Not that we condone gambling here at Russo’s Rants, but once it was announced Devan Dubnyk would be getting the night off tonight and that the Wild’s three top goal scorers heading into this evening – Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter and Thomas Vanek – wouldn’t be playing, the Predators went from -125 to -166 favorites.
What’s Vegas know?
The Wild has been road warriors for two months, and tonight, it didn’t matter the goalie or the lineup, the Wild won in Nashville for the third time since late February by rallying from an early 2-0 deficit to win 4-2.
It was the Wild’s 12th consecutive road win, tying the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings for the longest road winning streak in NHL history. If the Wild wins out Saturday in St. Louis with a 13th in a row, the Wild will stand alone atop that record in the NHL Guide and Record Book.
That would be pretty cool, said Mike Yeo, the coach who has coached the Wild to its second 100-point year in franchise history.
OK, the scenarios (which hopefully I don’t have to correct in the morning): The Wild clinched at least the top wildcard spot tonight.
-- IF it beats St. Louis on Saturday AND Chicago loses in regulation at Colorado, the Wild finishes third in the Central and returns to Nashville for the start of the playoffs.
--This one is complicated-sounding: The Wild would play Anaheim if the Blues get more points than the Ducks, who play at Arizona on Saturday, or if St. Louis beats the Wild in regulation or overtime and the Ducks win in a shootout.
--Any other outcome, the Wild would face the Blues in the first round.
So, there’s like a 65 percent chance the Wild faces the Blues, I believe.
Gutsy effort by Darcy Kuemper tonight, who gave up two goals on the first five shots he saw in his first start since Jan. 6 and first action since Jan. 20. The first goal by Filip Forsberg skipped on the ice and hopped. The second goal sailed through traffic.
But Kuemper put it behind him, got better as the game went along and was at his best in the third period when the Wild most needed him. He stopped the final 29 shots he saw for 32 saves. Not easy given his lack of play the past three months, the pressure he was facing and the fact in the first period I thought the Wild wasn’t getting into shooting lanes and dodging checks left and right.
“Real happy for him,” Yeo said. “And I’m happy with the way our guys played in front of him to give him that chance, but when we needed him most, he was at his best. Some good mental toughness by him the way the game started. That first puck bounced and that would be difficult for any goalie. That second one he didn’t see it, so for him to be able to collect himself and stay in the game the way he did and for our guys to keep fighting, that’s story No. 1. What’s No. 2?”
Depth. The Wild’s deep. Seventy-seven goals were out of the lineup tonight with no Parise, Vanek or Niederreiter in there, yet Jason Zucker and Marco Scandella scored 31 seconds apart late in the second, Jason Pominville scored the winner with 2:03 left and Zucker added an empty-netter that also earned Mikko Koivu his 500th point.
Zucker’s goal snapped the Wild’s 0 for 22, 13-game road power-play-goal drought. He scored his 20th and 21st goals to become the fourth Wild player to hit that mark this year. Scandella’s highlight-reel, spinorama goal (described in the gamer) was his 10th and first since Dec. 29.
“That’s big,” Yeo said of the depth, before talking about guys like Sean Bergenheim and Jordan Schroeder and Matt Cooke. “I would also say the guys we brought into the lineup, that’s a good sign when you talk about the depth. Those guys did what we were expecting them to do. They all made a statement for themselves tonight and certainly we’ve got some tough decisions ahead.”
Cooke and Schroeder assisted on the Scandella goal.
By the way, Mikael Granlund keeps winning big draws since he fell on the knife a few weeks ago with his faceoff weakness. He won a draw in Chicago that led to his goal and tonight, Pominville dug a puck out for a Granlund faceoff win and then buried the winner on a Jared Spurgeon setup. That goal also allowed St. Louis to win the division.
Kuemper felt reassurance that he can win in an actual game after so much traffic. He said it felt great to be a part of it again and Yeo said he’s confident he can be a safety net to Dubnyk in the playoffs.
“He did it last year for us,” Yeo said. “He came in and helped us win a series last year. We’ve never lost confidence in him. Between him and Backy, those guys have not not been playing because we don’t believe they can win. It’s because Dubey didn’t give us a choice with the level of play that he was at. So we’re real happy for him and obviously it’s a good thing for us.”
Kuemper said, “I told myself going into the game I just wanted to get better as it went along and just working on getting my game feet wet again. How about the guys sticking with it tonight? We go down 2-0, it would have been pretty easy to start feeling sorry for themselves, but they kept battling for me. Hats off to them.
“It was easy to move past that and just keep working on things. The speed started coming back to me the more we went. By the end of the first period, I was feeling pretty good in there.”
Koivu said, “Both him and Backy, the way they’ve been handling not playing in a game for a long time – all the credit to them with the way they’ve been working and practicing. I think it’s a little bit easier on Darcy as a younger goalie, but Backstrom also, the way he’s been handling that, skating with us and working hard and getting those pucks every single day. You’ve got to give them credit. Obviously happy for him. It’s a big win.”
Zucker said, “We had a lot of different line combinations with guys that hadn’t played together much. So I think there was a little bit of an adjustment in the first period. But Kuemper played great, out D core played great, and as far as the forwards there was a bit of an adjustment but we just had to battle back and the guys did that tonight.
The Wild is two goals from breaking the team record for goals of 226 set in 2005-06.
34.4 goal pace for Jason Zucker had he played a full season
34 third-period Wild goals since Feb. 22 (22 games, most in NHL)
9 third-period goals allowed by Wild since Feb. 22 (fewest in NHL)
That’s it for me. 6:40 a.m. flight. Practice is at 2 p.m. Follow me on Twitter.
I will say, late, late blog will be coming Friday barring news because not only do I have a ton of phone interviews to do in preparation for playoff previews, I’m sitting down with a few players after practice.
So make sure you follow me on Twitter at @russostrib if you want instant stuff.