In a season in which the Minnesota Wild have struggled mightily on the road, they persevered Tuesday, finding the way to a victory in Los Angeles over the Kings. Wow, your Wild squad certainly had a flair for the dramatic taking a 2-1 win and running their win streak to 3 games. Tuesday night in L.A. Minnesota just wouldn’t go away and rode a 39 save performance by goaltender Darcy Kuemper and two goals, one the shootout winner, from Nino Niederreiter earning two points along the way. This was Kuemper’s second game of the year in the NHL and a far better performance than his first back on October 15th when he allowed 3 goals on just 7 shots and was pulled in favor of Josh Harding. Tuesday Kuemper faced 40 shots through regulation and overtime, surrendering just one goal early in the 3rd period and going a perfect 4 for 4 in the shootout to earn his first NHL victory of the season. Kuemper has been playing well for the Iowa Wild in the AHL compiling 7 wins with a .929 save % and a goals against average of 2.47. In the NHL he now has a record of 1-1-0 with 3.39 goals against and a save percentage of .875. Tuesday he just about stood on his head making save after save as Minnesota was out shot 40 to 17. While Kuemper was excellent at one end of the ice, Nino Niederreiter was taking care of business at the other end scoring the Wild’s lone goal in regulation and sealing the deal as the lone shooter to beat Jonathan Quick in the shootout.
The Kings piled up 30 shots on goal over the first and second periods, but couldn’t solve Kuemper until 50 seconds into the third. Dwight King carried the puck into the Minnesota zone then found Jeff Carter near the blue line. The L.A. Center took the puck down below the goal line, cut around the net and fed a pass through the crease that found Jarret Stoll. The King’s skater, who was trailing the play, corralled the puck and beat Kuemper 5-hole for the score. That would be the only L.A. tally of the game despite 81 shot attempts. The Wild blocked 21 shots, another 21 L.A. attempts missed the net and Kuemper made saves on 39 of the 40 that were on target. A busy night indeed for the Wild net minder who set a new career high in single game shots faced. Kuemper’s opportunity came because of Josh Harding‘s illness and Niklas Backstrom‘s abdominal soreness. Kuemper didn’t find out he was in net until after the morning skate. The Wild goal tenders previous poor outing loomed large in Kuemper’s memory but his performance Tuesday chased those demons. After the game Kuemper said “This was a chance to redeem myself.” “My game is where I want it to be right now.” When asked about Kuemper’s performance after the game Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “He got thrown into a situation where he didn’t know he was going to play until this morning and he responded very well. I thought a lot of guys competed and battled for us tonight, but you have to look at him (Kuemper) first. Right from the start he looked very confident.
Niederreiter would tie the game at a goal apiece just 2:35 after the Los Angeles goal. The Wild would only need 11 shots to solve Jamie Quick and would only total just 17 shots on goal for the entire game. Niederreiter drove to the net and got his stick on a Jason Pominville shot, deflecting it past Quick for his ninth goal of the season. This game was eerily similar to the last victory for the Wild. Minnesota claimed the two points despite being heavily out shot. The Wild have managed just 28 total shots over the last two games, both victories Power play opportunities were also in short supply Tuesday night. Both teams were 0 for 2 with the man advantage. Niederreiter’s goal would wrap up the scoring for both teams through the rest of regulation and overtime.With 1 point secured through OT the squads moved on to the shootout. The Wild’s shootout lineup would be much different than in games earlier this season as two of the usual suspects are on IR, Parise and Koivu.
Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville and Charlie Coyle were the first three listed for Minnesota while the Kings countered with Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, and Mike Richards. Darcy Kuemper looked confident and even aggressive as he negated each Los Angeles shooter. As was the case during regulation and overtime neither team could solve the opponents net minder and extra skaters were in order. Justin Williams got the call for the Kings but fared no better than the previous three Kings attempts. Then Nino Niederreiter, the lone Wild skater to solve Jamie Quick this night, skated out to center. He gathered in the puck at center ice and moved in on net minder Quick at a rapid pace, faked a shot right and then snapped off a wrister that beat the King’s goalie cleanly on the left side to seal the shootout win and the extra point for the Wild.
The two points for the Wild moved them four points ahead of Dallas in the Central Division standings. Minnesota now trails third place Colorado by just 5 points. Next up for Minnesota are the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com arena Thursday night at 8 pm Central time. In his poet game comments Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “We need to win games on the road, there’s no doubt about it. awe need to beat good teams. We beat a good team tonight. For us the next challenge is our next game. We have to make sure we don’t get to feeling too good about ourselves. We need a lot of guys stepping up and playing their best hockey right now. Coach Yeo is right. Enjoy this win for the evening and them put it in the rear view mirror and have a good practice Wednesday before they take on the 21-12-9 Coyotes who hold down 5th place in the Pacific Division with 51 points. Phoenix is currently an impressive 12-5-3 on home ice while the Wild have improved to 7-12-3 away from the Xcel Energy Center.
We’ll see what changes come to the lineup of your Minnesota Wild over the next 2 days. The Wild are battling their way through the “injury bug” right now and the youngsters on the roster are getting their chance to shine. Just to give you an idea of how young the Wild’s lineup was on Tuesday, there were 8 players in the lineup age 23 or younger. We are getting a good look at the future of the Wild and based upon a small sample size of the last two games things look pretty good. The trick is going to be maintaining that level of play over the weeks and month ahead.
I’ll be back Thursday morning with a preview of Wild vs Coyotes. Until then enjoy this win streak and hopefully Wild wins are not tied to the frigid temperatures in Minnesota! Until next time this is Scott Drain freezing his butt off while shouting, “LET’S GO WILD!!!”