Coyotes keep playoff hopes intact behind Darcy Kuemper’s shutout

Mar 31, 2019, 6:01 PM | Updated: 6:46 pm

Arizona Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper, left, celebrates a shutout win against the Minnesota Wild...

Arizona Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper, left, celebrates a shutout win against the Minnesota Wild with Coyotes center Nick Cousins, right, as time expires in the third period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Wild 4-0. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Darcy Kuemper has done a lot for the Coyotes this season.

For one, he’s played quite a bit more games than anyone would’ve expected when the year started. With Antti Raanta as the starter and Kuemper as the backup, an injury to the No. 1 eventually pushed Kuemper into the starter’s role. Most recently, he’s made 20 consecutive starts, tied for the third-longest such streak in franchise history.

“I don’t see a fatigue. Obviously I don’t want to see a fatigue,” Tocchet said. “I don’t even ask him if he’s playing. He knows he’s playing. He’s carrying the torch for us.”

On Sunday, in what could be described as a must-win game, the netminder made 39 saves for his fifth shutout of the season (now a career high). The Coyotes beat Minnesota, 4-0. Arizona is now just one point back of a playoff spot, occupied by the Colorado Avalanche.

“The guys did a great job in front of me. They defended so hard,” Kuemper said. “I think it was just a group effort. It always takes a full team to get the shutout and we had everyone tonight.”

It was the second home game in a row in which Kuemper earned a shutout. The Coyotes also beat the Blackhawks 1-0 last Tuesday.

Of course, Sunday’s game was critical.

The Coyotes didn’t win what many called their biggest game since 2012 on Friday when they fell in the shootout in Colorado. But they still earned a much-needed point and then came back home on Sunday to beat the Wild.

The Wild are now three points back of Arizona and four back of Colorado. The Avalanche have four games left, and the Wild and Coyotes have three to go.

Sunday’s game was a sellout crowd with standing room only tickets sold.

“It’s a lot of fun. As the year’s gone on — I think we were talking — there’s been more and more fans showing up, so it’s been a lot of fun. Just have everyone behind us and all the noise, the crowd, it’s great.

“It gives us a little extra, that extra boost when you hear the fans cheering for you.”

Arizona’s win Sunday was fueled by Kuemper, a first-period goal by Alex Galchenyuk — his team-leading 18th of the season — and a second-period goal by Josh Archibald. The Coyotes went on to score two empty-netters from Archibald and Vinnie Hinostroza. The Wild outshot the Coyotes, 39-23.

“I thought we controlled the game pretty well,” Galchenyuk said. “Obviously getting on the board first and then we kind of played solid defense. [Archibald] chipped in with two big goals and ‘Kuemps’ shut the door, so it was huge for us.”

Kuemper made big saves when it mattered, but the defense in front of him helped to shut down the Wild and those 39 shots on goal.

“I give a lot of players a lot of credit,” Tocchet said. “I thought we defended well. I thought we defended well in Colorado. That’s the one thing we’ve done, this team, all year. We’ve had our moments, but I tell you, this team defends. That’s what I’m most proud about them. And ‘Kuemps’ deserves a lot of it.

“Let’s face it. When we’re out of position, he’s there for us. But we do a good job of defending, and then some timely goals.”

Arizona’s playoff race foe, Colorado, was idle Sunday but plays Monday at St. Louis.

Tocchet was asked whether he’ll be watching that game Monday between the Avalanche and Blues.

“Well, [St. Louis head coach] Craig Berube’s one of my best friends,” Tocchet said. “If he still wants to be my best friend…”

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