WINNIPEG – Jason Zucker scored the fastest goal in Wild history Sunday night, and it was a beauty. But that elation 10 seconds in after Zucker stick-handed and dipsy-doodled around a Winnipeg Jets defenseman to break Justin Fontaine’s team record by two seconds and Mikko Koivu’s road record by 14 seconds quickly deteriorated.
The game was tied 72 seconds later. The Wild was trailing two minutes after that, and next thing you knew, the Wild was forced to try to mount a four-goal comeback. Ultimately, the Wild fell short by a 5-4 score in the latest, yet most unorthodox, one-goal game between the two division rivals.
Koivu and Fontaine scored 38 seconds apart in the second period to give the Wild life and Zach Parise’s relentless wraparound goal with 9:19 left gave the Wild flashbacks to its incredible third-period comeback in Colorado on opening night.
But, as Zucker said afterward, “Pretty close, but not enough tonight.”
Eleven of the past 13 meetings between the Wild and Jets have been determined by one goal. With the Wild playing for the second time in 24 hours, backup goalie Darcy Kuemper’s start lasted less than 21 minutes.
Kuemper, who had a strong debut in Los Angeles nine nights earlier, gave up four goals on 18 shots, the last one 51 seconds into the second period when he was late to track a Drew Stafford shot from atop the right circle. Devan Dubnyk, coming off a shutout Saturday night, replaced Kuemper and gave up a goal on the first shot he saw also to Stafford.
That ended up being the game-winner and a charged loss to Dubnyk despite a quality performance on a sore knee.
“I need to be better obviously. That wasn’t good enough,” Kuemper said.
Coach Mike Yeo opted not to pull Kuemper during a three-goal first period because he didn’t feel it was his fault. Winnipeg’s first goal caromed in off Bryan Little’s helmet and Winnipeg’s second goal by Andrew Ladd, as Zucker described it, “hits three skates and goes backdoor for a tap-in.”
That goal, which came moments after Jason Pominville swung and missed at a Parise rebound, was challenged by Yeo. He believed Blake Wheeler was offside, but the linesmen reviewed it and determined Wheeler was onside.
Yes, he preceded the puck into the zone, but since he had possession and was in control of the puck, that’s permissible.
Nicolaj Ehlers made it 3-1 off a 2-on-1 after a Jared Spurgeon (nightmarish minus-5) foul-up. At that point, Parise, Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Ryan Suter and Spurgeon were all minus-3.
“It felt like they were coming at us 100 miles per hour in the neutral zone and we were flat-footed a lot,” Parise said.
But the Wild rallied and seemed destined to at least force overtime when Parise brushed off a punch and high-stick from Mark Stuart, stripped Jacob Trouba of the puck behind the net and scored off a wraparound that banked in off Stuart’s skate.
“It’s too bad,” Dubnyk said of the loss. “We’re just a group that does that. We stay in every single game. We’re not willing to throw games away or give up on two points. We’ve been rewarded a lot of times for that effort, and unfortunately we didn’t tonight.”