Following Wild games, occasionally Manager of Digital Media Ryan Stanzel will give the Five Takeaways that he'll remember from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 2-1 shootout win against the Los Angeles Kings:
The great thing about youth? Resiliency. When Niklas Backstrom couldn’t start in net tonight for the Wild, the team turned to Darcy Kuemper. In his last NHL start, Oct. 15 in Toronto, he allowed three goals on 10 shots. He made one more relief appearance Nov. 19, but shortly after, he went down to AHL Iowa and worked on his game. Around the same time, he suffered an injury that reportedly ruined a possible call-up last month.
Well, tonight in his ninth career appearance (fifth start), Kuemper could have been named first, second and third stars of the game — and in fact earned the second star. Just past the midway point of the second period, he eclipsed his career-high (29) saves. He made 17 saves in the first period alone, and wound up with 39 stops — the most by a Wild netminder this season. On an LA power play in the second, Kuemper made five saves in about three ticks of the clock, including a trio of stops on Justin Williams. He had eight total saves on that man advantage. Kuemper, known to be cool as a cucumber, was barely fazed tonight by facing the high-powered Kings. In the shootout, he was a perfect 4-for-4, and none of those were “puck shot into corner” saves.
Speaking of Youth, the Wild’s “kid” line of Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter skated together again tonight, with Niederreiter tying things up early in the third period and then scoring his first career shootout goal, the deciding one no less.
An early shift in particular comes to mind for the Kids: with the Kings pushing for a goal late in the second, the trio held the zone for close to a minute, creating some momentum heading to the third. But the Kings scored 50 seconds in, and then Niederreiter tied things up with 3:25 gone in the third. As he and Granlund skated with Pominville at the time, Pommer skated into the right circle and feathered a pass that was deflected under Quick by Niederreiter. In the shootout, Niederreiter faked Quick down to his knees, then lifted the puck over him, sending the Wild bench into celebration
They’re not all going to be Picasso’s. Tonight was an uber-important win in the Western Conference playoff race, particularly with the Wild missing two goalies, two first-liners and team leaders and a top-4 defenseman. It’s going to have to learn how to win without Koivu for the next four weeks, and tonight was a huge step. Since the start of the 2008-09 season, the Wild is 186-152-39 with Mikko Koivu in the lineup, and 15-24-5 without. The Wild (51 points) is now tied with Phoenix for the eighth spot in the West. The Coyotes have three games in hand, which makes Thursday’s tilt in Glendale even more important.
Minnesota has now scored at least one third-period goal in 14 straight wins, dating back to a 2-1 shootout win vs. Toronto on Nov. 13. In that span, the third-period goals have been a game-winning goal in five games and have tied the game to force extra time before winning in a shootout in five contests.
Olympic team? Check. First hat trick by a defenseman in team history? Check. But the true highlight of Ryan Suter’s week may very well have been tonight as he took the ceremonial face-off from rock legends Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS.
The band is playing the NHL Stadium Series game at Dodgers Stadium, and they’re also owners of a new arena football team — the LA KISS (get it?) — set to start play next year. Sadly, neither Gene nor Paul wore face paint. However, members of the Kings ice crew and game night staff all had their faces panted this evening.