GLENDALE, Ariz. – Puck after puck flew toward the Coyotes’ net, a flurry of pressure by the Wild late in the second period Sunday that had the home team clinging to a one-goal lead.
But none of the shots actually ended up behind Arizona goalie Darcy Kuemper.
It was a sequence that explained why the Wild fell 4-0 to the Coyotes at Gila River Arena, an outcome that felt like a knockout jab to the Wild’s already slim playoff hopes.
The poor execution also reflected a theme of the season — how much trouble the Wild has had putting the puck in the net.
“They’re trying their best,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s just not working.”
The Wild has scored one goal or been shut out in four of its past six games. Of the nine tallies it’s registered over the past seven, only three have come at even strength.
And what made the misses in the second period Sunday sting even more was the Coyotes answered back with a goal at 19:17 of the period to go up 2-0.
“We go into the game knowing that we have to keep it simple, knowing that we have to outwork the other team,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “We’ve outworked the other team. We just haven’t been able to score.”
Keep in mind this is squad missing offensive defenseman Matt Dumba, a top-six center in captain Mikko Koivu and leading scorer Zach Parise — all because of injury. Effort aside, the results do appear indicative of a shorthanded lineup.
“It is disappointing,” Suter said. “But we got some guys out. Not making excuses, but it’s a grind.”
The consequences of slipping up against the Coyotes were clear on players’ faces after the game, with the disappointment palpable in the visiting locker room, but the Wild was still pinning significance on the final week of the regular season. Its 81 points are four shy of the Avalanche for the second wild-card seed in the Western Conference with three games left. Arizona is a point behind Colorado.
“We can still win our last three [games] and see what happens,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “There’s no reason to throw the towel in right now. If we keep playing like that and keep working, we’ll start with Winnipeg [Tuesday] and see where we go from there. We have to keep working.”
Sunday was “just another game” in Kuemper’s eyes even though his 36-save shutout delivered a crushing blow to his former team’s playoff ambitions.
“To be honest, I only know like five or six guys left,” Kuemper said. “They’ve had a lot of turnover. Not many friends left over there.”
A sixth-round draft pick by the Wild in 2009, Kuemper has thrived in his first full-length season with the Coyotes.
He took over the starter duties in December after Antti Raanta went down with a lower-body injury, and Kuemper has responded to the challenge — going 21-8-6 since the calendar flipped to 2019. His five shutouts are a career high, and Kuemper hasn’t allowed an even-strength goal in his past 188 minutes, 14 seconds of action.
“A lot of guys are feeding off of him,” Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. “… Kuemps is the heartbeat of our team.”
Parise sat out a fourth straight game with a lower-body injury that Boudreau called “significant” Sunday. It’s unclear when Parise could play next, but Boudreau said the team is hopeful he returns before the season ends.