This is Michael Russo's 18th year covering the National Hockey League. He's covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005 following 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. Michael uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
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The Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Dallas Stars 3-1 tonight to keep their playoff hopes alive.
A regulation loss, and the Wild would have clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2008. Instead, the Jackets moved into a tie with the Wild with 53 points but sit in ninth place with one game left. The idle Wild fell one point behind the Detroit Red Wings into eighth place.
The Wild can clinch a playoff spot with a victory over the Edmonton Oilers, who are 1-9-0 in their past 10 games, Friday night at the X. The Wild also plays at Colorado on Saturday night.
The 7th-place Red Wings play at Dallas, which was eliminated from postseason contention tonight, on Saturday night, while the Blue Jackets host Nashville. The Predators, who lost 5-2 to the Red Wings tonight, sat No. 1 Pekka Rinne, incidentally, and blew a 2-1 lead.
If the Wild wins out, it can finish as high as sixth if the San Jose Sharks lose in regulation to the Los Angeles Kings in their finale.
If the Wild wins out and the Sharks get a point, the Wild would finish seventh.
If the Wild wins one and the Red Wings lose Saturday, the Wild would finish seventh.
If the Wild wins one and the Red Wings win Saturday, the Wild finishes eighth.
If the Wild loses out and the Jackets get one point Saturday, the Wild is eliminated.
If the Wild loses out and the Jackets lose Saturday, the Wild finishes eight.
If the Wild finishes 1-0-1, the Wild would finish seventh or eighth depending on how they became 1-0-1 and if Detroit wins. I'm not going to burst any brains cells right now with those scenarios.
Regardless of all this, win, and the Wild's in.
Mikko Koivu said he wasn’t going to watch the Stars-Blue Jackets game.
Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown has been suspended the final two games of the Kings regular season. The suspension stems from Brown's elbow to the face of Wild winger Jason Pominville in the second period last night.
He loses $34,324.32 in salary. Here is Brendan Shanahan's video explaining NHL Safety's decision.
Brown, who had played in 314 consecutive games, will be well-rested for the beginning of the playoffs next week.
The first of those games comes tonight against Detroit, which is probably not a good thing for the Wild, which is being chased by the 9th-place Red Wings (three points back with three games left).
"I had the puck on my stick, he’s coming to hit me and I’m just bracing myself," Brown said when I asked him about the elbow last night.
The Wild didn't practice today, but official word thus far is Pominville is day to day with an upper body injury. GM Chuck Fletcher said it was too early to know yet if the Wild needs to recall a forward. If Pominville is sidelined, the Wild has no extra on the roster right now unless Mike Rupp is ready to return Friday from a knee injury. Otherwise, the Wild will have to look to the Houston farm.
Big blow if he is sidelined. Nine points in 10 games, 4, 2-point games, and those came in games the Wild went 3-0-1. He helped elevate that Pierre-Marc Bouchard/Kyle Brodziak line.
The Wild hasn't called it a concussion, but because Pominville was so wobbly getting to the bench, I have gotten a lot of tweets asking if he has a concussion history. His lone documented one in the NHL came Oct. 11, 2010, when he was hit from behind by Chicago's Niklas Hjalmarsson. Pominville, who has played five 82-game season, missed nine games.
This is just the latest blown call from officials. Not only has refs missed about a dozen high sticks in the last month (and I'm not exaggerating), Coyle received a match penalty for a hit against Columbus 17 seconds into a game that was later deemed legal by the NHL. Now, no call on the dirty and blatant Brown elbow on Pominville that's later deemed illegal.
Fascinating. These are critical errors in huge, critical games.
We will see Thursday at practice if there's an update on Pominville or if he's on the ice.
I did contact coach Mike Yeo today about some of the public criticism from fans and media about the Wild's lack of response to the Brown elbow last night. I touched on what my opinion was on last night's blog, which you can see on the below blog, but Yeo said, "Need to win, simple as that. We take a penalty and they score and Brown has hurt a lot more than Poms. If that happens no one would have been more upset than Poms, he wants our team in the playoffs."
Speaking of playoffs, again, two points in the Wild's final two games and the Wild's in for the first time since 2008. But, if the Red Wings lose in regulation tonight against L.A. and tomorrow against Nashville OR Columbus loses in regulation tomorrow at Dallas, the Wild clinches even before Friday's game against Edmonton.
Single-game playoff tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m.
By the way, if you didn't see, Chicago scribes report former St. Cloud State standout and Hobey Baker winner Drew Leblanc will make his NHL debut tonight at Edmonton ... on a line with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. CSN Chicago's Tracey Myers tweeted a quote from Leblanc, a true puck distributor, on his plans tonight: "Get them the puck and get out of their way is my strategy."
He is ineligible for the playoffs though because he was signed after the April 3 trade deadline.
It was just a matter of time before the Wild would have to make a roster shakeup after losing five in a row at home.
Rookies Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker, coming off a couple poor efforts, especially last night against Calgary, have been reassigned. Energy bugs Stephane Veilleux and Jake Dowell have been recalled to play the big, bad defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday.
The Wild has lacked physicality in recent games, focus at proper times, like getting the puck deep and not taking penalties on power plays (see Zucker and Granlund), and also defensive smarts in some key situations.
So Zucker, who was coming off a string of bad games, and Granlund take the hit. Zucker's turnovers have hurt the team since his last recall, and he probably destined himself for this when he bailed out of beating an icing last night. Granlund is just not ready -- plain, simple -- in my opinion.
Veilleux and Dowell are veterans, so they should do their jobs, keep it simple (hit people, get pucks deep and forecheck) and bring some of the elements missing from this team during absences to Mike Rupp and Zenon Konopka.
Desperate move for a desperate team. No matter the way the Wild decides to spin it today, this is a Code Blue move.
Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper have been flipped, too, as expected, and Harding has been activated off IR.
Here are the numbers on the players involved in the switches.
Dowell, the former Wisconsin Badger who has played in 154 NHL games, had four goals in 37 games with Houston. He's 28. Veilleux, 31, had three goals in 33 games with the Aeros. He has 460 NHL games under his belt.
Harding was 1-1 on his rehab assignment in Houston, stopping 56 of 61 shots. He played in four games for the Wild this season before symptoms related to multiple sclerosis sidelined him.
Kuemper was 1-2 for the Wild this season after posting a 1.88 goals-against average in 21 games with the Aeros.
Zucker has four goals in 19 games for the Wild, and had 24 in 55 games for the Aeros. Granlund had two goals in 27 games with the Wild and 10 in 29 games with the Aeros.
The Wild's in a crisis. This is a reaction to that. We will see if it works now.
Like I said last night, Wild goes 2-1 in its final three games, there should be a postseason.
More after availability at 11.
In his first start since Jan. 30 and first appearance since Feb. 7, Wild goalie Josh Harding stopped 33 of 36 shots in a 4-3 Houston Aeros victory over the Texas Stars on Friday night. It was the first of what will likely be a two-game conditioning stint for Harding, who has been sidelined for nine weeks after complications with new medication to treat multiple sclerosis.
The win clinched a playoff spot for the Aeros. Matt Dumba, a 2012 first-round pick, made his pro debut for the Aeros. Harding is expected to be recalled Sunday. If all goes well, Darcy Kuemper will likely be reassigned for the Calder Cup playoffs.
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