The plan, it seemed, was simple enough. When Cam Talbot returned from COVID-19 protocols and had a few practices, the Wild's top offseason free-agent acquisition would be back in net as the team's starting goalie, with rookie Kaapo Kahkonen resuming his role as backup.
In these times with the coronavirus still hanging around, however, plans must be written with pencil, not pen, and the Wild suddenly finds itself with an enviable situation between the pipes. Through a four-game winning streak on the road, Kahkonen at least temporarily has grabbed the starting job by the scruff of the neck, stopping 103 of the 109 shots he's faced in a pair victories over Anaheim, a win at San Jose and, most impressive, Wednesday night's 6-2 triumph against an uber-skilled Colorado team.
"We have four wins in five games this trip,'' Kahkonen said after making 30 saves against the Avalanche. "It's all that matters to me, to be honest. I don't care how they come.''
The wins have come with the Wild suddenly breaking through with 20 goals in the past four games, including five or more in three straight. Kahkonen has stood tall, too, improving his road record to 5-1 with a 1.85 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. Overall, he's 7-4 with a 2.37 GAA and .917 save percentage.
With results like that, coach Dean Evason can't get Kahkonen out of the cage.
Wednesday night, he was at his best when the Wild needed him most. With Minnesota up 1-0 late in the first period, Kahkonen stopped a shot by Colorado's J.T. Compher, then extended his right pad to deny Valeri Nichushkin on the rebound. In the first 10 minutes of the second, the 24-year-old Finn was the backbone during two penalty kills, stopping Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon back-to-back in the second man disadvantage.
Evason saw Kahkonen's play ignite a spark in his teammates.
"Some of the saves he made at key moments of that hockey game …'' Evason raved. "They're pushing, and he makes a brilliant save, and the guys just react on the bench. It's exciting, for sure. Guys get jacked when we score goals, but it's nice for us to see the saves and blocked shots, and guys are just as excited.''
Wild forward Zach Parise isn't surprised by Kahkonen's play. The 2014 fourth-round draft pick was named the AHL's most outstanding goalie with the Iowa Wild last season, going 25-6-5 with a 2.07 GAA and .927 save percentage, and he saw action in five NHL games, going 3-1-1.
"We got a little sample of how good he was last year when he stepped in and played,'' Parise said. "Since Cam got hurt, he's played great. His ability to move the puck helps a lot on the breakouts. He's dynamic in the net, the way he competes for the puck. He's really athletic, and he's made some really, really big saves for us.''
Just when might Talbot return to the lineup? The Wild returns home and faces the Los Angeles Kings on Friday and Saturday, so Evason presumably could have the 33-year-old start one of the two games. Then again, the coach is riding the hot hand that has helped the Wild vault into playoff contention in the West Division, quickly making up ground lost during the team's two-week COVID-19 pause.
For his part, Kahkonen is taking things in stride, filling his role when called upon and enjoying the run the Wild has put together.
"It takes everybody,'' he said. "You can't rely on one line, one 'D' pair or one goalie. It takes a full team in the long run to have success. We have a really good thing going."