The Minnesota Wild shut out the Nashville Predators 4-0 at Bridgestone Arena. Sunday night belonged to Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper and the line of Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker. Kuemper earned his first NHL shutout and second win in a row as the Wild rebounded nicely from a disappointing loss Saturday night to Colorado. The Heatley, Coyle, Zucker line totaled 2 goals and 3 assists in the victory. The win is also Minnesota’s 5th in their last 6 games and put them 6 points behind the 3rd place Avalanche and 8 points up on 5th place Dallas in the race for playoff positions in the Central Division. Minnesota Head Coach Mike Yeo was very pleased with his teams road win saying, “That was an unbelievable response by our guys.” “Right now everybody’s buyin’ in and has a role and they’re doing their job.” The third straight road win raised the Wild’s road record to 9-12-3, however Minnesota is still the only team in a playoff position with a sub .500 road record. That makes the teams recent successes even more impressive in the face of the loss of their team captain, assistant captain, a top four defenseman and top goal tender all to IR at the same time. The Wild’s younger players and veterans have stepped up to fill the voids. Former Wild player and current Fox Sports North Commentator Wes Walz had a message for the younger Minnesota players saying, ” These young guys need to understand that this is the chance of a lifetime and they need to go out there and play every game as though it’s the last game in the National Hockey League and make it very, very difficult on the coaching staff and the management when guys come back, who’s getting sent to Des Moines and who’s not.”
Sunday the Wild played a very good road game. They Scored first, controlled the puck, took few penalties, supported one another and had a hot goalie. Put those ingredients together and you’ve got a recipe for a bounce-back win sure to cure the blues of having you win streak snapped! After a scoreless 12+ minutes of the first period the Wild’s hottest line scored their first goal of the night. Charlie Coyle sent a shot in on Predator’s net minder Marek Mazanec that found the blade of Dany Heatley‘s stick and then the back of the net to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead and Heatley the eventual game winning goal. The second assist on the goal went to Ryan Suter his 25th of the season AND the 300th point of his NHL career. His season total is second only to Mikko Koivu‘s team leading 27. Just over two minutes later the Heatley, Coyle, Zucker line would strike again. This time is was Zucker scoring the goal at the 14:15 mark of the first period after a pair of precision passes by his line mates. Those assists gave Heatley and Coyle a total of 8 points over the last three periods of play. The end of the first period saw the Wild holding a 2-0 lead and a 11-5 edge in shots. The second period saw no goals for Minnesota and another scoreless period for Kuemper as well. The third period saw the Wild put the game out of reach with a pair of goals. The first of the period came from the stick of Matt Cooke, his 6th of the season just 1:14 in when he collected a puck after a series of shots on the Pred’s net and beat the scrambling Mazanec to give the Wild a three goal lead. Marco Scandella would finish the scoring for Minnesota just past the halfway point in the period when he put a shot on net the flew past a screened Nashville net minder making the score 4-0. The goal was Scandella’s third of the season with the assists going to two of the Wild’s young players Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund. The Wild are now 5-1-0 in the month off January and have out scored their opponents by a 20-10 margin in that span. The Predator’s Mazanec took the loss and his record now stands at 8-10-4 on the season with a goals against average 2.80 of and a save percentage dropping to .902.
The opening period saw the Minnesota defense allow just 5 shots on Kuemper while the second and third periods jumped to 9 shots apiece. The Wild net minder was in the zone against the Predators turning aside or stopping cold all 23 shots they could muster. He mad a couple of spectacular saves against former Wild Matt Cullen during the 2nd and 3rd periods. In the second Kuemper flashed the glove and stopped a Cullen backhand shot that looked to be a goal for sure. In the 3rd he made a sliding save to rob Cullen once again. There were to be no goals for Cullen against his old team this Sunday night. During his post game comments Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo praised the efforts of the 23-year old goalie and named him the starter for Tuesdays game against the Ottawa Senators saying, “I think you can expect to see us come back with him. We’ve pretty much always done that when a goalie gets a shutout. We’re very happy for him and the guys were happy for him. you could tell he looked strong and in control right from the start of the game and we hope he can continue that.” Kuemper’s record now stands at 2-1-0 for the season with a 2.28 goals against average and a .911 save %. After the game an excited Kuemper said, “Shutouts are always fun and to get one at the highest level is a pretty cool experience. If you watched how the guys played in front of me I let a few rebounds go and made it a little tough on them. They did a great job in front of me and made my job easy.” Classy comment by the goal tending future of the Wild deflecting praise to his teammates. That’s something that will not go unnoticed in the locker room and serves to enhance the team first attitude of this Minnesota squad while making his teammates even more willing to dive in front of pucks to block shots. By the way, Kuemper’s teammates did block 21 Nashville shots making the shutout truly a team effort.
Watching their teammates have such a great start to January after struggling through December has to be driving Koivu, Parise, Spurgeon, and Harding just about crazy wanting to get back into the action. Koivu hopes to be back before the Olympic Break starts and Spurgeon was scheduled to see a Dr. this weekend and we could see a timetable for his return early in the week. Josh Harding has resumed skating with the team but is said to still not be ready for game action. Just seeing Harding on the ice is an encouraging sign though. Zach Parise‘s recovery from his painful broken foot continues but no date has been set for his return. The Wild now return home for three straight games at the Xcel Energy Center, starting Tuesday with the Ottawa Senators. I’ll be back Tuesday morning with a preview of that evening’s battle with the Senators. Until then this is Scott Drain, yelling victoriously, “LET’S GO WILD!!”