by: Craig D. Schroepfer @CDSWCCO
The month of December was not kind to the Minnesota Wild.READ MORE: Baxter Police Seek Help Finding Missing Person Jessie Eue
During the month the Wild went 4-5-3 and found themselves ranked 11 out of 14 teams in the Western Conference, and seven points out of a playoff spot.
Two of those five losses in December came at home in overtime against Nashville and Winnipeg, both of whom Minnesota is chasing for a playoff spot.
But with the calendar turning over to 2015 it signals time for a fresh start. And that’s what the Wild got Friday night at Xcel Energy Center, defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1.
Scoring for Minnesota last night were Kyle Brodziak, Jared Spurgeon and Mikko Koivu, with Spurgeon’s goal being the game winner.
On the other end of the ice, Darcy Kuemper turned away 34 of the 35 shots he faced and played his best game at home in over a month.
“It’s been a tough little stretch there over the last month,” Kuemper said after the game. “We got a little bit of confidence back and it showed tonight with our game. We got three goals and did a great job of defending.”
For Kuemper, it was his first home game since Dec. 23 and he looked like a new man on the ice last night.
“I feel like I’m in a better place mentally right now. It was a pretty tough stretch and it does wear on you and your confidence does start to sag a bit,” Kuemper said.
Kuemper got off to a good start last night, and a lot of it had to do with his opponent in goal for the Maple Leafs, Jonathan Bernier.
“I felt pretty good and wanted to give the team a chance,” Kuemper said. “I saw Bernier make a few big saves early and knew it would be tough for us to get a few goals.”READ MORE: COVID In Minnesota: 2,424 Cases, 3 Deaths Reported Friday
No one was happier to see Kuemper back on top of his game than head coach Mike Yeo.
“I thought tonight was a very good rebound game by Kuemper,” Yeo said. “When he’s on top of his game it’s not difficult to tell. He tracks and reads the play well. When he does that he comes out to challenge the shooter and plays big in net.”
The win over Toronto is the type of game the Wild need to play on a consistent basis if they are to be successful, something that wasn’t lost in the locker room last night.
“That was the key to victory, playing well in every zone,” Mikko Koivu said after the game. “I thought our defensive effort was huge and that’s our identity. I believe we are a tough team to play against when we are on top of our game.”
Looking back to last season at this time the Wild were 20-17-5 going into 2014, and had lost six straight to end the calendar year.
Minnesota was close to falling out of the playoff picture before defeating the Buffalo Sabres in their first game in 2014. That win helped the Wild get back on track which eventually led to a playoff berth.
After last night’s win over Toronto, the Wild are 18-14-4.
The difference is that Minnesota has played six fewer games so far this season compared to last year at this time.
There is still plenty of time for the Wild to get things in order and make a push for a playoff spot for the third year in a row. Beating Toronto is a start, but following that up with a win over Dallas Saturday will go a long way.
Seeing how things played out for the Minnesota Wild over the last month, and where they are compared to last year, I think Adam Duritz of Counting Crows said it best.MORE NEWS: Man Fatally Shot On Downtown St. Paul LRT Platform; 2 Others Killed In Separate Shootings
“It’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.”