The Wild established franchise records of victories (49) and points (106) in its regular-season finale tonight with a 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes.
Two days after coach Bruce Boudreau said there would be no big “hooray” if they accomplished the feat, he continued with that theme afterward.
“Eh, we should’ve had 120 [points],” Boudreau said, referring to the four-win March.
But, the Wild enters the playoffs against the St. Louis Blues 5-1-2 in its past eight and with wins in four straight. That’s a far contrast to losing five in a row to enter last year’s playoff series against the Dallas Stars.
“We talked about how important it is to get these wins and to go out winning, and feeling good about your game and do the right things,” said Erik Haula, who scored his 15th goal. “I feel like the last four games, and even the couple before that, we were playing better and losing. But now we won the last four and we feel good going in.”
Added Boudreau on the wins, “I think it was big. Time will tell; we’ll see after the next series how big it was. But I think for the importance of their psyche, their last eight games was a really good job for them.”
I’ll have a lot more on the Blues obviously in the coming days and I’ll dump a few quotes later in this blog.
But first, on the game.
1. Darcy Kuemper recorded his first win since Feb. 16 with a 20-save effort. The Wild played hard in front of him, but he looked good and it was a solid response to an awkward couple weeks for the backup scratched in three recent games.
“It was fun getting back in there,” he said. “Love playing the game, so it was nice to get an opportunity before the season is done here, and especially nice getting a win.”
Alex Stalock will be recalled in the next few days just because the Wild always planned to carry three goalies in the playoffs. I’d think Kuemper starts as the backup, but we’ll see.
“We wanted to make sure we played hard and smart in front of him,” said Eric Staal, whose 28th goal was the winner. “I thought he looked pretty comfortable right from the beginning.”
The Wild outshot the Coyotes 45-21 and Kuemper lost his shutout bid early in the third.
“I was really happy for him,” Boudreau said. “I really wanted him to get the shutout, and I was hoping. But I thought he followed the puck, he did a really good job and that’s what we expect out of him.”
2. Haula scored his 15th goal after a ridiculous pass in front of the net tapped to Haula by Jason Pominville.
“That was one of the easier goals of the year,” Haula said. “Pommer said, ‘You’re welcome,’ because obviously, he made a great pass there. So yeah, it’s nice.”
Haula on playing the Blues: “I just think that ... St. Louis, Chicago, Nashville, it doesn’t really make that big of a difference. They’re all great teams and a little bit of a rivalry there. It’ll be a really fun series. I’m sure both teams are going to be ready for it. We’re just excited that 82 is done and now we start the fun part.”
“They’re really physical and they play good defensively. Obviously they have skill up front. We’re just going to have to match it and bring our speed.”
3. Staal is looking forward to the playoffs after a short one last year with the Rangers.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “They had a tough start but they’ve been better lately so they’re a pretty balanced team. It should be a good series. We’ll prepare, as we would next week for whoever we get and it’s them, so exciting to start Game 1 on Wednesday.
“I’m really, really excited, as I’m sure a lot of the guys are with this group. We have an opportunity, that’s all you want every year, is an opportunity to play in the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup. We need to be excited about the opportunity and the challenge. Game 1 in our building, I’m sure it’s going to be rocking pretty good. I’ve been asking around and they said it’s pretty good. I’m excited about it. Going to have some goose bumps to start, but we’ll use them in the right direction, so it should be fun.”
4. Martin Hanzal had a heck of a game in his return to Arizona. He scored a power-play goal to hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career, he had four shots, two more attempted shots, five hits and won 13 of 18 faceoffs. In the last 14 games, he won 61.7 percent of his draws.
He doesn’t wear a helmet in warmups though to show off that hairdo of his, and he took a ricocheted shot off the crossbar off the right side of the forehead. He joked that it was a good welcome back, and he did have to get stitched up.
Emotional tribute tonight to Coyotes minor-leaguer Craig Cunningham, a close friend of Hanzal’s who almost died during a game earlier this season.
Read all about it because it’s an amazing story. Hanzal greeted Cunningham as he came out on the red carpet to do the ceremonial puck drop. Captain Mikko Koivu saw that scene, and when the P.A. announcer called Koivu to take the puck drop as all captains do, Koivu motioned for Hanzal to do it instead.
Pure class. Then, as Cunningham left, Koivu skated up to him and shook his hand.
“It was a little emotional,” Hanzal said of the return. “I spent some time here. Especially when they brought out Cunningham for the drop of the puck because he is my friend. It was emotional tonight for me.”
On Koivu’s classy gesture, Hanzal said, “I didn't even know until the last second. He just looked at me like I should take it and I just said, 'Alright. Thank you.' It's great because Cunningham is a strong fighter with what happened to him. It's something I probably couldn't deal with. He's a strong fighter. I'm happy he was here tonight.”
Asked if it’s true he told the parking attendant to tell Smith to let him score No. 20 tonight, Hanzal said, “Yeah, I did. It's nice. I've never scored 20 goals. I'm glad I reached that. Now it's playoff time. All the stats go away and we have to prepare for Wednesday because that's when the real season starts.”
On playing in the playoffs, Hanzal said, It's great. I'm pumped. This is why we played hockey, we want to compete in the playoffs, we want to win the Stanley Cup. I have a great opportunity on a good team. I think when we play well we are really hard to beat. I'm really excited. I can't wait.”
5. Zach Parise, who recently was cut around his right eye, left tonight’s game in the third bleeding profusely after being struck by a high stick from Nino Niederreiter. His nose looked busted up when he … returned later in the period.
The Wild really tried to get him his 20th goal tonight, and Joel Eriksson Ek teed him up late in the third, but Parise just missed the side of an open cage.
“I didn’t know it was going to look as bad as it did, but he came back,” Boudreau said of Parise’s face. “He’s a trooper and he almost scored when he came back, so it was great.”
On trying to get Parise his 20th, Boudreau said, “I told him he would’ve played the last half of the game if he hadn’t gotten hurt, but I was trying to get it for him. He deserved it.”
6. On the Blues, Boudreau said, “Well, they’re very daunting. I think they’re very similar to only a couple teams in the League in that they don’t have, really, a weakness. They’ve got six good defensemen, they’ve got four lines that can go, especially with the addition of [Vladimir] Sobotka, and their goalie’s been on fire since the change. So our work’s cut out for us. But I’ve seen our team all year and when [we] need to rise to the challenge, I think we will.”
Here are some quotes courtesy of the St. Louis-Post Dispatch
“Well, you know what, I’m sure it’s going to turn into quite a story,” Mike Yeo said. “It’s funny in sports that these types of stories seem to have a way of coming around.
“But for me, it’s not me against them. It’s our group with a real tough opponent in the way of what we’re trying to accomplish. We know that we’ve got a lot of work to do and obviously we don’t have home ice, so that will be a challenge. But we believe we’re contenders and so it’s going to be quite a challenge but one we’re looking forward to.”
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” forward Vladimir Tarasenko said. “If you have a big goal, we have to win every one. We have all good teams in our conference, so it’s not really a big difference. But I think it will be important for our coach and important for us too because we lost to them a couple years ago. It’s still in our memories and now we want to pay back.”
That’s it for me. Talk to you Sunday, which is an off-day for the team.