Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 4-2 win against the Nashville Predators:
There’s no place like the road for the Minnesota Wild. With its win in Nashville, the club ties the National Hockey League’s single season record with 12 straight road wins (Detroit 2005-06). The club will get a chance to break the record on the final game of the season in St. Louis against Central Division foe, the Blues.
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper made 32 saves to earn his first win since Jan. 2. After a rocky start, the netminder locked down the net and shut down the Preds. He was so good he earned his own Takeaway.
Tonight, the Wild was without the services of Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek and Nino Niederreiter. Head Coach Mike Yeo said they were all out for maintenance and will have them in the lineup against the Blues on Saturday. Without Parise, Vanek and Niederrieter, other players needed to step up...
I said it in the Takes on Tuesday, but Jason Zucker hasn’t missed a stride — or should I say shot — returning from a broken clavicle. The wing was at it again tonight, scoring his 20th goal of the season on the power play. Justin Fontaine set up a pass in his wheelhouse, Zucker ripped a one-timer and Preds netminder Pekka Rinne had no chance. He then iced the game with an empty net goal with a minute left in the third. Despite missing a huge chunk of the season, the speedy wing is having a breakout year and is primed to keep it going in the postseason.
On Zucker’s empty net goal, Mikko Koivu earned an assist for his 500th career point and continues to set team records. The captain is the franchise leader in assists (356), points (500) and multi-point games (115), second in games played (681), goals (144) and game-winning goals (25) and third in power-play goals (42).
Also having a breakout season is defenseman Marco Scandella. The 25-year-old scored his 10th goal on a play-of-the-year worthy move and snipe. The defenseman jumped into the play, pulled a spin-or-rama that would’ve made Dennis Savard drop his jaw in awe, and tucked the puck under the crossbar past Rinne’s blocker.
Tonight, goaltender Devan Dubnyk was given the night off for the first time since coming to the Wild on Jan. 14 in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes. The netminder made 38 straight starts in a Wild sweater, so it was a well-deserved respite.
So, Kuemper was in net for his first start since Jan. 6. It was his first game action since Jan. 20, when he came in relief of Dubnyk in Detroit. After allowing two first-period goals, the netminder shook off the rust and settled down between the pipes. Before the contest, he spoke about how he’s using this as a learning experience and happy to be a part of the team’s run, even if it’s been limited to practice. At only 24, Kuemper still has a lot of room to grow and is taking things the right way by working hard in practice with goaltender coach Bob Mason. That work showed tonight with his performance in a difficult building against one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
Forward Matt Cooke returned to the lineup tonight for the first time since undergoing sports hernia surgery. It was his first appearance since Feb. 6, missing 31 games. It was only the 28th game for the 36-year-old this season. It’s been a trying season for the feisty vet, as he struggled with multiple injuries. Before the game, he said that he was trying to ramp things up as quickly as possible with only two games before playoffs.
During his two seasons in Minnesota so far, Cooke has been a big part of the Wild penalty kill when he’s been healthy. Tonight, he had a chance on the PK and showed why he’s another asset for the team’s strong shorthanded unit. Shea Weber, who shoots harder than just about everyone in the National Hockey League, teed up a one-timer during the second period. Cooke didn’t flinch as he went out to block the shot and clear the puck out of the Wild’s defensive zone. Depth often comes into play in the postseason and it’s a bonus to get a proven playoff performer available.
Charlie Daniels “sang” the National Anthem. I used quotation marks because technically he gave a rousing pump-up Preds speech, said go America and then had the crowd, likely littered with wanna-be stars, sing the Anthem. Now that’s a good gig. Daniels totally redeemed himself by rocking out on the fiddle and singing his heart out as the between-period headliner. Of course he killed it on his staple, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
In the bowels of Bridgestone Arena, there is a large room performers can rent out and practice their acts before heading out on tour. Taylor Swift is currently occupying that space and was rumored to be in the arena tonight. Unfortunately, she didn’t duet with Daniels like she has with other legendary performers.
Music City has more stars than the night sky and you never know who you’ll run into around town. After we arrived in Nashville following the Wild’s win in Chicago, I visited a local establishment to see some live music. Low and behold, one of my favorite comedians, Dave Chappelle, was at the joint. He proceeded to get on stage with the band and sing Bob Marley’s “One Love.”
This morning, I was leaving the hotel to walk over to Bridgestone Arena for the Wild’s skate. The elevator doors swung open and there was a gentleman in a wheelchair with his back to the opening. I shuffled in and noticed how stylish this older fellow was dressed. He sported a high pompadour, dark sunglasses, a black sequined suit and his shoes were made of high-shine chrome-looking material. That man was the legendary Little Richard. I wanted to let out a “whoo” just to see if he’d respond with an impromptu rendition of “Tutti Frutti,” but I kept my cool. I would’ve introduced myself but I didn’t know how to address him. Mr. Richard? Little? Mr. Penniman?