Wild goalie Kuemper impressing early on
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Darcy Kuemper was just trying to prepare to back up Minnesota Wild starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom when he watched Backstrom skate off the ice near the end of warm-ups.
Soon after, Kuemper, the 22-year-old with only one NHL game under his belt, heard he was starting minutes before taking the ice against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. He handled the assignment nearly as unflappably as he does traffic in front of the crease.
"Everything was happening so quick there I didn't even have time to get nervous," Kuemper said after the game. "They got one quick but I just tried to not let it get to me and stick in there. Obviously we have a lot of talent in here, so one goal wasn't a big deal. I had a feeling we'd get it back and we potted three tonight. If you do that, you'll win a lot of times."
Kuemper, who received the call-up from the American Hockey League last week when backup goaltender Josh Harding started feeling "off" after a change in his medication for multiple sclerosis, made 29 saves against Detroit to earn his first NHLwin, 3-2 against one of the league's most tradition-rich teams. The Red Wings, who haven't missed the playoffs in 23 years, might not hold the same dominance they did in the 90's and early 2000s, but are team filled with talent and entered Sunday in playoff position.
His first two NHL games haven't been easy situations, but Kuemper has stood strong in each game. Sunday's surprise start came after making his NHL debut on the road against the Vancouver Canucks, a 2-1 loss in which Kuemper made 28 saves. Kuemper owns a 2.02 goals-against average and .934 save percentage, both numbers that lead the Wild.
"We throw Kuemps into a pretty difficult situation and the way he responded was terrific," Wild coach Mike Yeo said after Sunday's game. "That was pretty impressive for me. I thought he was better as the game went on. I thought he was huge in that 4-minute (penalty kill) for us. But the way he was handling the puck too, relieving some of the pressure when they're trying to apply it, I thought he was very good."
Kuemper earned the call-up by posting the second-best goals-against and save percentage in the AHL. He was 10-6-0 with a 1.79 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage with the Houston Aeros of the AHL, getting the promotion over another highly regarded goaltender, Matt Hackett, who had made his NHL debut last season for Minnesota.A game against Detroit seems a long way from the AHL. But Kuemper knew what he was facing Sunday, such as Detroit's talented forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
"They had two goals on me," Kuemper said. "They're great players. They're guys I grew up watching on TV. So to be able to play against them and get a win, what a feeling."
And when it was over, Kuemper couldn't resist an emphatic fist-pump in celebration."I'm usually pretty even-keel, just one fist pump with the glove there, but that first one is pretty exciting," Kuemper said.
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