VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – The Wild, aiming to make the playoffs for the second year in a row, capped off a productive two days Friday night.
Twenty-four hours after shutting out Edmonton, the Wild overcame clear fatigue in an intense battle by walking out of Rogers Arena with a 2-1 victory after a seven-round shootout against the Vancouver Canucks.
Justin Fontaine, on his first career shootout attempt, beat Eddie Lack on a head fake and shot between the legs. The rookie forward was the only one of 14 shooters to score in the extra, extra session.
That’s right, Darcy Kuemper, after a 3-0 shutout Thursday, wasn’t scored on by seven Canucks after making 30 saves through overtime.
“For him to stand tall the way he did, unbelievable,” defenseman Nate Prosser said. “He stepped up huge, especially in that shootout. He was a machine.”
Added Fontaine, “That’s a win for him.”
The western Canadian sweep helped the Wild, stationed in the first of two wild card spots in the West, gain a seven-point cushion on a playoff spot.
In a hard-fought, tight-checking battle, the Wild had to hang on in the third, showing signs of a team that played the night before. It had one shot in the first 17 minutes, with virtually every moment of the period spent in Kuemper’s zone.
“We were tired, but mentally we stayed into it and didn’t make that mistake that was going to hurt us,” Kuemper said.
It wasn’t helped by a washed-out goal by a referee Brad Meier in the first period, a call an NHL official admitted was wrong.
And in overtime, Kuemper and penalty killers Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Prosser had to kill off a boarding penalty to Zach Parise, who scored the lone Minnesota goal that counted in regulation.
“Fortunately we got through it,” said Brodziak.
It was another strong effort by Kuemper, who is now 10-2-2 in his past 15 starts. As has been reported, the Wild is likely in the market for a goalie.
Buffalo’s Ryan Miller was traded Friday to St. Louis in a package that included goalie Jaroslav Halak. There was much speculation afterward that the Sabres would try to flip him to Minnesota.
The Wild indicated that it doesn’t have much interest in Halak. It’s believed the Wild has inquired about Carolina’s Cam Ward and New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur and has been offered Ilya Bryzgalov by Edmonton.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher said Friday night no trade was imminent, and with Kuemper playing so well, it’ll be interesting to see how Fletcher proceeds.
Coach Mike Yeo was proud of his team, which battled hard right from the opening faceoff. He lauded the team’s “mental toughness” for overcoming Ryan Kesler’s shorthanded goal five minutes into the game, then a shocking disallowed goal soon after.
In one of the most inexplicable calls you’ll ever see, Keith Ballard redeemed himself from a mishap on the shortie by wiring a shot through Erik Haula’s screen. But Meier thought he saw incidental contact between Haula and Lack.
Replays showed at no point was Lack touched. After the period, Fletcher made a beeline for on-sight supervisor Mick McGeough’s room.
After their long conversation, McGeough, a former referee, told the Star Tribune, “In my estimation, I think the goal should have counted. It was a good screen by [Haula]. He wasn’t in the blue when the puck entered the net, so it met the criteria for a good goal.”
Haula was angry but said afterward, “All that matters is we got two points.”
The Wild tied the score anyway, on Parise’s 20th goal (11th on the power play) through Dany Heatley’s screen.
“Two desperate teams,” Kuemper said. “Both teams showed up to play. It could have gone either way, but we stuck with it and pulled it out.”