
Things can obviously change in a hurry with injury or one playoff loss, but this left one forward slot open for Game 1. Cooke and Haula assisted on Marco Scandella’s goal, were each plus-1 and weren’t on for St. Louis’ lone power-play goal.
“Some guys have helped themselves and some guys probably didn’t help themselves as much [the past few games],” Yeo said. “We have a lot of guys available that we know that can come in and be effective in different types of roles. You need depth this time of year. I know that it’s tough for the guys that are out of the lineup, but if you want to have any kind of run, you need that at your disposal.”
With the Wild set to play a heavy first-round opponent, Yeo admitted Cooke or Carter have the advantage.
“In the playoffs, you want to have guys that are able to finish checks and play a hard game and be tough to play against,” Yeo said.
Cooke, 36, may have the initial advantage on the other four forwards based on his 103 games of playoff experience and one Stanley Cup. He had two assists in two games since missing nine weeks with a sports hernia.
“I feel like my style is programmed for playoff-style hockey,” said Cooke, who said his skating was uninhibited the past two games.
He also thinks his hard-nosed style will be good against a big, physical opponent.
“Not that all our players can’t handle it, but it’s different than just playing against a team once,” Cooke said. “You’re potentially signing up to play seven straight games against a team. It has its cumulative effect.”
Cooke said it’s a numbers thing that he understands and a coach’s decision, but “I feel like I bring an element, physical play and penalty killing is something I take a lot of pride in. Those are two things important in the playoffs.”
Like I said, I’ll look more toward the first-round opponent Monday and will be back later tonight.
Not that we condone gambling here at Russo’s Rants, but once it was announced Devan Dubnyk would be getting the night off tonight and that the Wild’s three top goal scorers heading into this evening – Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter and Thomas Vanek – wouldn’t be playing, the Predators went from -125 to -166 favorites.
What’s Vegas know?
The Wild has been road warriors for two months, and tonight, it didn’t matter the goalie or the lineup, the Wild won in Nashville for the third time since late February by rallying from an early 2-0 deficit to win 4-2.
It was the Wild’s 12th consecutive road win, tying the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings for the longest road winning streak in NHL history. If the Wild wins out Saturday in St. Louis with a 13th in a row, the Wild will stand alone atop that record in the NHL Guide and Record Book.
That would be pretty cool, said Mike Yeo, the coach who has coached the Wild to its second 100-point year in franchise history.
OK, the scenarios (which hopefully I don’t have to correct in the morning): The Wild clinched at least the top wildcard spot tonight.
-- IF it beats St. Louis on Saturday AND Chicago loses in regulation at Colorado, the Wild finishes third in the Central and returns to Nashville for the start of the playoffs.
--This one is complicated-sounding: The Wild would play Anaheim if the Blues get more points than the Ducks, who play at Arizona on Saturday, or if St. Louis beats the Wild in regulation or overtime and the Ducks win in a shootout.
--Any other outcome, the Wild would face the Blues in the first round.
So, there’s like a 65 percent chance the Wild faces the Blues, I believe.
Gutsy effort by Darcy Kuemper tonight, who gave up two goals on the first five shots he saw in his first start since Jan. 6 and first action since Jan. 20. The first goal by Filip Forsberg skipped on the ice and hopped. The second goal sailed through traffic.
But Kuemper put it behind him, got better as the game went along and was at his best in the third period when the Wild most needed him. He stopped the final 29 shots he saw for 32 saves. Not easy given his lack of play the past three months, the pressure he was facing and the fact in the first period I thought the Wild wasn’t getting into shooting lanes and dodging checks left and right.
“Real happy for him,” Yeo said. “And I’m happy with the way our guys played in front of him to give him that chance, but when we needed him most, he was at his best. Some good mental toughness by him the way the game started. That first puck bounced and that would be difficult for any goalie. That second one he didn’t see it, so for him to be able to collect himself and stay in the game the way he did and for our guys to keep fighting, that’s story No. 1. What’s No. 2?”
Depth. The Wild’s deep. Seventy-seven goals were out of the lineup tonight with no Parise, Vanek or Niederreiter in there, yet Jason Zucker and Marco Scandella scored 31 seconds apart late in the second, Jason Pominville scored the winner with 2:03 left and Zucker added an empty-netter that also earned Mikko Koivu his 500th point.
Zucker’s goal snapped the Wild’s 0 for 22, 13-game road power-play-goal drought. He scored his 20th and 21st goals to become the fourth Wild player to hit that mark this year. Scandella’s highlight-reel, spinorama goal (described in the gamer) was his 10th and first since Dec. 29.
