If the post is a goalie’s best friend, Darcy Kuemper owes both of his a steak dinner or three.
The Los Angeles Kings struck iron three times in the first period Tuesday night, and that safety net supplied enough of a cushion for the Wild to settle in and ultimately open the floodgates during a 6-3 victory.
“They must’ve been pretty frustrated after the first period,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They go in losing a period they should’ve won. Like I told the players, not every game can be a Picasso. We found a way. We weren’t great, but we found a way to win.”
The Wild defended way too much, had to kill five penalties (it’s a perfect 11-for-11 this season), including a Kings two-man advantage, and looked drained because of it as its 5-1 lead shrunk to two goals with 5 minutes, 25 seconds left. But, Jared Spurgeon’s 173-foot empty-netter sealed a 2-1 record to start the season.
Leading 2-1 after first-period goals by Erik Haula and Jason Pominville, the Wild rode the momentum of killing a 49-second 5-on-3 disadvantage. A minute after the kills, the Wild began a three-goal flurry 4 ½ minutes apart to end goalie Jeff Zatkoff’s night.
Charlie Coyle got things started with a power-play goal. That was followed by a sliding Mikko Koivu scoring the eventual game-winner and Teemu Pulkkinen’s first goal in a Wild sweater.
Kuemper, who won six times in 21 games last season, was under attack all third period, but he held on for a 27-save win.
“He was probably grateful that pucks kept hitting the post in the first period,” Boudreau joked. “That sort of calmed his nerves, if that makes any sense.”
Kuemper was excited to start. He entered with a career 1.82 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in five games against the Kings, but Boudreau said, “It wouldn’t have mattered if he was 0-18, he was playing.”
Boudreau doesn’t want Kuemper getting stale behind Devan Dubnyk.
“In the past, it probably would have been Duby’s game,” Kuemper said. “Getting the nod, it’s huge getting it this early. You can build off it in practice rather than sitting around for six, seven games before your first start. Now you feel a part of it and you’re into the season now.”
Tanner Pearson, fresh off a suspension, scored the first of his two goals on the Kings’ first shot 50 seconds in. But on a set breakout, Nino Niederreiter took Pominville’s pass and made a great touch pass to open a lane for Haula to speed into. Zatkoff, playing for the injured Jonathan Quick, gave up a softie.
With 12 seconds left in the period, Pominville streaked down the left wing, looked up, picked his spot and snapped a bullet far-side. Scoring in the third game was relief for Pominville, whose first goal last season came 22 games in on Nov. 28.
“It’s nice to be able to get one early and hopefully get going in the right direction,” Pominville said, smiling. “I don’t have to worry about it now, and [I can] just go out and play.”
Former Wild interim coach John Torchetti discovered gold when he put Niederreiter, Haula and Pominville together in February. Together, Haula scored nine goals and 21 points and was plus-14 in 23 games, Niederreiter scored 11 goals and 19 points and was plus-10 in 23 games and Pominville had 15 points and was plus-13 in 15 games.
“They were our best line, for sure,” Boudreau said.
“We just keep feeding off each other,” Haula said.
Koivu, who won 16 faceoffs, did a tremendous job on the 5-on-3, and his goal — he buried Mikael Granlund’s rebound — turned out to be the difference.
“Usually those are key moments in a game,” Koivu said of the 5-on-3 kill with a 2-1 lead. “It’s always critical and you get a lot of strength from it.”