Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 2-1 shootout win against the Vancouver Canucks:
Characteristic-media-understatement-to-set-up-a-later-point alert: There are a lot of good goaltenders in the National Hockey League who can win a team a game on any given night. Before the season, not many people outside of Minnesota and Vancouver knew the names Eddie Lack and Darcy Kuemper. Tonight, the two rookies gave us a classic goaltending duel and six thrilling scoreless shootout rounds.
Kuemper earned starts on back-to-back night for the first time in his NHL career tonight, following his 3-0 shutout win against the Oilers last night. Kuemper picked up where he left off 24 hours ago, stonewalling the Canucks and giving the Wild a chance to win.
Far and away, his most impressive save came in the third period with Vancouver pressuring to break 1-1 tie. Ryan Kesler picked up a rebound and was moving right-to-left. He pulled the puck to his backhand and tried to tuck it on the far post. Kuemper read the play, and used his 6-foot-5 frame to make a sprawling right-pad save. After the play, Kesler looked up into the rafters and asked, “How in the Kirk McLean did the kid do that?” (We’ll get to that).
However, Kuemper would save his best for the shootout…
If you didn’t watch that shootout live, I don’t know how to explain it, other than it was absolutely bananas. It took seven rounds before we saw a goal, the winner scored by Justin Fontaine. Kuemper was on fire and must’ve resembled a wall to the oncoming Vancouver shooters as they peered down the ice at him. He made two ridiculous split saves on back-to-back attempts by Chris Higgins and Alexandre Burrows that were mirror images of his save on Kesler.
Kuemper has not allowed a goal in 11 shootout attempts this season. He’s a shooters worst nightmare: big, agile and flexible. His most telling trait might be his patience. The rule is try to make the goaltender make the first move, but Kuemper is more patient than Guns N’ Roses and outwaited the Vancouver shooters tonight for a thrilling win in the shootout.
I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a goaltender interference called without a two-minute penalty being assessed. Well, there’s a first time for everything because it happened to the Wild tonight. In the opening period, the Wild’s fourth line was on the forecheck and won a battle in the corner. The puck squeezed out to Stephane Veilleux in the high slot and he dropped it to Keith Ballard at the point. Meanwhile, Erik Haula went to the front of the net to create a screen. He did the job, because a wrist shot from Ballard beat goaltender Eddie Lack clean. Immediately, and emphatically, referee Brad Meier called off goal for goaltender interference. However, he didn’t assess a minor penalty to Haula.
Haula looked completely perplexed on the bench, as did the rest of the club.
While the forward was momentarily in the crease when he was skating by the net, but he never touched Lack. This was as close as he came to the goaltender. It would’ve been a great way for Ballard to return to Vancouver, but he was robbed by a phantom call.
Heading into the break, the Wild’s penalty kill was much improved after a slow start to the season and that has carried on in the two contests since the restart. Tonight the Wild killers didn’t give the Canucks much of an opportunity during its lone power play in regulation.
However, the Wild killers really earned their keep in the overtime. With the Canucks going on a 4-on-3, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke and Nate Prosser were a shot blocking, net clearing machine. The Canucks kept the pressure on the trio, but they never cracked, sacrificing the body to help the game get into the shootout. Credit that penalty kill with an extra two points and get those guys some bags of ice.
I look back on the early 90’s fondly: grunge music was making the Pacific Northwest a destination, fashion was loud and Saved by the Bell was on television Saturday mornings. Of course, the National Hockey League was expanding, and the game was open and freewheeling (before the Devils created the dead-puck era). One of my favorite teams of those early 90’s was the Canucks (yeah, blasphemy for someone working for the Wild, but I’m from Alaska and those teams were fun). However, in the early 90’s, they were an underdog team, had one of the League’s most explosive goal scorers in Pavel Bure and an iconic captain in Trevor Linden.
During the 1993-94 season, they made an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final and faced the New York Rangers. It was a hard-fought, back-and-forth series with the Rangers lifting the Cup at home ice at Madison Square Garden after a Game 7 win. Despite the loss, the Canucks showed a ton of heart and became a darling of Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest. Tonight, the Canucks honored members of that team, bringing back a lot of teenage memories. Of course, all the good will of the early-90s Nucks eroded when I started working for the Wild, and I don’t think there is a team in the League I’d rather see the Wild win against than Vancouver.