NASHVILLE – Darcy Kuemper was in an unenviable spot Thursday night against the Nashville Predators.
1) There’d be inevitable rust for the young goalie making his first start since Jan. 6. 2) Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter and Thomas Vanek, who have scored 34 percent of the Wild’s goals, were hanging in the press box with goalie Devan Dubnyk. 3) With a playoff berth clinched, there could be a natural tendency for teammates to stay out of shot-blocking lanes and dodge checks so they’d avoid injury before next week’s playoffs.
It looked like it would be a long night for Kuemper when he had allowed two goals on five shots 10½ minutes into the game, but Kuemper settled down and so did the Wild as it stormed back with four unanswered goals for a 4-2 victory and its place in the history books.
“I’m happy with the way our guys played in front of him to give him that chance, but when we needed him most, he was at his best,” coach Mike Yeo said of Kuemper, who stopped the final 29 shots he faced after giving up one goal that skipped off the ice, another through traffic.
With its 12th consecutive road victory, the Wild tied the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings for longest road winning streak in NHL history. If the Wild closes the season with a victory Saturday in St. Louis, the Wild will own the NHL record.
“It would be something special for sure,” Yeo said.
Jason Pominville scored the winning goal with 2 minutes, 3 seconds left. He dug the puck out for a Mikael Granlund faceoff win, then blasted a Jared Spurgeon pass from between the circles for his 18th goal.
The rally started late in the second period when Jason Zucker hit the 20-goal mark and Marco Scandella hit the 10-goal mark 31 seconds apart.
“How about the guys sticking with it?” Kuemper said after making 32 saves for his first victory since Jan. 2. “We go down 2-nothing … but they kept battling for me.”
Zucker later added an empty-netter for his 21st goal and third in two games since returning from a broken collarbone. Mikko Koivu, the Wild’s career leading scorer, collected his 500th point.
“Depth,” Pominville said of the comeback despite three top scorers getting the night off. “It’s crazy how many guys we have that can step up on any given night.”
With the victory, the Wild secured at least the top wild-card spot. It can finish third in the Central if it beats the Blues and Chicago loses in regulation at Colorado on Saturday.
Yeo was proud of his team, especially for hitting the 100-point mark for the second time in franchise history, something the Wild missed by losing last year’s finale to Nashville.
“When you get over the 100-point plateau, that’s a mark of a really good hockey team,” Yeo said.
Trailing 2-0, the Wild got its first power-play goal on the road since Feb. 1 from Zucker, ending a 13-game, 0-for-22 drought. Scandella’s goal was his first since Dec. 29, stopping a 32-game drought for the defenseman who once led all NHL defensemen with 0.3 goals per game.
Scandella’s goal was sensational. After staying onside, Scandella reached back for Matt Cooke’s pass at the top of the right circle and turned counterclockwise to spin away from Rookie of the Year contender Filip Forsberg. In one motion, Scandella whipped a shot over Rinne’s right shoulder just inside the far post before executing one heck of a fist-pumping celebration.
“It’s definitely a move when you’re at the park trying to have a little fun,” Scandella said.
On Feb. 26, the Predators were 26-3-1 at home. The Wild has won three times in Nashville since. Player after player praised a smiling Kuemper.
“I was feeling good about my game,” he said. “I’ve been working on it hard and learning lots and just to get that reassurance in actual game action, it feels really good to be a part of it again.”