“That’s big,” Yeo said of the depth, before talking about guys like Sean Bergenheim and Jordan Schroeder and Matt Cooke. “I would also say the guys we brought into the lineup, that’s a good sign when you talk about the depth. Those guys did what we were expecting them to do. They all made a statement for themselves tonight and certainly we’ve got some tough decisions ahead.”
Cooke and Schroeder assisted on the Scandella goal.
By the way, Mikael Granlund keeps winning big draws since he fell on the knife a few weeks ago with his faceoff weakness. He won a draw in Chicago that led to his goal and tonight, Pominville dug a puck out for a Granlund faceoff win and then buried the winner on a Jared Spurgeon setup. That goal also allowed St. Louis to win the division.
Kuemper felt reassurance that he can win in an actual game after so much traffic. He said it felt great to be a part of it again and Yeo said he’s confident he can be a safety net to Dubnyk in the playoffs.
“He did it last year for us,” Yeo said. “He came in and helped us win a series last year. We’ve never lost confidence in him. Between him and Backy, those guys have not not been playing because we don’t believe they can win. It’s because Dubey didn’t give us a choice with the level of play that he was at. So we’re real happy for him and obviously it’s a good thing for us.”
Kuemper said, “I told myself going into the game I just wanted to get better as it went along and just working on getting my game feet wet again. How about the guys sticking with it tonight? We go down 2-0, it would have been pretty easy to start feeling sorry for themselves, but they kept battling for me. Hats off to them.
“It was easy to move past that and just keep working on things. The speed started coming back to me the more we went. By the end of the first period, I was feeling pretty good in there.”
Koivu said, “Both him and Backy, the way they’ve been handling not playing in a game for a long time – all the credit to them with the way they’ve been working and practicing. I think it’s a little bit easier on Darcy as a younger goalie, but Backstrom also, the way he’s been handling that, skating with us and working hard and getting those pucks every single day. You’ve got to give them credit. Obviously happy for him. It’s a big win.”
Zucker said, “We had a lot of different line combinations with guys that hadn’t played together much. So I think there was a little bit of an adjustment in the first period. But Kuemper played great, out D core played great, and as far as the forwards there was a bit of an adjustment but we just had to battle back and the guys did that tonight.
The Wild is two goals from breaking the team record for goals of 226 set in 2005-06.
34.4 goal pace for Jason Zucker had he played a full season
34 third-period Wild goals since Feb. 22 (22 games, most in NHL)
9 third-period goals allowed by Wild since Feb. 22 (fewest in NHL)
That’s it for me. 6:40 a.m. flight. Practice is at 2 p.m. Follow me on Twitter.
I will say, late, late blog will be coming Friday barring news because not only do I have a ton of phone interviews to do in preparation for playoff previews, I’m sitting down with a few players after practice.
So make sure you follow me on Twitter at @russostrib if you want instant stuff.
Road sweet road.
There were almost a dozen scenarios, some more complicated than others, that could have clinched the Wild a playoff spot Tuesday night. That’s how it works in a league where there are shootouts, regulation/overtime tiebreakers and three-point games.
By the far the simplest scenario involved the Wild just taking care of business once and for all. It was a win-and-in prescription, and the Wild got it done with a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Please check out the gamer here because there’s some good scene-setting stuff from the postgame locker room.
Eleventh consecutive road victory for the Wild. That stands alone for second in NHL history. If the Wild can beat Nashville in Nashville on Thursday, the Wild will tie the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings for longest road winning streak in NHL history (12).
“A little bit of stress here the last week, a little bit of tension, but the fact that we won 11 straight road games to get ourselves in the playoffs, I mean, that’s unbelievable,” Yeo said.
What was also unbelievable?
The fact I was standing in the same locker room that Jan. 10 that caused me to lead my game story with this:
CHICAGO – The Wild’s in full-scale, five-alarm, DEFCON 1 crisis mode.
“I was talking with Zach [Parise], and we’ve never been through, … we’ve never seen anything like this,” defenseman Ryan Suter said after the Wild’s 11th loss in 13 games, a 4-1 whipping Sunday night from the Chicago Blackhawks. “I don’t know what the heck is going on, but every day’s a bad day right now.”
When I noted to Yeo the irony that the Wild was experiencing the season’s highest point in the same spot it experienced the season’s lowest point three months ago, Yeo pointed out that two nights later in Pittsburgh was probably a little lower.
