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 Anaheim Ducks clinched the Western Conference a second ago. That means the division winner with the second-best record will be Colorado or St. Louis.
That means the Wild, the top wildcard team in the West, will face one of those teams in the first round of the playoffs this week.
The Blues face Detroit at home at 11:30 a.m. CT. The Ducks host Colorado at 7 p.m. CT. The Wild hosts Nashville at 7 p.m. CT
- If St. Louis loses in regulation to Detroit, the Wild plays Colorado.
- If St. Louis gets a point vs. Detroit, Colorado must get a point at Anaheim to play the Wild, or the Wild plays St. Louis.
- If St. Louis beats Detroit, Colorado must beat Anaheim to play the Wild, or the Wild plays St. Louis.
Playoff series schedules will be released Sunday night. I believe the Wild will open Thursday because are there are arena conflicts in both Colorado and St. Louis on Wednesday.
Talk to you Sunday morning after the morning skates. I'll also be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission.
Wild veteran left wing Mike Rupp has been suspended four games -- the final regular-season game Sunday against Nashville and three playoff games -- for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie on Thursday night. He forfeits $7,692.31 in salary.
Rupp was assessed a match penalty midway through the second period for "attempt to injure." Replays showed Oshie had given up the puck when Rupp came by with what the league considers a classic head pick. Rupp's left shoulder hit Oshie's head with that being the principle point of contract -- the chief criteria for an illegal check to the head. Basically, for Rupp to make this hit, the puck needs to be on Oshie's stick and there needs to be full body contact.
Rupp was an easy target for the league to send a message on because like I said last night, Rupp was playing probably his final regular-season game, his 13th of the season. It is unlikely the Wild plans to play Rupp in the playoffs considering he hadn't played since Feb. 1 and played four games since Dec. 31.
If Rupp can't find a job this summer, it'll be a shame if that was the final play of what has been a good career.
This was Rupp's first suspension by the NHL and although he has long been a tough customer, he has done it in a mostly honest fashion. Knowing Rupp, I don't believe he intended to injure Oshie. But he undoubedly messed up. Oshie left the game hurt and isn't playing tonight in Dallas.
Former Wild center Wes Walz sent out a couple tweets (see below) that ticked off Blues fans and Ken Hitchcock today, but the one point he makes that is accurate? No chance Rupp plays last night if the Blues didn't run around last game taking runs as Mikael Granlund, Jared Spurgeon and Darcy Kuemper. It was a continuation of a trend in many Wild games in St. Louis in recent years. This is the story on the St. Louis Dispatch web site that ran the morning of the game in St. Louis a few weeks ago. The Blues tried to send Minnesota a message, the Wild was physically outplayed that game in St. Louis, so the Wild responded by putting Rupp in during the rematch to protect its players and supply muscle. No chance the Wild wanted Rupp to take off Oshie's head, but last game's physicality by St. Louis is why the Wild felt the need to play Rupp yesterday.
Disagree all you want, but that's the facts.
listening to self proclaimed "hockey experts" call MIke Rupp a goon is wrong! MR never susp EVER and has been honest player his whole career— Wes Walz (@walz3737) April 11, 2014
Tough play with Osh last night,love him as a player BUT don't forget 2 weeks ago when Blues wanted to "send a message" to Wild #livebysword— Wes Walz (@walz3737) April 11, 2014
By the way, if the Avalanche beats San Jose tonight and St. Louis loses in regulation at Dallas, Colorado would win the Central and the Wild's first-round opponent would be Anaheim or Colorado. Right now, the first-round opponent can be Anaheim, St. Louis or Colorado.
The American Hockey League announced today that Jake Dowell of the Iowa Wild has been named the 2013-14 winner of the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award as the AHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey.
The award is voted on by coaches, players and members of the media in each of the league’s 30 cities.
Dowell has served as captain of the Wild during the team’s first season in Iowa while also dealing with personal tragedy. Dowell’s father, John, passed away in February after a lengthy battle with Huntington’s disease, a debilitating genetic neurological disorder which also affects his older brother, Luke. Dowell’s openness about his family’s fight with Huntington’s disease and his advocacy for a cure has brought national awareness to the cause, while Dowell and his Wild teammates have taken part in charity drives and fundraisers for research.
A native of Eau Claire, Wis., Dowell has remained a leader on the ice in Des Moines throughout his trying season, appearing in 54 games with Iowa as well as one with the Wild’s NHL affiliate in Minnesota, with whom he is currently on recall. The seventh-year pro out of the University of Wisconsin has played 157 career games in the NHL with Chicago, Dallas and Minnesota, along with 302 career AHL contests with Iowa, Houston, Rockford and Norfolk. He was originally drafted by the Blackhawks in 2004.
