WINNIPEG – Phew.
That was the reaction of sickened Darcy Kuemper from the bench Tuesday night after the Wild became the last NHL team to pull its goaltender — 61 games into the season.
But despite being not very good at all — coach Bruce Boudreau’s words — against the Winnipeg Jets and seeing its three-goal lead vaporize, the Wild got “lucky” — again, Boudreau’s word — to escape MTS Centre with a 6-5 victory thanks to Jason Zucker’s game-winning goal with 2:10 to play just as a penalty to Nino Niederreiter was ending.
“I was so relieved to see them score,” Kuemper said of Erik Haula’s brilliant no-look, backhanded pass between two defenders to a wide-open Zucker, who frantically slapped his stick on the ice to get Haula’s attention from the slot. “Just for us to get the win. What a relief that was.”
Zucker whipped his 20th goal with 2:10 left past Michael Hutchinson for the Wild’s 41st victory and 88th point, eclipsing last season’s 87-point total.
“We had that game, and we gave it back to them,” said Zucker, whose tying goal Monday against Los Angeles forced the overtime of an eventual win. “We left Kuemps out to dry too many times. I think we even left Duby [Devan Dubnyk] out to dry a couple times. That’s not the way we want to play.”
Playing a second straight night without mumps-stricken Zach Parise and Jason Pominville, the Wild played the final two periods without Ryan Suter after he was crushed into the boards late in the first.
Jets defenseman Paul Postma received a five-minute boarding major. Suter, the Wild’s No. 1 defenseman and king minute-muncher, stayed down for several moments. He finally skated slowly to the bench with help.
Suter played two more shifts, but he barely could climb the boards after one and didn’t emerge after the intermission.
“Got to give credit to the [five other] D-men,” Haula said. “I mean it wasn’t easy for them — they got hit probably 150 times.”
Boudreau didn’t disclose Suter’s injury or severity. “I have no idea right now,” he said.
Still, the game looked in firm control when Martin Hanzal, acquired Sunday along with Ryan White, won a board battle and set up Marco Scandella’s shot through traffic for a 4-1 lead. Kuemper gave up a soft goal to Adam Lowry, but Chris Stewart forced Mark Stuart into a turnover that resulted in White’s second goal in two games.
But the Wild couldn’t get out of the second with a three-goal lead when Mathieu Perreault made it 5-3. In the third, Mark Scheifele sent Joel Armia in shorthanded. Armia’s shot hit a stanchion, ricocheted into the crease and deflected in off Kuemper’s back. Less than two minutes later, Scheifele tied the score at 5-5.
“I just thought the game was getting pretty quick for Kuemps,” Boudreau said. “I didn’t want to pull him after that fourth goal, but once the fifth goal came, he was pretty rattled. I didn’t know if he would be able to withstand the rest of the game.”
Kuemper didn’t feel good in net all game, and “I tried my best to battle through it.”
With Dubnyk in net, the Wild killed two penalties in the final 6:49 before Zucker’s clutch goal.
“That shows the resiliency of our group, but that’s not going to fly when it comes to playoff time,” Zucker said.
The trade deadline is 2 p.m. Wednesday. With Suter hurt, the mumps crawling through the team and Kuemper erratic, it’ll be interesting to see how, if at all, management reacts.
“I’ll be in Columbus. The guys that are making the decisions are in Minnesota,” Boudreau said. “I’ll be watching the ticker like you guys.”
The Wild is 15-1-1 in its past 17 road games and beat Winnipeg for the fourth time in four meetings.
“We know we need to be better,” said Mikael Granlund, who had three first-period points, leads the NHL with 45 points since Dec. 7 and ranks 10th in the NHL with 59 points in 61 games. “At the same time, we got two points again. That’s a good result getting out of this stuff.”