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Confident Kahkonen leads Wild to comeback win over Panthers

Rookie goaltender made 44 saves, nearly scored first NHL goal Tuesday night in Florida

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Making just his second start in the National Hockey League, Wild goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen is brimming with confidence.

Just how much you ask?

Late in the third period with the Wild defending a one-goal lead, the Panthers rimmed a puck into the offensive zone. Kahkonen left his crease, met the puck behind his goal, then took aim at the open cage nearly 200 feet away.

Kahkonen's attempt at an empty-net goal sailed just feet wide of the net, but it displayed a confidence few with his level of experience would event attempt.

Video: Bruce Boudreau postgame at Florida

"I don't think anything fazes him," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "We got a 3-2 lead and he's trying to score. So I mean, it was nonchalant and he just got the puck. I'm going for it."

Scoring wasn't Kahkonen's only intention when he flipped the puck out of the zone and down the ice. There was some method to his madness. But it wasn't a complete shock; Kahkonen did score three goals in recent years during his playing days back home in Finland.

"I felt the boards were kind of jammed up and first thing is to get the puck out of the zone," Kahkonen said, before a small smile crossed his face. "But if you can shoot it in the middle, you can try to go for it."

Video: Locker room cele at Florida

It's tough to say what might have happened had Kahkonen's scoring try crept just a few feet further to the right. Veteran Alex Stalock, who started his 100th game on Sunday and is one of the most mobile goalies in the League, might have up and left the bench. 

Stalock has made no bones about his desire to one day score a goal in the NHL. But if Kahkonen had done it in just his second game? It would have been a sight to behold. 

Tweet from @mnwild: ���You miss 100% of the shots you don���t take. -Wayne Gretzky��� -Michael Scott #mnwild pic.twitter.com/HjRbRj6sjr

As it was, Kahkonen was outstanding in performing his regular duties, stopping 44 shots in leading the Wild to a 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center. The 44 saves is a franchise record for a rookie goaltender.

The rookie is now 2-for-2 in leading the Wild to victories after backstopping a 3-2 win in New Jersey last week. 

Video: Locker room postgame at Florida

"I've seen it before down in Iowa, he wins games for us," said Wild defenseman Carson Soucy, who scored the game-winning goal a few minutes into the third period. "He was solid again tonight. We didn't have our best first and almost second period, but we kept going and he kept us in it early and it was big."

Kahkonen looked mortal in the first, getting beat up high with nearly identical shots by Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Minnesota trailed 2-0, but it might have been worse if not for Kahkonen, who made several other big stops, including one on a breakaway try by Brett Connolly.

After that, he was unbeatable, stopping 33 shots over the final 40 minutes of play as the Wild mounted a rally.

"He reminded me so much of the Winnipeg game in preseason," Boudreau said. "When he let those two in early and then he sort of said, 'Nuh-uh.'"

Video: MIN@FLA: Zucker beats Driedger on the break

Jason Zucker and Mats Zuccarello scored goals 3 1/2 minutes apart midway through the second period to send the game into the second intermission at 2-2 despite the Panthers holding a 32-14 advantage on the shot chart.

It felt then like the Wild was on the verge of stealing some points. 

Video: MIN@FLA: Zuccarello wires home wrister for equalizer

Already down defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who sustained an upper-body injury in the first period, the Wild played most of the third without captain Mikko Koivu. He played one shift early in the period then left and did not play again.

Updates on both should come after practice in Tampa on Wednesday. 

Soucy scored his first career game-winning goal 4:49 into the third when he and Zach Parise worked a quick play the two had actually talked about recently in practice.

With Parise controlling the puck along the right-wing halfwall, Soucy, playing the left point, attacked the middle of the left circle, where Parise tried to find him. The puck hit traffic on the way, but Soucy calmly gloved it down to himself then swept the puck in on his backhand for his second goal of the season. 

For a guy not known for his offense, it was a remarkably pretty goal. 

Video: MIN@FLA: Soucy goes five-hole with backhander

"I saw their forwards kind of coming out high and we talked about it in practice. If you can kind of catch that guy sleeping, drive down. I actually talked about it with Zach a few weeks ago and of course he was the one to find me there," Soucy said. "And then I just tried to get it on net once I was that close."

Parise's four-game goal streak was snapped, but the assist extended his points streak to five games. Over his past 10 games, Parise has eight goals, three assists and is a plus-4. 

Video: MIN@FLA: Kunin seals 4-2 win with empty-netter

Luke Kunin would add a late empty-net goal to seal the game with 61 seconds remaining.

"It was pretty good resiliency and the character of this team is really good," Boudreau said. "When we got down, we took it in stride. When we lost Spurgeon, we took it in stride. When we lost Mikko, we took it in stride and just kept playing. The goalie played great. When your goalie plays great, good things happen."


Related:

Postgame Hat Trick: Wild 4, Panthers 2

Video: Zucker, Kahkonen lead Wild to 4-2 victory

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