But three days after that Blackhawks loss, the Wild acquired Devan Dubnyk, and here we are – a postseason berth for a third consecutive season after being 12th in the West in January and getting smoked seemingly nightly.
“This was only one step. We have bigger plans,” Yeo said. “Very, very proud of our guys for what they overcame, the way that everyone dug in together.”
Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker (yes, that Zucker) broke a scoreless tie less than four minutes apart midway through the third period. Zucker’s goal became the winning goal in his first game since Feb. 9. If he scores in the final two games, it’ll be his first 20-goal season.
Zucker said it wasn’t his best game by any stretch, but he got better as the game went along, made plays and scored a huge goal. He also took a mammoth hit from Brent Seabrook two shifts before his goal to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead.
“As the game went on, he got better every shift,” Yeo said. “Things were happening a little quick early in the game, he was rushing a few plays. But a guy like that, with his speed, he has the ability to find his game through the course of a game in a tough place to make that happen. That’s what he brings. His speed, his hockey smarts find him in those positions and he’s obviously got the finish.”
On National Beer Day, Yeo vowed to honor the tradition on the Wild’s flight to Nashville.
“The leadership tonight was just amazing,” Yeo said, talking about his veteran’s composure on the bench, in the dressing room and their play on the ice.
Zach Parise was extraordinary, assisting on Granlund’s goal and really setting the tone in the second period with some crazy, Parise-like effort on a penalty kill.
Ryan Suter saved a goal in the third by winning a puck battle with Andrew Shaw.
Dubnyk made 32 saves and improved to 15-1-1 on the road with a 1.42 goals-against average and .953 save percentage and 5-0-1 in his past six second of back-to-back games with a 1.14 goals-against average and .968 save percentage.
“What a great story, the fact that he comes in here and plays that game tonight, what he’s done for us,” Yeo said. “This is all new for him too, dealing with the pressure of making the playoffs and this is great experience going into the playoffs.”
Yeo said the Wild has “bigger plans” than just making the playoffs.
He said he hasn’t yet thought about how he’ll handle the last two games. My guess is Darcy Kuemper plays the season finale in St. Louis, especially if you’re going to play the Blues in the first round. The last thing you want is the Blues taking runs at Dubnyk.
Yeo would like to go after this consecutive road win streak record, but he also wants to give guys like Matt Cooke a chance to get in and to get guys rest. On the other hand, you don’t want guys getting stale before the playoffs start next Wednesday or Thursday. The Wild just had four days off and we saw what happened.
You want guys to stay sharp.
Also, Dubnyk said, while he imagines he’ll get one of the two final games off, “I wouldn’t expect to have a week and a half off. I don’t think that’d be very good. We want to continue the winning feeling going into the playoffs. These are both teams we could be facing in first or second round.”
Suter said, “We’ve gone through a lot this year. A lot of ups and downs and mumps and different injuries, sicknesses, it’s very rewarding to know we’re on to the next round here.”
On reflecting on what this team accomplished this second half, Suter said with a laugh, “We tried that the last week and that didn’t work too well. The four days, I think guys were starting to think about how good we were and it didn’t help us. Hopefully we don’t reflect too much here.”
On this team compared to the one in January that was in Chicago, Parise said, “We’re a different team than we were then. We’re playing just better as a group. From goaltending out, we’re playing a better team game.
“It’s rewarding. We made it interesting the last few games, but it’s rewarding to get in.”
Check out the gamer and the Jason Zucker notebook here.
FYI, from the Wild: Ticket availability for all 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff home games at Xcel Energy Center is expected to be extremely limited due to incredible demand and priority access given to Wild Season Ticket Holders.
"Fan support for the Minnesota Wild has always been awesome, but this season it's reached a whole new level," said Wild Chief Operating Officer Matt Majka. "Our Season Ticket Holders are renewing in record numbers and more are joining the 'Team of 18,000' each day. Many have been with us since day one and we are thrilled to be able to once again offer them the playoff experience they so rightly deserve."
The Wild is currently in the process of fulfilling Season Ticket Holder playoff ticket requests. Should single-game playoff tickets become available for the general public, they will be released the day prior to each scheduled home game. Information regarding ticket availability will be announced as soon as it is available.
No practice Wednesday. I’ll blog if there’s news. Otherwise, it’s work ahead time and check out Chip Scoggins’ awesome story on Chris Stewart in Thursday’s paper.
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