Darcy Kuemper had the best seat in the house during the Wild’s hot streak.
Sitting at the side of the bench in a baseball cap, the backup goalie got to watch the Wild reel off points in every game since he was in net the last time the Wild lost in regulation 18 days ago.
Saturday afternoon, Devan Dubnyk finally got a game off, Kuemper got the nod again, and now he can feel part of the Wild’s winning and point streaks, too.
Kuemper made 27 saves during a 4-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes that extended the Wild’s seven-game win streak, eight-game point streak and six-game home victory streak.
“It was just nice to get out there and feel like I was contributing to a good thing we’ve got going,” said Kuemper, who won for the first time since Nov. 13 and the second time in regulation this season.
The 18-8-4 Wild, which has outscored its past four opponents 17-5, improved to 9-1-3 in its past 13 games (21 out of a possible 26 points) and improved to 9-1-2 in its past 12 meetings with Arizona, including a nine-game point streak.
Remember, saying “there has to be a reward,” coach Bruce Boudreau planned to cancel practice Nov. 30 in Calgary had the Wild beaten the Canucks the night before. The Wild didn’t, instead blowing a two-goal lead, then rallying from a two-goal, third-period deficit before giving up a late goal in regulation.
Boudreau practiced the Wild the next day at the Corral, and the team is 7-0-1 since.
“That’s kind of the turning point of the season there,” said Chris Stewart, who scored for a third time in eight games Saturday. “We probably expected a day off, it didn’t happen and it definitely lit a fire under us and we’ve been rolling ever since.”
The Coyotes had a good start, but star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson took two first-period penalties (three in the game) 2:57 apart, and Ryan Suter cashed in on the second power play.
The Wild, playing without injured center Erik Haula from his second shift, dominated the rest of the game. The scoring chances, albeit subjective, were charted 21-6, and frankly, the Wild had to be concerned it didn’t build more than the 2-0 lead Tyler Graovac provided after two periods.
Mikko Koivu, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker hit posts. Nino Niederreiter could have had three goals but ended with zero.
“We were getting a lot of chances, and then Zucks had that chance right at the start of the third. Usually if you don’t score on some of those kind of plays it ends up to bite you,” said Suter, a plus-3 and an NHL-best plus-22 this season. “But we stuck with it.”
Boudreau was a tad concerned, too, although he said he could tell Kuemper, who lost his shutout bid with 1:54 left, was sharp: “In the Vancouver game, for example, … he didn’t have the glove hand snapping. And today, … he just snagged it.”
Stewart’s goal after Connor Murphy overskated Spurgeon’s dump-in 3:24 into the third was huge.
“We kind of took their hope,” Stewart said.
Haula looked to be wincing after being checked by Murphy in the corner early in the first. He suffered a lower-body injury, but Graovac stepped up. He logged a career-high 18 minutes, 45 seconds, had a career-high five shots and tied a career high with three hits. He also won eight of 18 faceoffs.
His goal came after he blocked Lawson Crouse’s shot. He hustled his way into a 2-on-1 and tried to cross a pass to Zucker, but Graovac partly fanned and the puck banked in off goalie Mike Smith for his first point in 13 games.
“I had a blast out there. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like that for a while,” Graovac said. “Haulzy is a big part of our lineup obviously. If I can come in and be a support guy as well as I can, that’s what I’m going to do.”