The Minnesota Wild beat the Vancouver Canucks in a 2-1 decision after 60 minutes of play, five minutes of overtime and seven rounds of a shootout, leaving the story surrounding the night nothing but that of rock solid goaltending.
While tandems such as the Anaheim Ducks‘ Jonas Hiller and Fredrik Andersen or even the Canucks’ own Roberto Luongo and Eddie Lack have filled headlines this season with their power and durability in net, the Wild’s tandem was a dark horse turn spotlight maker when backup goalie Josh Harding took over for the injured Niklas Backstrom. Through much of the first half of the season, Harding’s brick wall style netminding blew onlookers out of the water, made even more incredible by a 2012 diagnosis with multiple sclerosis.
Harding’s feat was remarkable to say the least, but with the netminding musical chairs happening in Minnesota since the season’s start, it’s hard to imagine that here in the home stretch we would be discussing the Wild’s playoff hopes riding on the back of 23 year-old Darcy Kuemper.
While some organizations might have reason to panic at their third in line suddenly standing at first, the Wild’s backup to their backup has been nothing but top notch in his 17 games, providing solid stops as the rest of the team tries to score the goals needed to secure a playoff position come April.
On Thursday night in Edmonton, Kuemper lodged a shutout against the struggling, but still dangerous Edmonton Oilers. While back-to-back games are an issue for some, Kuemper handled the schedule in the best light possible not only standing tall in net on Friday, but showing why he has the ability to be a starting goalie through a no mistakes shut down of the Canucks in the shootout. With each new turn the Vancouver shooters kept waiting for the Minnesota goalie’s lack of experience to show; a breakdown that never came.
In order to make a long run in the playoffs the Wild will certainly need more than one goalie to carry them through, but before you play in the playoffs you have to actually make the cut. And on the heels of Kuemper — this Minnesota team has a solid chance.