The Minnesota Wild have spent the entire year dealing with goalie issues. Injuries have resulted in the team having to start five different netminders through the regular season. The real surprise, though, is the fact that, every time a new goalie stepped in, he more often than not exceeded expectations.
Last night was just another chapter in this long and unexpected story in net for the Wild.
The club was down 2-0 to the Colorado Avalanche in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and was heading back to Minnesota looking to rebound. Ilya Bryzgalov, the outcast goalie who surprisingly turned his luck around and helped the Wild make the playoffs, was struggling. In response, Minnesota coach Mike Yeo opted to start backup Darcy Kuemper for Game 3. It was Kuemper’s first ever postseason start, having appeared only in mop-up duty during three playoff games before last night. It was safe to say there weren’t a ton of people around the NHL assuming the switch would turn the tide for the Wild.
And this is why last night’s 1-0 overtime victory for Minnesota surprised everybody.
Kuemper faced 36 shots in the win and stopped every single one of them. A Colorado team which scored nine goals in two games and was the talk of the league failed to put one puck in the net last night. Each was denied by a goalie who only had 28 starts to his name. In a game the Wild desperately needed to win to stay alive in a series that was tilting Colorado’s way, Kuemper became yet another surprise story in net for a team that’s seen them all year.
It started when Minnesota’s top goalie Niklas Backstrom struggled mightily to open the season, eventually seeing his year come to an end due to abdominal surgery. As a result, the team leaned on backup Josh Harding who, despite seeing playing time with Minnesota in each season since 2005-06, didn’t exactly have game-changing numbers. However, he took the ice and quickly became a phenomenon, posting a stunning 1.66 GAA in 29 games played. Unfortunately, his astounding run came to a halt in January when he began dealing with complications from multiple sclerosis. Desperate for consistent goaltending, the Wild traded for an embattled Bryzgalov, who continued the surprise trend in Minnesota by going 7-1-3 and helping the team clinch a playoff spot.
So, if you were following the team and the craziness occurring in their net, Kuemper’s performance last night might not have been too unexpected. It was just another instance in a season-long story about clutch performances from goalies nobody gave a second thought to.
Can Kuemper follow up last night’s play with another stellar display in Game 4? We’ll have to wait and see. If he can, this becomes a brand new series, one that was looking like a runaway win for the Avalanche just a couple days ago. One thing is for sure; nobody in Minnesota will be caught off guard if Kuemper continues to shine. They’ve been seeing things like this all season, why would another surprise goaltending performance be any kind of shock?