Morning from Nashville.
If you didn't read Chip Scoggins' awesome story on Chris Stewart today, check that out here.
Here's my story on how far the Wild has come since the Jan. 14 Devan Dubnyk trade.
In that story, I also reported that it was believed Dubnyk's run of 39 consecutive starts (38 for the Wild) would come to an end tonight and that Darcy Kuemper would make his first since Jan. 6 tonight against the Predators.
Coach Mike Yeo confirmed that this morning on KFAN.
Dubnyk's 39 straight starts was the most in the NHL since Evgeni Nabokov started 43 in a row for the San Jose Sharks in 2007-08.
In 38 starts for the Wild, Dubnyk is 27-8-2 (one no decision) with a 1.73 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.
Kuemper's lone action since getting hurt in practice Jan. 7 came Jan. 20 in Detroit when he played 38 minutes in relief of Dubnyk. Kuemper stopped 14 of 14 shots and the Wild rallied from a 4-1, third-period deficit before suffering a shootout loss.
He did take part in a two-week AHL conditioning stint from Jan. 27-Feb. 8, going 2-3 with a 3.22 goals-against average, .891 save percentage and one shutout with Iowa.
Kuemper is 13-12-2 this season with a 2.62 goals-against average, .904 save percentage and three shutouts. He got off to a solid start this year before his game started to take a turn for the worse in mid to late November.
I talked to Kuemper the other day about getting a start in one of the final games.
“It’ll be fun to definitely be back in there,” Kuemper said. “You obviously want to play. This last little bit hasn’t been easy, but I’m just doing my best to stay sharp in practice and be supportive of the team.
“I know what I can do. I feel I’m a better goalie now than I was at the start of the year with all this practice. I feel my game is in a pretty good place right now.”
Obviously, there will be inevitable rust. This won't be an easy game as the Wild looks to tie the NHL record set by the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings with a 12th consecutive road win.
Dubnyk is expected to start Saturday's season finale against St. Louis.
There was a lot of internal debate as to which game Kuemper should start. Part of the concern was putting Dubnyk in harm's way against the Blues, a rugged team that the Wild may face in the first round, and during a game where players may not want to go all out in order to avoid injury. Remember last year's rout by the Predators against Minnesota in the home finale?
Historically (coincidence or not), the Wild has gotten goalies hurt in St. Louis (Manny Fernandez, Josh Harding, Niklas Backstrom and Kuemper), including Kuemper last year when David Backes ran him twice.
But in the end, Yeo didn't want Dubnyk basically having eight or nine days between starts (Tuesday in Chicago to the start of the playoffs Wednesday or Thursday).
I'd suspect Matt Cooke returns tonight. He has missed 30 games with a sports hernia. It wouldn't shock me if Nino Niederreiter rests in his injured foot. More after the morning skates.