CHICAGO – Blunt and to the point, Bruce Boudreau says Darcy Kuemper’s recent play doesn’t cut it.
Amazingly, the Wild is 5-2-2 when Kuemper starts this season, but the backup goaltender, who surrendered a 4-0 lead Saturday in Dallas before Jason Zucker’s late winning goal bailed him out, has allowed four or more goals five times (55.5 percent of his starts) and three goals two other times.
“We seem to win when he’s in,” Boudreau said before the Wild beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 Sunday night. “At the same time [Kuemper’s] going to have to get better. There is no doubt about it that he has been shaky. We can’t afford every game to have three, four, five goals scored against us when he’s in the net.”
Still, Boudreau said: “I believe in him. He is good in practice. He can make the great save. He has to make the one save, that when the players don’t play well in front of him, he has to make that big save. And recently it hasn’t been there.”
But midgame cracks and goals in bunches have been a staple of Kuemper’s career.
In 81 career starts, Kuemper has allowed four or more goals 22 times (27.1 percent), plus once in 12 relief appearances. He has allowed 18 goals in the past five games.
To put that in perspective, in 138 career starts since joining the Wild two years ago, Devan Dubnyk has allowed four or more goals 13 times (9.4 percent), including only three times in 33 starts this season.
Boudreau was asked if it’s just mental with Kuemper.
“I hope that’s not the case, because everything I’ve read about good goalies is they have to let it go,” Boudreau said. “[Saturday] night he makes a big save with a minute and a half to go. And the game before he was in, in L.A., he was making big saves at the end of the game to keep us in it. We need that consistency throughout the game.”
Hunters and the hunted
Even though the Wild has put itself in good position to vie for the Central Division title, Boudreau reminded: “It’s Game 41. It’s better to be the hunted than the hunter. It means we’re in good position.”
But Boudreau also reminded the Blackhawks are a team with star power and three Stanley Cups in seven years.
“I have to believe the Hawks are still the ones being hunted,” Boudreau said. “They are the ones with the pedigree. They are the ones that have been in that spot all year. We are just out there working as hard as we can.”
All Albert all the time
Veteran play-by-play man Kenny Albert, the radio voice of the New York Rangers and national broadcaster for NBC Sports Network and Fox, has become an expert on the Wild.
Sunday, Albert called his third Wild game in eight days in his third city — in Anaheim, in St. Paul against the Canadiens and in Chicago.
In between, he called a Boston Bruins at St. Louis Blues game, a New York Knicks at Philadelphia 76ers NBA game and back-to-back Rangers games at home against Toronto and in Montreal.
Monday, he finally gets to go home to his family in New Jersey.
“I am used to it,” said Albert, who in October during a 10-day stretch called the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB.
“The last two weeks have been absolutely crazy,” Albert said. “I kind of felt like I was on auto pilot all week. Wake up early, head to the airport, fly, do a lot of work on the plane, go to the hotel or morning skate, game, same thing the next day for an entire week.
“But I love it, and I love the variety.”