ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Wild rookie goaltender Matt Hackett said he was nervous in making his first career start at the Xcel Energy Center.
His coach didn’t see the nerves.
Hackett made 34 saves, but Minnesota lost 2-0 to the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday.
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Colorado scored on its third shot of the game just 1:42 into the game and added another score on a power play at 8:25 of the first, with Avalanche forward Jamie McGinn scoring both goals on rebound chances.
“I was a little nervous,” Hackett said. “First time playing in this building, I started off a little slow. But I think after that I got more relaxed and played my own game.”
The Wild couldn’t get anything past Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov and lost for the fourth time in five games. They were shutout in back-to-back games at home for the first time since Jan. 20 and Feb. 8, 2002. They’ve been shutout in two straight games and three of the past four, and remain in 12th place in the Western Conference, seven points out of the final playoff spot.
The Avalanche are now tied for ninth and Minnesota travels for a two-game road trip this week, starting with a game Tuesday at Colorado to finish a home-and-home series.
In each of their past five games, the Wild have allowed a goal within the first 2 minutes, 33 seconds. They’ve allowed the first goal in each of the past seven games.
“Tough start and then we don’t seem to have the ability right now to bounce back from that,” coach Mike Yeo said. “Too many tough starts like this. Five games, that early in a game, not good enough on our part.”
But Yeo didn’t believe Hackett’s first home start, and second overall, played a part in the early struggles.
Hackett, 21, had played five NHL games heading into Sunday, but in unconventional fashion.
A third-round draft choice by the Wild in 2009, Hackett had never played on Minnesota’s home ice. Of his first five games, four were relief appearances.
“He didn’t show nerves,” Yeo said. “He had no chance on the goals. I thought he played great tonight. I thought he was really good.”
Hackett was recalled from the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League on Friday for the fourth time this season after Niklas Backstrom was declared out two to four weeks with a strained groin.
The 6-foot-2, 170-pound netminder had made three perfect relief appearances in his first five games, including Friday when he entered in the third period at Detroit in place of starter Josh Harding and made six saves in 15 minutes in a 6-0 loss. In six NHL games this season, Hackett is 2-1-0 with a .971 save percentage (134 saves, 138 shots faced) and 0.96 goals against average.
In his NHL debut, he came off the bench and stopped all 34 shots he faced in a win at San Jose. Two days later, he made his first career start and stopped 42 of the 44 shots he faced in a win at Los Angeles. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Hackett set an NHL record for the longest shutout streak to start a career by going 102:48 before he had allowed a goal.
Just six games into his career, he looks the part of an NHL goaltender.
“He was great,” Wild defenseman Tom Gilbert said about Hackett’s performance Sunday. “He made that first save every time, swallowed up a lot of shots, moved the puck well. He played great for us. It was just our start that hurt us.”
On Sunday, Colorado scored its first goal just three shots into the game and had two goals in its first nine shots. The Avalanche had 17 shots in the first period alone.
Meanwhile, Hackett stopped the final 27 shots he faced.
“Yeah, they threw everything at the net and got a lot of shots in the first period,” Hackett said. “It helped me get focused and get in the game right away. So, that was nice for me.”
Hackett might get more of a chance at proving himself in the NHL. If Backstrom returns at the high end or even later than his recovery timetable, it could mean he might miss the rest of the season. Also, Harding is an unrestricted free agent after the season and Hackett could prove his worth to stay on as Backstrom’s backup next season.
And by then, he’ll have any nervousness out of his system.