ST. PAUL – The Minnesota Wild's 23-year-old rookie netminder, Darcy Kuemper, stood strong to the Tampa Bay Lightning's 35 shots, lifting the Wild to a 2-1 win and their fourth straight at Xcel Energy Center Tuesday night.
Playing well against the Lightning in October, Minnesota goaltender Josh Harding has been dealing with health issues, leaving Kuemper to man the crease. Kuemper's 11 straight starts was a new franchise record for consecutive starts by a rookie goalie for the Wild.
“I don’t know how much courage we had going to the net tonight until the end, hence where the goal was scored, standing in front of the net,” head coach Jon Cooper said.
His counterpart, Ben Bishop, stopped 24 of 26 shots in the loss that dropped the Bolts to 1-3-0 on their four-game road swing.
“The guys gave an effort,” Cooper said. “They worked hard, they just didn’t work smart and that was a problem.”
The Lightning saw a streak of 12 consecutive penalty kills snapped in the final minutes of the first frame. Radko Gudas took a boarding call and nine seconds later the Wild converted on the man advantage for a 1-0 lead at 16:04. Jared Spurgeon, who returned to action for the first time since the beginning of January, took the initial shot, which Bishop managed to stop. Nino Niederreiter then banked the rebound in to open scoring.
Niederreiter's marker stood through 40 minutes of play. Then 34 seconds into the third, Dany Heatley doubled Minnesota's lead to 2-0. J.T. Brown attemped a pass to Victor Hedman, which Spurgeon intercepted. Spurgeon then sent the puck toward the slot, which Heatley tapped home.
Tampa Bay cut the score to 2-1 with 6:07 remaining in the game with Valtteri Filppula's 20th goal of the season. Martin St. Louis took a shot from the blue line that bounced off Kuemper's pads. Filppula then was able to backhand the puck past the Wild netminder for the marker. St. Louis picked up an assist on the play and he passed Maurice "Rocket" Richard for 85th on the NHL's all-time scoring list with 966 points.
With a minute-and-a-half to go the Lightning pulled Bishop and added the extra attacker to the ice. In the final seconds the Bolts created a number of chances and commotion in front of Kuemper's cage, including a Tyler Johnson shot that skimmed the goal post, but they ultimately fell by one goal in Minnesota.
“We have to regroup,” Cooper said. “We have two left and the big focus has to be on Toronto Thursday.”
UP NEXT – After nine days on the road Tampa Bay returns home for two games against the Atlantic Division before the Olympic break. The first matchup will be at 7:30 p.m. versus the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Then on Saturday the Bolts play the Detroit Red Wings for the fourth time this season.