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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The Wild visits the St. Louis Blues in about 90 minutes. Lots of Wild fans down here in St. Louis for the game.
No changes to the Wild lineup, meaning Devyn Dubnyk will start his 27th consecutive game for the Wild and 28th straight overall if you include one from Arizona.
Jordan Schroeder and Christian Folin will be scratched. Brian Elliott, 6-0 against the Wild, starts for the Blues.
The Wild is 2-7-2 in its past nine at St. Louis, being outscored 38-19 over that span. It hasn’t won in regulation in St. Louis since Oct. 20, 2007 (a span of 12 games). The Blues took over the top spot in the Central Division on Thursday with a 1-0 shootout win over Philadelphia. The Blues have won three in a row and are 5-1-1 in their past seven.
The Wild is 10-1-2 in its past 13 on the road and has won six straight on the road.
The Wild, which lost last night to Anaheim, 2-1, despite having by far the better of the chances, is looking for a big bounceback.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of bouncing back,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We’re also understanding that they have a pretty good team and are sitting here waiting for us, so it’s going to be a good test tonight. Through this final stretch, I think it does us a lot of good just to make sure we’re focused on our process of getting better, and when we do those things, more often than not the results are in our favor.”
As you know, the Blues like to go after the Wild’s top players physically, especially captain David Backes, Ryan Reaves and Steve Ott.
“Good test tonight,” Yeo said. “I’m looking forward to see how we come in here. This team, in a lot of ways, is like Anaheim. We have played them well, but we haven’t come out on top a lot of times. We’ve got to find a way to be better against them.
“I would like to see us counter [their physicality] by making sure we play physical against some of their key guys as well. If they’re going to do that, then we have to be ready to play that game. Their team is built differently than ours. Colorado has tried to play against us that way, Dallas has tried to play against us that way, and we’ve seen it other times. And we’ve responded well. And we’re going to need to again tonight. Between the whistles, we need to have a better focus and a higher battle level.”
The Wild keeps winning on the road even when not close to its ‘A’ game.
Devan Dubnyk did everything he possibly could do tonight to backstop the Wild to a 3-1 victory, the team’s eighth win in the past nine games to improve to an NHL-best 10-1-2 in its past 13 on the road, NHL-best 18-3-2 in its past 23 and 16-2-1 since the All-Star break.
Tonight was its final game in hand on Winnipeg, and the Wild capitalized by moving three up on the Jets. Remember, the Wild was 14 back on Jan. 17.
Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise scored third-period goals and each had two points, Jason Pominville had two assists one game after having two third-period goals and Dubnyk made 37 saves, his most with the Wild.
The Wild was outshot 38-19, including 16-4 in the second. But Dubnyk was outstanding to improve to 18-3-1 with a 1.60 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. MVP! MVP! MVP!
The Dubnyk story just gets more remarkable by the game and even players, while lauding him, are saying it’s become a broken record after every game talking about just what he means to this group.
Dubnyk called tonight a classic road game and said he just tried to keep things simple and not get lazy as far as finding pucks.
He said with the game 1-1, “that’s a real comfortable spot for us.”
On how the Wild didn’t have its legs or its general sharpness, Dubnyk said, “You’re going to see that sometimes in back-to-backs. When they started to push, the most important thing is just to keep that game where it is and let us have the opportunity to do exactly what we did – capitalize on a couple opportunities in the third period and then kind of grind it out from there.
“We found a way to make big plays when it counted.”
Mike Yeo said the shoddy play at times was a combination of heavy legs from playing the night before against a team that had a four-day break and just not playing well.
“If you played the night before and you’re taking 1:15 shifts, it’s not going to be very productive,” he said. “A lot of that turned into frustration and turned into lack of focus.”
But he gave the guys credit for not letting that frustration ruin the game. The team did a regroup in the third period and came out with the big two points.
Granlund had his fifth multi-point game since the All-Star break and was plus-3. He scored the winner. Parise scored his 26th.
You have to feel for Mikko Koivu. He was on fire before the trades and has dried up since as the Wild continue to look for chemistry on his line. He has no points in the past six games but is still playing well.
Thomas Vanek missed tonight’s game with illness, but Nino Niederreiter returned and set up Charlie Coyle’s game-opening goal.
Again, good win for the Wild as it continues to soar.
Big game Sunday, a game that could be pretty fiery with the Colorado Avalanche coming to town to close the season series. The Avs are 0-4 against the Wild and have scored once. The game in Denver last Saturday ended with Cody McLeod jumping Granlund and fighting Coyle. That triggered a bunch of trash-talking after the game and in the days since.
I will have an advance on all of that in Sunday’s paper. All check out my Sunday column. I talked to Chuck Fletcher about all the draft picks he has traded away the past three years.
