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Kuemper makes 34 saves to help Wild top Maple Leafs

by Dan Myers /

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Perhaps no one in the NHL needed the recent holiday break more than Minnesota Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper.

After being pulled in four of his previous six home starts dating to Nov. 13, Kuemper started off the 2015 portion of the home schedule with one of his best performances of the season, stopping 34 shots to lead the Wild to a 3-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday at Xcel Energy Center.

"It's been a tough little stretch," Kuemper said. "I definitely feel like I'm in a better place mentally right now. It starts to wear on you and your confidence starts to sag a bit, but that break gave everyone a chance to go home and come back refreshed."

Kuemper has started three of Minnesota's four games after the break, winning two and allowing two goals or fewer in all three.

"There were no technical parts of game that were missing before, it's just more of a mindset," Kuemper said. "I think I'm in a good place there."

The Maple Leafs (21-15-3) tested Kuemper from the get-go; they had 14 shots in the first period and 26 through 40 minutes.

Kuemper held them off long enough for the Wild to take a 1-0 lead midway through the second period on Kyle Brodziak's fifth goal.

Kuemper's lone blemish came on a blast from the high slot by Toronto defenseman Cody Franson with the Maple Leafs on a two-man advantage early in the third period.

But the Wild (18-14-4) killed the final 1:40 of Ryan Suter's minor penalty for delay of game, and Jared Spurgeon scored the game-winner, the sixth of his career, three minutes later on a slap shot from the right circle, beating Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier. It was Spurgeon's fourth goal.

The Wild got some insurance less than two minutes later when Mikko Koivu scored a power-play goal from nearly the same spot, one-timing a cross-rink pass from Thomas Vanek for his sixth.

"It's a lot easier to shoot when [the pass] comes hard," Koivu said. "It was a long pass, so it needs to be hard to beat the goalies in this league. Great play by Vanek, and I got a good piece of it."

It was the first time Minnesota had a two-goal lead since Dec. 3.

"I hope we can keep going; one-goal lead, two-goal lead, we'll take them all," Yeo said. "I liked how we played after we got the lead too. We didn't sit back. I think when we're pressuring and we're on our toes, we're a much better team than when we're retreating."

Bernier faced fewer shots than Kuemper, but he saw more high-quality chances than his opponent. He made 26 saves to keep Toronto in the game.

"I don't think that game is a complete loss for us," Franson said. "There are some things we can build on and some things we can be proud of."

Carlyle said he had no qualms with the effort, but was disappointed with the result.

"Hopefully this is the style of play we adopt, and we feel we can execute at that level," Carlyle said. "It all starts in our own end with our puck recoveries and defensive-zone coverage. We weren't as porous, and they didn't hold us into the offensive zone. They had a few flurries, but on the possession time, we had as much in their zone as they had in ours, maybe more."

Minnesota finished 1-for-3 with the man advantage. Koivu's power-play goal came after a post-whistle roughing call on James van Riemsdyk.

Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel was called for unsportsmanlike conduct with 3:48 remaining in the third, hindering Toronto's hopes of a late- game comeback.

"These are the tough ones, when you play well and lose," Carlyle said. "I think we didn't give ourselves a proper chance by the undisciplined acts we committed, simple as that."

Vanek, who has caught some heat for lack of production early in his first season with Minnesota, has come on of late; he has nine points in his past 11 games.

Charlie Coyle had two assists, feeding Brodziak on a 2-on-1 break and also earning the primary assist on Spurgeon's goal.

The Wild ended a four-game home losing streak. They had not won at Xcel Energy Center since a 5-4 victory against the New York Islanders Dec. 9.

The Leafs were without forwards Nazem Kadri, Joffrey Lupul and Peter Holland.

Kadri missed the game with a lower-body injury and is expected to miss 7-10 days.

Lupul (lower body) and Holland (upper body) were injured Wednesday against the Boston Bruins and returned to Toronto for MRI exams. Carlyle said Lupul is out four weeks and classified Holland as week-to-week.

After being hit in the face with the puck late in the third period, van Riemsdyk left the game, but he returned in the final minutes.

The Maple Leafs finish their seven-game road trip Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets. They are 2-4-0 so far.

Minnesota plays the second half of a back-to-back Saturday at the Dallas Stars. The win moved the Wild one point ahead of the Stars, who have won seven of their past eight games, in the Central Division standings.

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