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Kuemper To Start In Nashville; Other Wild Lineup Changes

by Mike Doyle / Minnesota Wild

You never know who you’ll see in the Music City.

On the way to Bridgestone Arena for the Minnesota Wild’s morning skate, the Lighthouse rode in an elevator car with the one and only, Little Richard. To put it into context, for a giant music lover, it’s like a Wild fanatic meeting Devan Dubnyk.

If you’re going to the Wild’s game tonight against Central Division rival, Nashville Predators, you won’t be seeing Dubnyk between the pipes. The netminder, who has started 38 consecutive games since coming to Minnesota in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes, has the night off.

“He’s a healthy scratch tonight,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo cracked. “I think a night, mentally, completely off will be good for him.”

The bench boss said Dubnyk will play on Saturday, when the team closes out the regular season in St. Louis against the Blues. Yeo wanted to rest the netminder in one of the team’s final two games, but said that it would’ve been too much lag time between now and the start of the postseason if he sat out on Saturday. 

So, Darcy Kuemper will be in goal for the first time since relieving Dubnyk on Jan. 20 against the Detroit Red Wings. He stopped all 14 shots he faced in regulation and overtime, but lost the game in a shootout. This will be his first start since Jan. 6.

Yeo said that he was playing during a time when the team wasn’t playing well in front of its netminders. Now that the Wild’s found its game, he wants the club to better in front of Kuemper this time around.

“Hopefully we give him a good chance to succeed tonight,” Yeo said. “My message to Darcy, plain and simple, is none of us really know what to expect. He looks really good in practice and we’re all hopeful he can come in and play a great game.

“What I do want to see is him not focused on the score and just going out there and battling on every shot right now.”

The coaching staff told Kuemper it was probable that he’d be in net tonight following the team’s win in Chicago, which clinched its postseason berth. So he’s had a few days to get ready mentally. He’s been working hard in practice and staying focused and ready.

“Lot’s of work with [Wild goaltending coach Bob Mason],” Kuemper said. “Try to compete as much as I can, try to make practices as game-like as possible and try to keep myself as sharp as I can. Obviously a practice isn’t exactly like a game but you’ve got to do your best to make it as close as you can.”

Although he hasn’t been in net for the team’s second half resurgence, he’s enjoyed being a part of it. The 24-year-old is using it as a learning experience.

“I’ve learned tons. It’s tough in the sense that you want to be out there playing, but the team has been doing awesome and been on quite the run here,” Kuemper said. “It’s been a fun thing to be a part of even if I’m not playing. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can and be as supportive as I can for my teammates.”

The Wild will make a few changes up front as well. Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek and Nino Niederreiter all have the night off. Yeo said that there’s nothing major with any of the players, essentially resting them for maintenance. He expects all three to be back in on Saturday. The one potential change the team could see on Saturday is Nate Prosser on the blue line.

“I don’t foresee us resting anybody come Saturday,” Yeo said. “Having a full week off won’t do anybody a service of helping them to get ready.”

With a trio of forwards out, Matt Cooke, Sean Bergenheim and Ryan Carter will be in tonight.

For Cooke, tonight’s game will be the payoff after a long road of recovery and work. He’ll re-enter the lineup for the first time in 31 games after undergoing sports hernia surgery. It’s been a trying season for the 36-year-old, who has only played in 27 games because of injuries. He’s excited to be back with the boys in the lineup tonight. With the playoffs a week away, Cooke wants the reps to get up to game speed and is ready for the challenge, beginning tonight.

“I feel, conditioning-wise, I’m there,” Cooke said. “I don’t really have a choice; I have to. I’ve got to go out and play my game and get up to speed as quick as I can.”

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