Another year, another Russo Cup will be awarded tonight in St. Paul – Wild vs. Florida Panthers.
Starting with a 0-0 tie in 2000 that drew my favorite Roberto Luongo quote that he never thought he’d get his first shutout with Florida before his first win (they started that season winless in eight), the Panthers are the only team that has never won in regulation in Minnesota. They did with a game in a shootout.
The Wild has won four in a row, four in a row at home and has points in nine of 10 (6-1-3). Here’s the deal though: It has long been the personality of this team to take its foot of the gas AND especially when that team’s from the East and not a divisional opponent that gets the blood flowing.
Remember, Mike Yeo used to bemoan this trait for years.
So, Bruce Boudreau has started to see the same thing with this team: Just look at its success against playoff teams vs. non-playoff teams (heck, it has lost to COLORADO, which just lost 10-1 in Montreal, twice!!!).
So, he’s guarding against this by saying, “We can't be satisfied. That was the message I had in there with them. If you look at teams like Pittsburgh, for example, they played an emotional game against Tampa and then they come out and play Arizona and play the same way (7-0 win). They don't let that game get to them. Florida is an awful lot better as the record indicates than Arizona is. It's the same sort of format. Just because it's not a Central Division game, we can't let that mar the way we play. We have to come out -- if we want to continue putting distance between us and the people behind us -- we have to continue to come out and be successful.”
If you didn't see, I did a feature today on how NHL refs work their way up from the minors. Lots of interesting stuff in there, so please give that a read here.
Boudreau vs. Tom Rowe tonight. They’re old pals, Rowe said, from when Boudreau coached in Manchester and Rowe in Lowell.
Devan Dubnyk getting the nod tonight. He is 6-0-2 in his past eight with a 1.69 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.
Roberto Luongo gets the nod for Florida. He has lost six straight in this building, pulled in three (3-11-3 all-time in St. Paul with a 3.21 goals-against average and .884 save percentage).
The Wild recalled Teemu Pulkkinen from AHL Iowa in case Chris Stewart (sick yesterday) couldn’t play, but he can, so barring another sickness, Pulkkinen sits. I’d joke that this is at least the second time he has earned NHL pay in a week by being illness insurance, BUT he’s on a one-way deal making his NHL money of $812,500 in the minors anyway, so he has been getting NHL pay.
Christian Folin returns for the first time in eight games from a sprained MCL. Despite playing well, Nate Prosser is out.
Boudreau said, “Foles could've played Sunday, but because Pross was playing so well, we rewarded Pross by playing him another game.”
Boudreau said of Folin, “He's a good player. He's played well for us. The guys that have come in have done a good job too. He's a bigger bodied guy and plays a little more physical than most guys we have on the back end. And we were doing pretty good when he was in the lineup so he's coming back in.”
He’ll at least start on a pair with Marco Scandella, but it’ll be interesting to see if he gets back with Jonas Brodin. The Swedish countrymen were strong partners before.
Folin has only been out since Nov. 25, but he said, “especially since the team was gone for so long, it felt way longer, me and [Zac] Dalpe, kinda left behind here. It was a long 12 days when they were on the road. It’s nice to be back with the guys. It’s a good feeling to be out there with them and share some laughs.”
With Prosser playing well, the Wild was able to ease Folin back in. He said, “It’s really nice to take a couple full practices and get into those good battles that are my strength in games. It was nice to have a couple practices to get used to the speed again.”
Another homecoming for former Gophers Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau. They’re going against former teammate Erik Haula again. Rau played here last season and didn’t score. Bjugstad has a goal and assist in six career games against Minnesota. He joked that this is kind of Rau’s rink because he won a couple state championships here with Eden Prairie, and he didn’t with Blaine (his old coach Dave Aus was in the house this morning, by the way).d
Rau and Bjugstad were solid talking this morning, and I’ll probably lead my game notebook with them. Bjugstad has had a tough start to this season with no points and nine shots in 10 games, but he had a freak accident at West Point and broke his wrist in training camp, so as Rowe said, this is his training camp.
He missed the first 19 games, then started at wing. Tonight, it looks like he’ll get the two guys the Panthers envisioned him playing with this season on his wing with the return of Jonathan Marchessault (game-time decision) and Colton Sceviour. Pretty solid third line.
Rau went home for a home-cooked meal last night (I didn’t realize his brother, former Wild Chad Rau, is playing for Beijing in the KHL. Bjugstad went to his uncle Tim’s last night for dinner and got to see all his cousins.
His mom, Janeen, bought a TON of tickets for tonight’s game at the start of the season and then she sells them to all her friends and family so her son doesn’t have to deal with those distractions when he comes to town.
Always enjoy catching up with Bjugstad and Rau.
Thinking hard, Dubnyk's pretty sure 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr has scored six points against him, and he joked, “It’s nice to contribute to his Hall of Fame numbers.” Remember, he can eerily describe most every goal scored against him, so I wouldn't put it past Dubnyk being right. UPDATE: He is right. Five goals and one assist in six games (two game-winning goals, one in overtime). His teams are 3-3 vs. Dubnyk.
He ranks third all-time with 755 goals and third with 1,883 points.
“I had Teemu Selanne and he was in such phenomenal shape and led our team in scoring when he was 43, then at 44 he just started to slow down,” Boudreau said. “At some point guys get old. [Jagr] is sort of the guy that doesn't.”
Boudreau continues to laud the fourth line, saying, “They get physical. Gabes (Kurtis Gabriel) did a great job fighting [Ryan] Reaves. That gives the team a jump. Anytime they can come out and create energy and be a positive energy then that's good.”
Boudreau, despite being sick yesterday and saying he had the shakes, was in a great mood. When Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker came in from a game of soccer volleyball, Boudreau quipped, “Good job, boys. Way to work.”
He also heard about John Anderson’s funny lines in filling in for him yesterday. He joked that that’s the last time we’ll talk to Anderson because he can’t be upstaged and we’ll start getting the quieter Scott Stevens.
That's it for me.
Yesterday's podcast at Hell's Kitchen was packed. Thanks so much for coming and the support. Here is that link. We are doing a video show at Hell's Kitchen at 4 p.m. Friday, so please come by.
ALSO, I am filling in for Paul Allen tomorrow from 9-noon on KFAN. Guests include Boudreau, Mark Parrish, maybe Dave Simonett from Trampled by Turtles and Dead Man Winter and another roundtable with Anthony LaPanta, Mike Greenlay and Kevin Gorg. Last one was a riot.