I will unfortunately not be in town for Sunday’s game, but Kent Youngblood will be at the controls (@bloodstrib on Twitter). No practice Saturday.
Afternoon from beautiful Raleigh, where the sun is out and the air is crisp.
I'll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. CT.
Wild, an NHL-best 17-3-2 in the Devan Dubnyk era and an NHL-best 15 wins and 31 points in 18 games since the All-Star break (15-2-1), faces the Carolina Hurricanes tonight in the parking lot of North Carolina State's football stadium.
Canes have won three of their past four and have been playing well since New Year's.
The Wild, winners of seven of its past eight overall, is an NHL-best 9-1-2 on the road since Dubnyk came to save the day and has won five straight on the road.
"If we don't respect these guys tonight, then it will be an awfully frustrating game," coach Mike Yeo said of the Canes.
Dubnyk will make his 23rd consecutive start tonight. He is 17-3-1 with the Wild with a 1.63 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, allowing a league-low 35 goals in the past 22 games (1.59 per game). Again, consider this: The Wild allowed 58 goals in the 14 games before he arrived (4.14 goals per game).
FIFTY-EIGHT GOALS IN FOURTEEN GAMES COMPARED TO THIRTY-FIVE GOALS IN TWENTY-TWO!
I thought I would amplify that.
Wild was 45 seconds from having a five-point lead in 9th today until Marian Gaborik forced overtime for the L.A. Kings and they won in a shootout.
Now, Wild still has a three-point lead, is one over Winnipeg and four from Chicago for third in the Central. If the Wild's not careful, it'll play itself right into a first-round series with St. Louis.
(I'm crying purely for selfish, travel-related reasons).
Tonight is the Wild's game in hand on the Jets, so if it can win, it would be three points up. Quite the accomplishment considering Minnesota was 14 back of the Jets on Jan. 27 and seven points behind eighth.
Why not rest Dubnyk and start Darcy Kuemper for the first time since Jan. 6?
"Number of reasons," Yeo said. "We look at this game as an extremely important game for us and we're treating it as such. You can talk about maybe resting or keeping an eye on games maybe two, three weeks from now, but those games don't mean a lot unless we win games right now.
"Part of the other reasoning is no skate this morning, no skate for the guys tomorrow with a mandatory day off and probably no morning skate on Sunday [because of a 5 p.m. game against Colorado]. Given that, I think in a lot of ways, it's important for him to almost have this game to keep sharp. And also, we only gave up 25 shots last night [in Washington]. So I don't think he should be too tired."
Jared Spurgeon (concussion) and Nino Niederreiter (lower body) skated this morning in a very optional skate. I'd guess Spurgeon won't play, but we'll see about Niederreiter. And if Niederreiter plays, we'll see who comes out because Jordan Schroeder was good last night with four shots.
Maybe Sean Bergenheim? Maybe a member of the fourth line, although I thought again last night that Erik Haula-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine looked good and they're all penalty killers and the Canes' power play ranks sixth in the NHL in 2015.
No. 1 ranked (Carolina) vs. No. 2 ranked (Minnesota) penalty kills tonight. Wild's power play is 1 for 19 the past 10 games. Yeo indicated the power play is the only thing about the Wild's game he doesn't like right now.
Looks like former Wild Anton Khudobin is starting for Carolina. The Wild shellacked him a few weeks ago in a 6-3 win.
Mayhem in Denver as the Wild defeated the Colorado Avalanche 3-1 to gain a three-point cushion on eighth and move a point from Winnipeg.
In a nasty, physical, action-packed, playoff-like affair, the Avalanche tried to run the Wild out of the building.
“I’d probably be frustrated too if we played a team and hadn’t scored on them in four games except on a dump-in,” Zach Parise said, grinning (you’ll understand what he’s referring to in a few paragraphs). “They’re taking their frustration out on us. We played a good game in spite of what they were trying to do.”
Twelve periods and 240 minutes of hockey now this season, and the only goal the Avalanche has scored against the Wild in four losses (outscored 12-1) arguably should have been wiped out by referees Chris Rooney and Dean Morton tonight.
Just 1:32 into the second period, a Maxime Talbot dump-in ricocheted awkwardly off the glass, into the crease and pinned under Devan Dubnyk’s right pad. Cody McLeod came charging in trying to jam at the puck and pushed Dubnyk over the goal line.
The ref blew the play down signaling no goal. But they went to review, and the NHL Situation Room correctly determined the puck lodged under Dubnyk’s pad when it went over the line. Tying goal.
However, Dubnyk’s pad only went over the line because McLeod pushed him over the line. Before it got to video review, Rooney and Morton probably should have disallowed the goal. That part of this was not reviewable.
“The ruling, I guess, was that McLeod had nothing to do with me going into the net, which is somewhat mindboggling,” Dubnyk said. “It didn’t seem to matter in the end. For us to respond like that after a goal that probably shouldn’t have counted, that’s a sign of a great hockey team.”
