Strong relief puts Kuemper in running to start Game 3 for Wild

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 21, 2014 - 11:40 AM

“Starting goaltender?”

“Yes we will,” joked Mike Yeo.

But the Wild coach wouldn’t reveal which goalie — veteran Ilya Bryzgalov or rookie Darcy Kuemper — will start Game 3 against the Colorado Avalanche.

The belief is it’ll be Kuemper, who stopped all 14 shots he faced in relief of Bryzgalov in Saturday’s Game 2 loss. Bryzgalov has allowed 16 goals in his past four starts, having been pulled in two of them, including the regular-season finale to Nashville.

“He looked confident, and he’s looked good in practice,” Yeo said of Kuemper. “I could see it the couple days leading up to him even going in. You could tell in practice that he was starting to feel good about himself and feel good about where his game was at.”

If Kuemper starts, it’ll be his fourth playoff appearance in two years and first career start.

“If I do get the start, I’m really excited,” he said. “It’s a big game for the team and I’m going to do my part and I’m sure everyone else is going to do their part to try to come up with a win.”

As it turns out, teammate Matt Cooke unknowingly let the cat out of the bag Sunday when he revealed that Kuemper missed the past three weeks because of a concussion. Kuemper said the injury occurred in practice before the March 31 pregame skate in Los Angeles.

Before he suffered the injury, Kuemper, the Wild’s second-half savior with 12 wins, did see his game falter. He won once in his final eight starts, allowing three or more goals in six of those games.

“I didn’t feel that far off,” he said. “Little bit of puck luck. The difference between two goals against or three goals against is a win or loss in this league. It was just that one goal that was getting in. I tried to stay level-headed and not get too frustrated.”

Change in the air?

Yeo indicated he may make some lineup changes in Game 3, but he wouldn’t tip his hand.

Forwards Dany Heatley and Justin Fontaine were scratched in the first two games of the series, as was defenseman Jon Blum. The Wild is 0-3 since Blum came out of the lineup for Clayton Stoner’s return from a knee injury.

Fontaine would love to play.

“I haven’t heard much,” Fontaine said. “Pretty quiet day today, so we’ll see what the morning brings. Playoff time of year, you always want to get in and show what you can do. I’d be happy to get in.”

Minnesota fan base

Nathan MacKinnon, the Colorado star who scored 99 goals playing two years at Shattuck-St. Mary’s from 2009 to '11, will have a supporting cast at Games 3 and 4 in St. Paul.

“I have a lot of buddies coming to the game,” said MacKinnon, 18, who had seven points in the first two games. “I haven’t seen them in a couple of years, but I have a lot of close friends I met in Minnesota.”

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