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Kuemper's third shutout leads Wild past Coyotes

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- If Minnesota Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper keeps this up, he could be on the way to a record-setting season.

Kuemper made 26 saves Thursday to lead Minnesota to a 2-0 win against the Arizona Coyotes at Xcel Energy Center. It was his third shutout in four starts this season and second in as many games at home. Kuemper has stopped 96 of 98 shots, giving him a .980 save percentage to go along with a goals-against average of 0.50.

He got plenty of help from his teammates, who blocked 14 Arizona shots.

"I'm real fortunate to have the guys playing the way they are in front of me defensively," Kuemper said. "I'm kind of reaping the benefits of that."

Minnesota, playing its fifth game in 15 nights and its second home game of the season, was sloppy out of the gate and Kuemper had to make some quality saves early. The Wild (3-2-0) survived an energetic first few minutes by the Coyotes (2-3-1), who had the three shots on goal in the opening 60 seconds of the game.

The first period was Arizona's best in terms of quality chances, but Kuemper stopped all nine shots he saw in the opening 20 minutes and appeared to get more comfortable as the game went on.

"You can just tell, we're not quite there right now," Wild coach Mike Yeo of his team's slow start. "Just execution, I thought we were reactive in the first period where normally we're a team that's dictating the play."

The Wild did just that in the opening minutes of the second period, scoring twice in a span of 2:34.

Defenseman Jared Spurgeon ripped a shot from the point that was tipped by Charlie Coyle and went past goaltender Mike Smith at 2:53 to give the Wild a 1-0 lead. It was the second goal of the season for Coyle, who signed a five-year, $16 million contract extension with Minnesota on Wednesday.

Minnesota continued to apply pressure and made it 2-0 at 5:27 on Jason Pominville's second goal of the season. Pominville took a nifty pass from Spurgeon in transition, steered to his right to move Smith in the crease and rifled a puck through traffic, beating the goaltender just inside the far-side post.

"It hit our d-man there. Just an unfortunate bounce," Smith said. "Right now, when you're not at the top of your game, those bounces find a way in. If you're playing well and feeling good, sometimes those don't go in."

For Spurgeon, it was his 10th career multi-point game and his third assist in five games this season.

"We're trying to get the d-men more involved and make some space for the forwards," Spurgeon said. "[Mikael Granlund] made a nice pass to me and I didn't have to do much. I just kicked it out and [Pominville] did the rest."

Those were the only shots to beat Smith, who had allowed 16 goals in his first three appearances. He finished with 27 saves.

"It was better," Smith said. "The outcome was disappointing but I definitely felt we were in the hockey game at least. That's a positive to come out of that. We're headed in the right direction."

The Coyotes pulled Smith for an extra attacker with 1:48 left in regulation, but Kuemper preserved the shutout with a point-blank stop on Mikkel Boedker with just under a minute to play.

"You're just looking for that one opportunity to get yourself back in the game," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "We couldn't find a way to get it done."

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