Under normal circumstances, a goaltender who posts a shutout in his first career playoff start and allows only one goal in 2 ½ games would be the recipient of bouquets.
Darcy Kuemper’s contribution has felt more like a footnote. That’s because he’s hardly broken a sweat.
Kuemper had an easy-peasy workload in posting a shutout against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 3, and remarkably, he faced even less resistance in a 2-1 victory in Game 4 on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild set a playoff franchise record by holding the Avs to only 12 shots. That’s not a misprint.
“Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I had that few,” Kuemper said. “Probably back to midgets or something like that.”
Discombobulated by the Wild’s forecheck and smothering pressure, the Avs wilted offensively for a second consecutive game and allowed Kuemper enough time to make a sandwich and clip his fingernails in between saves.
The Avs managed only three shots in the first period. They fared slightly better in the second period with four shots, although one of those did slip under Kuemper’s pads for a goal.
Kuemper had his only hiccup of the series since taking over for Ilya Bryzgalov in Game 2 on Ryan O’Reilly’s wobbler from the outside. He said he didn’t get caught napping from sheer boredom.
“It bounced off the ice,” he said. “It was kind of a bad break. I’ve never really seen it bounce off the ice like that before.”
Other than that brief lapse, zilch, nada. If there’s one way to sum up the Avs offense the past two games, it’s Shhhhhhhh!
The Avalanche’s run-and-gun offense is so dormant right now that Kuemper didn’t earn one of Game 3’s three stars after accomplishing something that hadn’t been done in the NHL since 1936. His omission wasn’t a slight, either.
Kuemper only needed to be solid, not spectacular, in the Wild’s 1-0 overtime victory Monday. He stopped all 22 shots he faced, but in reality, Kuemper spent most of the game as a spectator while his teammates swarmed Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov with 46 shots.
Avs coach Patrick Roy, a Hall of Fame goalie, counted only four real scoring chances in his team’s 22 shots. That would be easy pickings for any goalie.
“Honestly, the last game it wouldn’t have mattered who was in net for them,” Roy said. “I don’t want to take anything away from him, but at the same time, I thought he had an easy game.”
The same quote applied to Game 4, except Kuemper had an easier time of it.
The Wild kept the same blueprint Thursday to even the series at 2-2. That blueprint looks something like this: Pin the Avs in their own end, smother them in the neutral zone and tilt the ice to such a degree that Kuemper could watch in relative comfort.
“This is the best hockey I’ve seen us play all year,” Kuemper said. “They’re making it pretty easy on me, not facing a whole lot.”
The Wild defended every square inch of home ice as if it was a treasured heirloom. The Avs couldn’t take one stride without a Wild player clinging to them like lint.
The Wild so thoroughly dominated both games in puck possession time that the Avs played almost exclusively on their heels in retreat mode. Their frustration bubbled over several times, notably on Paul Stastny’s foolish cross-check on Mikael Granlund, who was face down on the ice at the time.
O’Reilly’s goal ended Kumper’s playoff shutout streak at 138:07, dating to last season’s series against the Chicago Blackhawks. Kuemper became the first Wild goalie to record a playoff shutout by doing so in Game 3. He also became the first NHL goalie to post 1–0 overtime victory in his first postseason start since Detroit’s Normie Smith in 1936.
Those historical markers have been overshadowed, rightfully, by the Wild’s defense.
“It’s got to be a team effort,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “You need all five guys on the ice. I thought we supported each other real well. You need to do that against a skilled team like they are. And obviously at the end goaltending is huge.”
That part really hasn’t been necessary the past two games. Kuemper has been able to sit back, relax and enjoy the view.