GLENDALE, ARIZ. – Darcy Kuemper, the much-maligned backup goalie recently scratched three consecutive games, delivered the Wild two franchise records in the team’s regular-season finale.
Kuemper, pulled his two of his previous three starts, won his first game since Feb. 16 by making 20 saves during a 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes. The Wild finished the season with a team-record 49 wins and 106 points.
“I was really happy for him. I really wanted him to get the shutout, and I was hoping,” Boudreau said of Kuemper, who lost the shutout bid early in the third period. “But I thought he followed the puck, he did a really good job and that’s what we expect out of him.”
Earlier in the night, the Wild found out for certain it will open the postseason this upcoming week against former Wild coach Mike Yeo and the St. Louis Blues. Since Yeo took over the Blues’ reins Feb. 1, they’re 21-8-2 and the best defensive team in the NHL.
“I’m really, really excited, as I’m sure a lot of the guys are with this group,” said Eric Staal, whose team-leading 28th goal acted as the game-winner. “We have an opportunity, that’s all you want every year, is an opportunity to play in the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup.
“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. Going to have some goose bumps to start.”
Erik Haula also scored for the Wild, as did Martin Hanzal in his emotional return to the place he played for 10 seasons. The goal – Hanzal’s 20th for the first time in his career -- came after he was hit in the head during warmups by a ricocheted shot.
“That was a good welcome,” Hanzal, who received three stitches, quipped.
The Wild had a scare when Zach Parise was struck in the face by teammate Nino Niederreiter’s stick in the third period. Parise, who recently suffered a terrible cut near his right eye, left the game bleeding profusely, but he soon returned to the bench in search of his 20th goal. He missed the side of an open cage late in the period.
“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,” Boudreau said.
After going 4-10-2 in March, the victory gave the Wild a fourth win in a row to end the season – a far contrast to last season finishing with five consecutive losses.
“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,” Haula said.
The win extended the Wild’s point streak against Arizona to 11 games (9-0-2), its longest point streak against a single opponent in franchise history.
It was a confidence-booster for Kuemper and maybe the organization in him. The team plans to carry three goalies on its playoff roster and will need to decide whether it’ll be Kuemper or Alex Stalock that’ll initially dress as Devan Dubnyk’s backup.
“It was fun getting back in there,” Kuemper 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.”