SUNRISE, FLA. – With 16 games left and three sets of back-to-backs, there’s little doubt Darcy Kuemper will see a few more starts for the Wild before the playoffs begin.
The question is whether he sees those starts through without Devan Dubnyk having to come in for cleanup duty.
For the second time in 10 days, the Wild’s backup goalie got the heave from Bruce Boudreau, this time — unusually — in a tie game against the Florida Panthers to start the third period.
And, for the second time in as many relief appearances, Dubnyk backstopped the Wild to victory. In an entertaining game full of crazy twists and windy turns that Boudreau said could make a coach’s heart stop, the Wild triumphed 7-4, ending its modest two-game losing streak.
“We’ve set the standard pretty high when it feels like panic sets in when we lose two games in a row,” said Zach Parise, who broke a 4-4 tie with 5 minutes, 7 seconds left.
In Winnipeg — a 6-5 win on Feb. 28 — Boudreau pulled Kuemper after the Jets stormed back to tie the score because he felt Kuemper was too rattled to complete the contest. Thursday, with the Wild playing with energy and relentlessness despite a bad loss the night before, Boudreau didn’t want to waste a strong performance with the Wild about to enter the barns of powerhouses Chicago and Washington.
“I wanted to get this win as bad any other,” Boudreau said. “My thought was if this was the World Series or something, you’ve got your best pitcher in the bullpen, you’re going to use him. … I wanted our best goalie in at that time.”
Boudreau insisted the decision in a 3-3 game had nothing to do with a poor tying goal Kuemper surrendered to Jaromir Jagr a mere 61 seconds after the Wild rallied to take a 3-2 lead on goals by Eric Staal and Jason Pominville 2:01 apart.
But, it couldn’t have helped.
“You feel bad for Kuemps,” Parise said. “I thought he made some good saves.”
Dubnyk’s initiation didn’t go as planned when he committed a puck-handling gaffe that resulted in Aleksander Barkov’s go-ahead goal into a wide-open net 2:57 into the third.
But slumping Charlie Coyle, who followed a strong game at Tampa with another solid game at Florida, flew into the offensive zone, dropped a pass to Marco Scandella and Staal potted the rebound for his 21st goal and second of the game.
The Wild fired a season-high 46 shots and got contributions up and down the lineup from three revamped lines. Staal had three points, Coyle, Parise, Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker and Jonas Brodin two each.
“If they work like that all the time, they’ll stay together like that all the time,” said Boudreau, who’s juggling lines incessantly lately.
The Wild’s forecheck was fantastic, and the Wild was rewarded on all its goals after scoring five times in the previous four games.
Zucker tipped a Brodin shot for the Wild to open the scoring for only the second time in the past eight games. Staal’s first goal came after he crashed the net to receive Nino Niederreiter’s pass. A charging Pominville roofed a rebound after a mad scramble. Parise’s winner came when he pounced on a Brodin rebound sitting in the blue paint behind goalie James Reimer.
Granlund and Coyle scored empty-netters. Dubnyk made 11 saves and matched his career high with 36 wins. It was a solid bounceback after the loss in Tampa that had Boudreau voicing concern but changing his tune Friday morning, reminding his team that, “We’re still first place in the whole Western Conference, so it’s not like the world is falling.”
The Wild broke out of the “mini-slump” by moving three points up on Chicago, which has lost two in a row, heading into Sunday morning’s showdown on NBC at the United Center.
“Our group overall, we’re a pretty positive group,” Pominville said. “We keep our composure, don’t get rattled about many things. We kept our cool.”