This award, which was first presented by the AHL in 1978, honors the late Fred T. Hunt, a long-time contributor to the league who won three Calder Cup championships as a player and three more as a general manager during a career spent primarily with the AHL’s Buffalo Bisons and the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. Previous winners of the award include Ross Yates (1983), Glenn Merkosky (1987, ’91), Bruce Boudreau (1988), Murray Eaves (’89, ’90), John Anderson (1992), Tim Tookey (1993), Ken Gernander (1996, 2004), Randy Cunneyworth (2000), Mike Keane (2007), Ajay Baines (2009), Casey Borer (2010), Bryan Helmer (2011), Chris Minard (2012) and Brandon Davidson (2013).
Josh Harding didn’t just show up to the rink and reel off a first half like few other NHL goalies.
“Behind the scenes, the outward appearance might be that he was just feeling good and going out and playing well, but he has to do a lot to make sure he’s in that state,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “He’s overcoming challenges that not many people have to try to deal with.”
There were injections and cooling vests between periods to keep from overheating and countless other protocols that Harding, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2012, had to ensure in order to simply be able to strap on the pads.
“There were a lot of things that unless you were part of my immediate family that you wouldn’t have seen what I went through and what I have been going through,” Harding said. “There’s no need for people to feel bad. It’s just what it is and you deal with it.”
Harding, the NHL’s Masterton Trophy winner last season for exemplifying perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey, has been selected as the Wild’s nominee for the second year in a row by the Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
“I have a lot of respect [for the other nominees], but this is life and death,” Yeo said.
Harding hasn’t played since Dec. 31 because of a “rough patch.” He still is considered to have a league-leading 1.65 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.
“This year was harder than last year,” Harding said. “Last year you’re coping with the new reality and this year, things were going probably the best they have in my career. From Day One of training camp, I just felt on. I felt back to normal. Unfortunately, things happened.”
Harding, who has started the charitable foundation, Harding’s Hope, took a positive turn last month, began skating and rejoined the Wild last week in practice. With Niklas Backstrom shut down and Darcy Kuemper still sidelined with an upper-body injury, the hope is Harding can at least get to the point where he provides insurance behind Ilya Bryzgalov.
“I would love to give you a distinct plan. I would if I could,” Harding said. “I’m going to take this day-to-day and see where this takes me. I’m very happy where I’m at. I have a ways to go to get to where I want to be, but I’m definitely on the right track.
“If there’s anything I can do to help out this hockey club, whether it’s being the third guy or battling and somehow getting back in there, it all depends how it goes.”
Harding has another year left on his contract. He plans to keep playing.
“Where I’m at right now is a million times better than where I was a month ago,” he said. “The way I’m feeling right now is the feeling I had before my leave of absence. Now it’s just getting back to hockey and doing what I love.
“When you’re out an extended period of time and it’s not a leg injury or an arm injury, you take life lessons away and it gives you more motivation and appreciation for the life that we have. We’re doing something that we love and we’ve worked all our lives to do this and I don’t want to give this up.”
Previous Wild nominees:
Josh Harding (2012-13), Clayton Stoner (2011-12), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (2010-11), Guillaume Latendresse (2009-10), Kurtis Foster (2008-09), Aaron Voros (2007-08), Marian Gaborik (2006-07), Wes Walz (2005-06, 2000-01), Alexandre Daigle (2003-04), Dwayne Roloson (2002-03) and Richard Park (2001-02).
Good morning from Winnipeg, where the Wild and Jets face off tonight in the Wild's final road game. I'll be back later after the morning skates.
Also, I'll be on Hockey Night in Canada Radio on SiriusXM (207/211) today at 2:45 p.m. CT and on the arena cam on NHL Network today at 5:40 p.m. CT.
MINNESOTA WILD STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF STRIPS
ON SALE MONDAY, APRIL 7
SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League (NHL) announced today that Stanley Cup Playoff Ticket Strips will go on sale on Monday, April 7, beginning at 10 a.m. CT exclusively on Wild.com. Prices and locations can be found on http://www.wild.com/2014playoffs. There is an additional $15 processing fee per order.
Playoff Ticket Strips include a seat for each potential home game in the first and second round of the playoffs (a total of six games). Fans purchasing Strips for Round 1 and 2 will also have the option of placing a credit card on file for “pay-as-we-play” purchase of home games in Round 3 and 4.
Playoff ticket strips begin at $390 for rounds 1 and 2. 2014 Stanley Cup Playoff strips are limited to six seats and the limit will be strictly enforced. Single-game playoff tickets will go on sale at a later date, pending availability.
Minnesota Wild To Host Fan Celebration at April 8, 10 and 13 Games
SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League (NHL) has announced details of its annual Fan Celebration, set for the final three regular season home games at Xcel Energy Center – Tuesday, April 8; Thursday, April 10; and Sunday, April 13.
Tuesday the Wild takes on the Boston Bruins. It’s Jerseys off Our Backs Night, as random fans will be selected to walk away with jerseys straight from a Wild player’s back. In addition, all fans will receive a Wild Bingoal card, courtesy of Innovative Office Solutions. Thursday, the Wild hosts Western Conference-leading St. Louis. All fans receive a scratch-and-win card. All fans attending the Sunday, April 13 game against Nashville will receive a commemorative team poster.