Erik Haula set up Justin Fontaine to make it 2-1 later in the second and Jason Pominville snapped a seven-game point drought in the third.
I paint the above picture though because fast forward to three seconds left with the Avs trailing 3-1. Coach Mike Yeo threw his players on the ice and Patrick Roy countered with five skaters, including Cody McLeod, who was running around all game long, getting into skirmishes by the bench, trash-talking constantly.
Basically, he was doing was Cody McLeod does.
The puck’s dropped and McLeod, from the left wing, skates right at center Mikael Granlund and drives him to the ice, then goes right after Charlie Coyle and gets into a fight.
“I should have saw it coming,” Coyle said. “He backed up and went right after Granlund. Just a stupid play on his part.”
This is textbook instigating, and in the last five minutes, warrants a one-game suspension and $10,000 fine for Roy if upheld by the NHL’s hockey ops department IF the refs call it instigating.
So what do you think Rooney and Morton determined after McLeod jumped a skilled player and started a fight and nearly triggered a brawl by the benches, one that including Gabriel Landeskog taking a swipe at Mikko Koivu from bench to bench?
That McLeod would indeed get a 2-5-10, but the two would be unsportsmanlike conduct, not instigating.
“I didn’t know what was called, but it’s got to be [an instigator],” Coyle said. “That guy’s out there with how many seconds left? Have to know that’s coming.”
There are rules in place to prevent what McLeod did, but you need the refs to actually call it.
“That’s garbage is what it is,” Yeo said of McLeod’s antics. “You feel it was going that way all game long. They were obviously very emotional all game long. In an emotional type of game, we did a good job of keeping our focus and I really think that was the difference in the end.”
Asked what he thought of Roy putting out McLeod, Yeo said, “We’ve seen the league respond to things like this. There’s rules in place to try to prevent things like that and I’m quite certain that they’ll take a good long look at that.”
We’ll see if the league does examine this and determines the only thing that kept this from being an instigator with less than five minutes left is that the refs decided not levy one for some unexplained reason.
(Note: I did not get to question Roy after the game because of a tight deadline due to 9 p.m. game and the fact his availability was during the Wild’s availability).
But the tone was set early in the game when the refs let a lot of stuff go, especially on Thomas Vanek and Coule. In the third, Nathan MacKinnon broke his nose on a check from Sean Bergenheim. The Avs accused Bergenheim of a head shot, but a screenshot I tweeted appears to show MacKinnon being nailed by his own stick.
Nate Prosser said, “We weren’t into the [stuff] after the whistles. We just wanted to stay levelheaded and get the win. They’re coming late. But we just wanted to make sure we were focused on getting the win before getting any extracurricular stuff.”
Added Erik Haula, who for the second game in a row scored a goal and assist, said, “We kept it cool and played the game the right way.”
Added Yeo, “We’ve proven, they’ve tried to do that against us in the past too and I think we respond pretty well to that. I think in some ways it gets some guys even a little bit more into the game. We’ve dealt with that before. I’m pretty impressed with the guys and have confidence they’ll have no problem dealing with that again.”
The Avs close the season series in Minnesota next Sunday. Maybe Stu Bickel will be in the lineup that day and we’ll see if McLeod would fight him instead of going after guys like Granlund.
In the meantime, as Yeo said, “Once the dust settles, we’ll be able to sit back and realize that was a really big win for us. ... In an emotional game, we did a good job keeping our focus and I really think that was the difference in the end."
The Wild beat Colorado for the eighth time in the past nine games including the playoffs and improved to 15-3-3 in its past 21 regular-season games in Denver.
The Wild killed seven penalties, including two abbreviated 4-on-3’s, a 5-on-3 and a 6-on-4. The Wild’s penalty kill is now 43 for 44 during the Wild’s 13-2-1 streak since the All-Star break.
“The penalty kill was huge,” Yeo said. “I feel bad for Duby. I thought Duby was great right from the start of the game and it’s a shame. I didn’t feel that their goal should have counted. I felt that he was clearly pushed into the net. It would have been nice for him to get the shutout. Overall I thought he played a real strong game, obviously backstopping the penalty kill, but those guys were huge, especially in that second period.”
Dubnyk made 33 saves and is an NHL-best 15-3-1 since Jan. 15 with a 1.64 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and five shutouts.
He has got to be one of the frontrunners for February First Star of the Month. He was 11-2-1 with a 1.64 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and three shutouts.
Wild fans packed the Pepsi Center tonight and “DOOOOOOOOOO”ed after all his saves. He was impressed.
“When we were scoring goals, the place was erupting. It’d pretty cool to have that kind of support,” he said.
In the meantime, two big road wins at Nashville and Colorado, said Parise. “It’s something for us to feel really good about.”
