CHICAGO – For a second consecutive postseason, the Wild’s goaltending situation entering a series against the Chicago Blackhawks is in flux.
What else is new?
The Wild has dealt with a never-ending goalie scramble for a few years. Minutes into warmups before Game 1 of the first round last year in Chicago, Niklas Backstrom suffered a series-ending abdominal injury. That thrust Josh Harding, who hadn’t started in two months because of complications with multiple sclerosis, into the No. 1 seat.
When the Wild opens the second round Friday night against the Blackhawks, Ilya Bryzgalov — the Wild’s fourth No. 1 goalie this season — will get the start because rookie Darcy Kuemper — the Wild’s third No. 1 goalie this season — sustained an undisclosed injury Wednesday night in Game 7 of the first round against the Colorado Avalanche.
Coach Mike Yeo provided no Kuemper update Thursday, but John Curry, the Wild’s fifth goalie, is expected to serve as Bryzgalov’s backup at least for Game 1. The Wild was in the process of getting Harding’s gear to Chicago so he can resume skating with the team. Harding hasn’t played since Dec. 31 because of complications with MS.
“I don’t know how many goalies we’ve had this year, but I think we’re used to it,” captain Mikko Koivu said.
That is the most impressive thing about the Wild. Such goaltending instability conceivably could destroy a team, but the Wild continues to chug along winning games no matter who’s in net.
“We’ve had a pretty unique goaltending situation this year, but it really hasn’t affected us in the locker room at all,” Zach Parise said. “We’re comfortable with whoever we’re playing with and it really hasn’t changed the way we play at all.”
One reason why the Wild continues to excel no matter the goalie is its defensive structure. In the playoffs, the Wild has given up a league-low 24.9 shots per game. When Bryzgalov entered Wednesday for Kuemper with 8 minutes, 13 seconds left in the third period, the Wild didn’t give up a shot. Bryzgalov had to make only one save in overtime.
“Our team has played a game in front of them that has given them a chance to be successful, and that game hasn’t changed,” Yeo said. “It hasn’t changed from one goalie to the next, and that’s where I feel that we’ve matured a little bit as a team.
“We’re a little more comfortable in our own skin, where we can play against Colorado, we can play against Chicago and there shouldn’t be a lot of changes to our game, either.”
Taking his time
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon said his tying goal with 2:27 left to force overtime in Game 7 was “tops” in his list of all-time goals.
It was a pretty sweet one, too, as he showed incredible patience before picking his spot past Semyon Varlamov. Spurgeon wanted to one-time Nino Niederreiter’s pass, but the puck was rolling, so he first had to corral it.
“With the corner of my eye, I saw [Nathan MacKinnon] coming to block it,” Spurgeon sad. “I tried to wait it out and luckily he slid by. Then I noticed I had a bit of time, so when I saw [Varlamov] go down, I just tried to get it off as fast as I could.”
Cooke nears return
By the Wild advancing to the second round, left wing Matt Cooke won’t have to serve the balance of his seven-game suspension at the start of next season. He will also lose no money by the suspension.
Cooke will be eligible to return in Game 4.