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Wild 3, Devils 2: Kahkonen earns first NHL win

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Kaapo Kahkonen became just the sixth goaltender in franchise history to earn a win in his NHL debut Tuesday night.

Minnesota Wild v New Jersey Devils Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

It was a night of firsts for the Minnesota Wild. They were able to hold onto a third-period lead for the first time on the three-game road swing and, more importantly, rookie goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen earned his first career win in his first NHL start.

The Wild and New Jersey Devils traded goals back and forth in the first two periods, but earned their victory in the third period by scoring the lone goal of the frame to secure a 3-2 win at the Prudential Center.

The scoring started seconds into the first power play of the night, as Ryan Suter sent a simple wrist shot to the net, setting up an odd deflection by Zach Parise to beat Devils goalie Louis Domingue for the first goal of the game. Parise set a good screen racing to the net after Mikko Koivu won the draw to Kevin Fiala, who gave a bump pass to the shooter, Suter. With the goal, Parise become the first member of the Wild to join the double-digit club in goals. He now has five goals in his last six games.

Kevin Fiala tallied the first assist on Suter’s PPG to stretch his point streak to three games. The Swiss forward owns 10 points in the last 12 contests.

The Devils countered back later in the period after a Wayne Simmonds high stick was missed in the neutral zone. Simmonds then brought the put into the zone, drawing Carson Soucy with him, creating space for a trailing Jesper Boqvist. The Devils forward, playing in his 10th NHL game, wristed a shot on net that eventually ping-ponged through Kahkonen. The goal marks the first of Boquvist’s career and the first goal allowed for Kahkonen. How many times has that happened?!

Following the goal, a coach’s challenge came from Wild bench boss Bruce Boudreau, challenging the high stick. The refs on the ice stated that because the high stick occurred in the neutral zone, and not the offensive zone, that the goal cannot be reversed. This lead to some controversy and a heated Minnesota Wild bench. Micheal Russo of the Athletic dug out the rulebook and proved the goal should have been reversed. The refs on the ice, as well as the officials in Toronto, clearly got this one wrong.

Later in the second period, Minnesota recaptured the lead as Joel Eriksson Ek forced a Damon Severson turnover in the neutral zone to create an odd-man rush. The turnover lead to a breakaway of sorts for Jordan Greenway. The big forward made a quick backhand-to-forehand move just before roofing the puck up and over Domingue for his third goal of the season. That makes it two goals for Greenway in the past four games and Eriksson Ek’s third helper in five games.

The lead didn't last long for the Wild again. Three and a half minutes after Greenway put the Wild up 2-1, the Devils answered back. This time with a power-play goal of their own. A streaking Taylor Hall received a pass and quickly dished it across the ice to Kyle Palmieri for an easy backdoor tap-in after beating Jonas Brodin to the far post to score his team-leading ninth goal of the season.

For the third time in the game, the Wild gained a one-goal lead. Three minutes into the final frame, Ryan Suter sent a mildly comforting wrister from a bad angle on net. Suter beat the Devils’ net minder mano-a-mano, sneaking his wrister short side to beat Domingue for a third time on his glove side. If you look at the replay, Suter looks as if he wasn’t even putting much of an effort into the shot. The assists on the goal came from Ryan Hartman and Ryan Donato, making it another third-period goal from the fourth line.

With his third goal of the season, Suter added to his assist on the first goal of the game, making it another two-point night. The Wild defenseman has recorded three multi-point contests in the last four games. He has 16 points in 25 games this season, ranking second on the team in scoring.

Surprisingly, the Wild did not continue the trend of the road trip. They did not allow a late third-period goal to force overtime. Minnesota was able to hang on and help their goaltender earn his first career NHL win in his first career start!

With the win, the Wild improved to 10-11-4 through the first 25 games.

Answers to our Burning Questions

1. How does Kahkonen play in his debut?

He played great! He looked a little timid early, but who wouldn’t be nervous in their first NHL start? After the first, he seemed to settle in and really find his game. The Devils did not have many high-danger chances, but Kahkonen came up big when he needed to and even robbed a few Devils forwards, including a former Hart Trophy winner.

The 23-year-old Finnish netminder ended the game with 32 saves on 34 shots. Better yet, the two goals he allowed were both high-danger shots with a high probability of finding the net. One was a weird redirection coming from a shot in the slot and the other was a back door tap in that few goalies in the league could have stopped.

He becomes only the sixth Minnesota goaltender to earn a win in his NHL debut, joining Matt Hackett, Anton Khudobin, Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding and Derek Gustafson.

2. How do the Wild play in the second of back-to-back games?

They played a good game on the road. It helped that they got dealt the mightily struggling New Jersey Devils. On the first two occasions they played a back-to-back this season, they lost the second game both times, scoring a combined three goals. This time around, they doubled the total. Make that six goals and a win for the fist time this season in the second game of a back-to-back!

3. Will Ryan Donato start a scoring streak?

Kind of. He didn’t score, but he did get an assist on the eventual Ryan Suter game-winner. With the tally on Suter’s goal, it marks his second helper in as many games. He’s on his first point streak of the season with a goal and an assist in a 24-hour span.

He came close to scoring in the first period. He released a strong snapshot from the slot, only to be flashed by the leather of Louis Domingue’s glove. This was his only shot on goal all game, concerning no doubt. Last season with the Wild, he had 64 shots in 22 games for an average of 2.9 shots per game. This season, Donato has 28 shots in 22 games for significant drop to 1.27 shots per game. Keep in mind, he averaged six more minutes of ice time last season compared to this season. Hopefully, with a couple of points in the last two games his confidence returns and he regains his form of last season.

The Wild are back in action at home in St. Paul after Thanksgiving as they host the Ottawa Senators on Friday at 3:00 p.m. CT.