The loss in Columbus was one of those games the Wild gave away. Friday's game against Toronto, the Wild stole one right back. Make that Darcy Kuemper stole one right back. Like two staff aces dueling it out on the mound, both goalies Kuemper and Jonathan Bernier matched save for save as the Wild played a sound defensively structured game to edge the Maple Leafs 3-1.
After a scoreless first period in which the Leafs peppered Kuemper with 14 shots, Kyle Brodziak would finally break through Bernier's magnificent start. The Wild had a number of good chances leading up to the Brodziak goal that Bernier just was too tough to beat. Actually right before the Wild took the lead, it looked like Toronto was going to go up 1-0, but after the officials got together and talked it over, they ruled it a no-goal because of goaltender interference.
Let's talk about that goal. If you read Ger's piece about Nino Niederreiter today, you would have known how much Nino's linemates have let him down by not producing. His plus/minus has been used to point at the way he's defending. Tonight, he was all over the ice and winning puck battles. No more was that apparent than his puck play in the neutral zone to chip the puck ahead to Charlie Coyle. Coyle and Brodziak were in on a 2-on-1. Coyle sent the puck to the wide side of Bernier where Brodziak was setting up shop and was able to deflect it in off his skate while attempting to stop.
Toronto was able to tie it up on a 5-on-3, two-man advantage after Jared Spurgeon was hooked for slashing and Ryan Suter was given a minor for Delay of Game. Cody Franson let go a one-time slapper that found the net behind Kuemper.
Minnesota was able to kill of the remainder of the power play and got right back to work. Coyle was able to find Jared Spurgeon with speed down the right side and Spurgeon unleashed a Howitzer from the right faceoff dot past Bernier for the 2-1 lead. Daniel Winnik was called for slashing and the Wild were on just their second power play of the game. The puck found the left half-wall after a Ryan Suter shot was stopped by Bernier. Thomas Vanek corralled the puck and sent a no-look pass to Mikko Koivu whose falling down one-time slapper beat Bernier upstairs.
The Wild didn't give up much the rest of the way as they played a really strong structured defensive game. They were worried about getting beat in the transition game and guys like Kessel and James van Reimsdyk cherry-picking for the home-run pass. So in response they played a third forwars high all night and made it really tough for Toronto to come through the neutral zone with speed and numbers. Minnesota was out-shot 35-29 and with the team playing for the counter-punch most of the game, it felt almost reminiscent of Jacques Lemaire's system. But that was the kind of game they needed to play to protect their still rebounding young goaltender. And not much more can be said of Kuemper's game Friday. He was aggressive and challenged every shooter he could. He had some very big game-saving type saves.
Much was made of Erik Haula prior to Friday night's match-up as he had been healthy scratch in the last three games and Head Coach Mike Yeo made unsolicited comments about his conditioning. Haula was none to pleased with being scratched and in the pre-game scrums told reporters that he was, "Pissed off about not being out there." He played Friday, like he was pissed and trying to prove to his coach that he took being challenged seriously. You noticed he was on the ice all night long.He won 69 percent of his face offs and if not for a drop pass at the Toronto blue line that the Maple Leafs were able to gather in, I would say he played and almost flawless game.
Tyler Graovac probably only got about as far as Elko New Market when he was officially reassign to Iowa and then immediately recalled upon the team learning of Brett Sutter's falling ill. Graovac saw only six and a half minutes of ice time, but played another decent game. While it wasn't as impressive as his game in Columbus, it was bad either.
The Wild have to hurry up and catch a flight to Big D to take on the Dallas Stars Saturday night. Minnesota is 3-0 against the Stars this season and have out-scored them 11-6 in those games. Kuemper has been in all three of those wins, but we'll likely see Niklas Backstrom in between the pipes with it being the second game of a back-to-back.