You couldn’t have scripted a better ending.
On the day that “Hockey Day Minnesota” visited Elk River, one of the city’s native sons made the day even more memorable.
One game after he scored his first career game-winning goal, Nate Prosser capped hockey’s daylong celebration with his first career overtime winner.
With 2 minutes, 18 seconds left in OT, Prosser pinched in and buried Nino Niederreiter’s rebound to lift the Wild to a 3-2 victory over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center.
“I’m at an all-time high right now,” Prosser said after the game. “I can’t believe that just happened.”
Wild coach Mike Yeo said it best about the popular teammate who has been scratched 26 times this season: “If there’s any undecided votes on the next mayor of Elk River, I think we cleared that up. That’s a very fitting way to end Hockey Day.”
Prosser, who has three career goals, became the first Wild defenseman in history to score back-to-back game-winners. He scored the winning goal in Thursday’s victory over Edmonton.
Asked if it was the biggest goal of his career, Prosser said, jokingly: “By far. There’s not many of them, so … It was a great day all around.”
Prosser’s heroics were made possible by the great play of Darcy Kuemper, who made 33 saves in his fourth consecutive start. The Wild was outshot 35-19, yet Kuemper kept the Wild in the game every step of the way, even after Alex Chiasson forced overtime with a third-period power-play goal.
“Getting a bunch of starts in a row here, each game I’m gaining experience and building confidence,” said Kuemper, who is 4-1 in his past five games with a 1.36 goals-against average and .954 save percentage.
Added Yeo, “He was awesome, plain and simple.”
Former Gopher Erik Haula scored his first NHL goal and defenseman Ryan Suter added the other as the Wild won for a seventh time in nine games. Minnesota completes the home-and-home series in Dallas on Tuesday.
In overtime Prosser scored after Charlie Coyle won a puck battle with Alex Goligoski behind the net. Coyle centered for Niederreiter, and Kari Lehtonen kicked out the rebound. Prosser found the loose puck, tried to shoot short-side and thought, “Please go in.”
It did, and the Wild bench erupted in an exhilarating celebratory scene in the corner to Lehtonen’s right.
“He always shows up with a smile on his face, whether he’s playing or not,” Suter said of Prosser, who has assumed injured Jared Spurgeon’s role. “To see him chip in is awesome.”
Added Yeo, “Talk about a guy who goes out and does all the thankless things [and] doesn’t get a lot of those opportunities to get the glory.”
Haula, who made his NHL debut 17 games ago on Nov. 29, got the call back from Iowa of the AHL after captain Mikko Koivu broke an ankle Jan. 4. He has played a fourth-line role, but as he proved at the University of Minnesota, he has the soft hands of a scorer.
Haula led the Gophers in scoring in each of the past two seasons and ranks 49th on the school’s all-time scoring list with 124 points.
Haula scored on the Wild’s first shot of the game after he blocked Erik Cole’s shot inside the blue line and cleverly chipped the puck off the glass to create a breakaway for himself.
Haula turned on his high-speed jets, caught up to the puck and beat Lehtonen blocker-side for a 1-0 lead.
“Something you dream about,” Haula said. “It was unbelievable. Just the reaction of the crowd. Standing ovation. It took awhile for me to get over it and the chills to go away.”