The Wild has won seven of its past nine on the road.
Haula and Justin Fontaine scored goals and Kyle Brodziak had a long empty-netter wiped out. But that line was again terrific and Haula said the confidence with the three keeps growing. Jason Pominville also snapped a seven-game point drought with a big third-period goal.
Marco Scandella did seem to get injured. I thought it was from Matt Dumba’s stick because that was his final shift, but before that, he looked like he may have hurt himself when Matt Duchene cut to the net. Yeo said afterward there was too much discomfort for him to continue, to the Wild, already without Jared Spurgeon, played with five defensemen for half the game.
“We keep coming together as a group,” Prosser said. “Big loss of Scandy, we need him and Spurge, but us five took the bulls by the horns and picked up the slack and it was a big two points for us.”
The trade deadline is Monday at 2 p.m. The Wild already wanted a defenseman. We’ll see, depending on his severity, if this further forces the Wild’s hand and it gets one. Also, Tim Erixon and Dave Schlemko can be nabbed off waivers Sunday if the Wild valued them.
Yeo did say this morning that Spurgeon started to work out today.
Intense game to say the least. There was even a nasty fight in the stands between I believe a female Wild fan and male Avs fan.
That’s it for me. The Wild isn’t practicing Sunday. I’ll hop on here and blog if there’s any news, whether from a player acquisition standpoint or if the league chooses to hand out discipline from this game.
I’ll be on Fox 9 with Dawn Mitchell at 10:35 p.m. Sunday.
For as long as I've covered hockey, in back-to-back situations, when a team is on the road and the next night's opponent is already waiting in your city, the coach always reminds the media of that fact preemptively after the front-end road portion of the schedule.
Tonight, the Wild is that quintessential, "They've been back in Denver waiting for us" team.
Last night, the Colorado Avalanche played in Dallas. The Wild has been sitting in Denver since arriving in the wee hours of Friday morning after its convincing 4-2 win at Nashville.
So the Wild, which didn't practice Friday, should have plenty of energy tonight against the Avalanche, which rallied to beat the Stars in an entertaining game and shootout last night. 9 p.m. CT start time. I'll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show.
Devan Dubnyk will make his 20th consecutive start tonight for the Wild, tying Niklas Backstrom's 2009 team record. He is 14-3-1 with the Wild with a 1.68 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and five shutouts.
In today's paper, I did a story on what Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom have been up to. Here's a link.
The Wild has shut out the Avs in three consecutive meetings this season by a combined 9-0 score (outshot them 111-64). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Minnesota is trying to become the first NHL team to post four straight shutouts vs. one opponent in the same season since 1928, when the Pittsburgh Pirates earned four straight shutouts vs. Boston (12/1/27-1/28/28).
The Wild, 12-2-1 since the All-Star break and NHL-best 14-3-2 in its past 19 games, has won six of eight on the road to climb over .500 on the road (15-14-2) for the first time since being 1-0 with a 3-0 win at Colorado on Oct. 11.
It is 14-3-3 in its past 19 regular-season games in Denver.
In the past eight overall regular-season games between the Wild and Avs, the Wild is 7-1, outscored them 25-11 and have a shot differential of plus-101.
Coach Mike Yeo though is expected the Avs' best after being shut out three times by the Wild. Also, Nathan MacKinnon was benched for parts of last night's game in Dallas, so expected a jacked-up No. 1 overall pick.
The season series ends in Minnesota on March 8 with a 5 p.m. game.
Other tidbits: The Wild has outscored opponents 24-8 in the 19 first periods since Dubnyk’s arrival. The Wild is 26-6-3 when it scores first and has scored first in 12 of 15 games since the All-Star break. … The Wild has killed 36 of 37 opposing power plays since the All-Star break. That's an NHL best 97.3 percent. To put that in perspective, in the 13 games before this stretch, the Wild's PK was 72.2 percent (27th in the NHL over that span).
Stephane Veilleux cleared waivers this morning. He's staying on the roster at least as of right now. If the Wild needs his roster spot because of a trade, it can assign him to Iowa now.
A flood of players were placed on waivers today and will be tomorrow (last day before Monday's 2 p.m. deadline) as teams try to create similar flexibility as the Wild.
The Wild's looking for a left-shot D. As I reported today, Jordan Leopold is one name it's looking at. Not sure how the Wild brass values him, but Tim Erixon was placed on waivers by the Hawks today as they prepare to make a trade. Left-shot D drafted in the first round by Calgary that has bounced around to the Rangers, Columbus and Chicago, so his stock has dropped. But he has NHL experience and wouldn't cost an asset other than the waiver claim money.
By the way, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr attended Friday’s University of Denver-Miami University game to watch the RedHawks’ Louis Belpedio, a freshman drafted by Minnesota in the third round last June.
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