Sudden sick day positions goalie to cure Wild's ills

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 18, 2013 - 6:59 AM

Late fill-in Darcy Kuemper overcame two early scores on a day when youth was served.

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With five minutes left in warmups Sunday night, Niklas Backstrom raised his stick into the air as he took shots three-quarters the way through a drill.

Darcy Kuemper was stretching at the blue line and thought that was strange.

"You don't normally do that," Kuemper said.

So Kuemper got up and skated to the bench. As Kuemper guzzled water, Wild goalie coach Bob Mason said, "Kuemps, you're going tonight."

Backstrom was sick. Kuemper somehow didn't react by getting sick.

Instead, without much of a warmup himself, the 22-year-old goalie confidently backstopped the Wild to a come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings, a victory that would be Kuemper's first in the NHL.

"It was almost good finding out the last minute. There was no time to get nervous," Kuemper said after a 29-save performance.

After Pavel Datsyuk gave Detroit a two-goal lead 20 seconds into the second period, the Wild stormed back on goals by Dany Heatley, rookie Jason Zucker and Torrey Mitchell.

Zucker's tying goal was the first goal of his NHL career, and it was of highlight-reel, coast-to-coast variety. Working down low in the defensive zone with Matt Cullen, Zucker chipped a puck off the wall to himself past a stunned Valtteri Filppula. Skating down the right-wing boards, Zucker blew by a flatfooted Mikael Samuelsson and accelerated into a 2-on-1 with Devin Setoguchi. Zucker flew into the Detroit end and was surprised to see no Wings in front of him. So he shot, beating rookie Petr Mrazek low-blocker side.

"I skate fast and I try to get the puck on net. I'm not exactly a passer," said Zucker, who leads the Houston Aeros with 19 goals and leads the American Hockey League with 175 shots.

The crowd of 19,117 at Xcel Energy Center erupted.

"I've seen him do that so many times this year," said Kuemper, who played for Houston until making his NHL debut last week in Vancouver. "He's got world-class speed. Not many guys can catch him."

Just 32 seconds later, rookie Mikael Granlund won a faceoff, tied up his man and fed Mitchell, who found the puck at his feet and backhanded home his first goal with the Wild.

From there, Kuemper settled in, especially after Setoguchi took a four-minute high-sticking penalty.

The Red Wings, who haven't missed the playoffs since 1990, might not be what they used to be. But they are still the Red Wings, still have Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

"They're guys I've been watching on TV for a long time," said Kuemper, the 2011 Western Hockey League Goaltender and Player of the Year. "To be able to play against them and get a win, what a feeling."

The Wild got off to a good start, but once Damian Brunner scored, Minnesota spent the rest of the period watching the Red Wings buzz its end. After Datysuk scored so quickly into the second, the Wild got "ticked off," coach Mike Yeo said.

The game turned on a tremendous shift by the top line of Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Heatley. After Koivu nearly scored, he sent a puck between the circles, where Heatley blasted through traffic and ended a career-long, nine-game goal-scoring drought.

"That shift for me was unbelievable," Yeo said. "The work ethic of those guys, that was 30 seconds in the offensive zone of just winning battles and sheer determination."

It was a big win for the Wild (7-6-2), which has been sputtering agonizingly along.

"You always try to find little checkpoints in a season when you look back and say, 'That's when our season turned around,' " Mitchell said. "Maybe this is one of those moments. We just need to build off this win."

  • WILD 3, DETROIT 2

    Up next: 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Edmonton • TV: FSN

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