Myers: What can the Wild expect from goalie Darcy Kuemper in Game 7?
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Goalies are supposed to be strange.
Rookie goalies especially are supposed to be flighty, easily rattled and susceptible to wild swings of momentum.
Darcy Kuemper, the lanky rookie that's within one win of leading the Wild to the second round of the NHL playoffs - for just the second time in franchise history - is none of the above. And yet, somehow, it's working for him.
In an odd playoff series where goaltending has not been the story (unlike most other places in the NHL, where the guy between the pipes for the winning team is most often the key difference-maker) and no goalie has truly stolen a game for their team, it's reasonable to expect a return to form in Game 7. Having watched this team a fair amount this season, it's easy to envision Kuemper being the key to something like a nail-biting 4-2 win (in which the Wild finally get an empty-netter in Denver) or a quiet 5-1 loss to end the season.
Either way, one can expect the well-adjusted kid from Saskatchewan will be having fun.
"I think game seven's going to be a lot like it was tonight," Kuemper said, after a 21-save night upped his record to 3-1 in the playoffs. "I think we can use tonight to our advantage. We already had a game where our backs were against the wall, it was do or die. So I think we just got to carry over the same attitude we had tonight and use this experience come Wednesday."
In Game 5, he had the misfortune of a comically bad turn of events. As a teammate headed for an empty-net goal was held at one blue line, an offside by the Avalanche was missed at the other blue line and a pass from behind the net ended up on the stick of an opponent, and eventually in the net.
Monday night at home, with his team clinging to a 3-2 lead, Kuemper once again found himself as the only goalie on the ice. For the third time in this series, Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov was on the bench (where it's impossible for him to produce his trademark 8-foot rebounds) and Keumper was literally the last line of defense.
Was he rattled, having never been down this road before, knowing that his team's season could be over in a matter of minutes if he slipped up? Not even a little. Unlike a real rookie, he adopted a "been there, done that" attitude.
"Yeah, the last two games were like that," Keumper said. "That's what you expect come playoff time, it's going to be a close game and you got to be ready for that. There aren't any blowouts this time of year. I thought we were due for a few empty-netters and we got them tonight. It was nice."
There certainly are blowouts this time of year, just not in this series, where even a 5-2 win by the Wild was a true nail-biter until less than 90 seconds remained. And not in a series where both goalies have played just well enough to keep all the games close, without hogging the spotlight.
Game 7s are so often a time when one netminder stands on his head, and steals one for the road team. Think Tim Thomas shutting down the Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals to steal the Cup away for the Bruins.
He's never played in a deciding game of this magnitude before, but based on his first four playoff games, what we can expect from Kuemper is more of the same: good positioning, a calm demeanor, saves that look easy and a smile when the final horn blows.