The Wild is offering a special Fans Night Out ticket package for the games on April 8 and April 13 (Fans Night Out sold out for April 10). The unique ticket package costs $99 - it includes a lower-level ticket, all-you-can-eat hot dogs, popcorn, nachos and fountain soda, $3 draft beers through the end of the second intermission, in addition to an exclusive pre-game chalk talk with NHL alumni. The offer can still be purchased for April 8 and April 13 at http://www.wild.com/fancelebration.
There is also an RBC Wealth Management Club Combo ticket package for all three games. Fans receive a club ticket, plus a $15 concession credit, for $95 or $85 depending on location.
Afternoon from Johnny's Ice House West in Chicago, the practice facility of the Blackhawks.
The Wild practiced today with three goalies -- Thursday's starter Ilya Bryzgalov, Thursday's backup John Curry and ... first-half MVP Josh Harding.
Harding, sidelined since Dec. 31 from complications of multiple sclerosis, joined the Wild in Chicago and is practicing with the team for the first time since Jan. 19.
If you remember, he missed the Wild's four-game road trip to Pittsburgh, New York, Philly and Winnipeg to have an adjustment to his MS treatment. He returned to play two games Dec. 29 and Dec. 31 before being sidelined again. He then returned to practice with the team but then was sidelined for good starting Jan. 20.
Harding would only say he had a "rough patch" that was out of his control.
“This isn’t the time [to talk about it],” Harding said. “We’re in a playoff crunch. If I could’ve been out there, I would've been out there. It's tough, it was tough.”
You can read more about Harding's return in Thursday's paper. He looked good today, but this is obviously a first step.
“I know that he doesn’t want us really talking about [his MS], but the reality is it’s always going to be day-to-day, basically,” coach Mike Yeo said. “But he’s feeling very good right now and he’s motivated.”
With Darcy Kuemper out with an upper-body injury, Harding's return is obviously great news (great news for reasons beyond hockey, too).
This is getting way ahead of ourselves, but no chance Harding is able to return without an eventual conditioning stint in Iowa, and this is provided things continue to go well after a number of days of practice.
The Baby Wild has nine games left this season.But as Yeo said, everything is day-to-day right now.
Christian Folinalso joined practice today. Kuemper and Mikael Granlund did not practice. Nino Niederreiter did and is expected to play.
Scratches appear to be Heatley for a third game in a row, McCormick, Rupp. Yeo basically said that in the Wild's eyes, McCormick's not a center, so that's the reason for the Dowell callup.
D pairs remain the same:
Ballard looks like he'll continue to wait with the Wild having won two in a row.
Curry (Curry's jersey assigned was No. 30 when he came on the Edmonton, Vancouver trip in late February. The Wild has since acquired Bryzgalov, so Curry will wear No. 33 tomorrow. That means two different Wild backups (Rob Laurie) will wear the same number in consecutive games, which is par for the course with the Wild, which has had seven goalies up with the big team this season).
Officially, Granlund has an upper-body injury. Unofficially, replays show that Granlund’s head smacked into the left shoulder of Los Angeles Kings center Jarret Stoll on Monday as Granlund tried to deliver a check.
Yeo said there’s no timetable until Granlund sees the Wild doctors. Yeo said, “All I know right now” is that Granlund won’t play Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“We’re losing a very talented player, an offensive guy that we count on,” Yeo said of Granlund, the Wild’s fourth-leading scorer during a solid sophomore campaign with 41 points in 63 games. “In a situation like that, we’re going to lean on our other lines a little bit more, lean on our power play a little bit more.”
Captain Mikko Koivu will continue to get the bulk of the big minutes and matchups. Since March 18, Koivu, is on a six-game point streak, ranks first in the NHL with 10 assists and is tied for first with 12 points.
Rookie center Erik Haula, who led the Gophers in scoring during his sophomore and juniors years, has played a fourth-line role for much of his 40 games with the Wild. Haula, 23, has three goals and nine points, is plus-9 and will assume Granlund’s role between veterans Matt Moulson and Jason Pominville.
Yeo has been impressed with Haula’s ability to adapt to a defensive and penalty-kill role. Now that Haula will skate with two skilled scorers like Moulson (five goals and four assists in 14 games with the Wild) and Pominville (27 goals), Yeo said, “We’re going to ask him to be a little more creative.”
Haula will have to improve in the faceoff circle. That was one of Granlund’s biggest improvements. Granlund won 52.6 percent of his draws; Haula has won 42.7 percent.
“You’re on a line like that, starting with the puck in the offensive zone is a huge key,” Yeo said.
Folin got overshadowed today, so I will write a lot more about him in Friday's paper.
Just as advertised, he was big with a booming shot.
The plan initially is to get him involved in practice, teach him the Wild’s system and allow him to get comfortable. He is eligible to play in any of the remaining six games, but Yeo said the decision will be based on “team-first.”
Folin played two years with Austin (Minn.) in the North American Hockey League and said, “In the back of my head, I always wanted to come [back] to Minnesota.”
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