Minnesota’s crease conundrum is solved — for now.
On Thursday, head coach Mike Yeo said Josh Harding would start Game 5 for the Wild, and would be backed up by rookie netminder Darcy Kuemper.
That might seem like a fairly ordinary decision, given the Harding-Kuemper combo has been used repeatedly during this series.
But this was anything but ordinary.
In Game 4, Harding — who assumed starting duties when Niklas Backstrom got hurt during warmup prior to Game 1 — left the game after the first period with what appeared to be a leg injury (‘Hawks captain Jonathan Toews landed awkwardly on Harding’s left leg.)
That forced Kuemper, 23, into his playoff debut.
What’s more, the injury to Harding meant Minnesota was without a backup goalie, forcing Backstrom into emergency relief (he was listed as a healthy scratch, but quickly got dressed and sat on the bench.)
During Thursday’s gameday skate, it seemed unclear who would get the nod for Game 5.
Mike Russo of the Minnesota Star-Tribune reported both Harding and Backstrom didn’t “look good” in stopping shots, and that Yeo was having mini-meetings all over the ice, often involving goalie coach Bob Mason.
The Wild and ‘Hawks get things underway tonight (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) at the United Center.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will head back home with a split of their second-round series with the rival Washington Capitals.
Former Capitals forward Eric Fehr came back to burn his hold team, as he scored with under five minutes remaining in regulation to help lift the Penguins over Washington with a 2-1 victory in an eventful Game 2 on Saturday. Evgeni Malkin threw the puck toward the net and Fehr was able to re-direct it by Braden Holtby.
Oh, this was an eventful game, indeed.
It started early in the first period with Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik catching Penguins blue liner Olli Maatta with a late and high hit that warranted — at least for now — only a minor penalty for interference. Maatta, clearly in distress following the hit, didn’t play another shift and saw only 31 seconds of ice time in total, as Pittsburgh was reduced to five defensemen for the remainder of the game.
It continued in the third period. Kris Letang was furious after getting called for a trip on Justin Williams, and even more ticked off when the Capitals tied the game on the ensuing power play.
For two periods, the Capitals couldn’t get much going. Only four of their players had registered a shot on goal through 40 minutes, while the Penguins held the edge in that department and held the lead.
Washington came out with more jump in the third period, testing rookie netminder Matt Murray with 14 shots in the final 20 minutes. But the Penguins got the late goal to break the deadlock.
Kris Letang watched from the penalty box as the Washington Capitals tied up Game 2 with a power play goal in the third period. The Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman was called for tripping after he appeared to muscle Justin Williams off the puck as he entered the zone.
Letang let his disagreement with the call be known at the time, and was furious after the Capitals capitalized on a goal from Marcus Johansson.
The Capitals started the period down a goal and being outshot 28-10 by the Penguins, who need a win to even the series.
Also, it seems this is worth mentioning:
In their quest to even the series, the Pittsburgh Penguins had done a nice job through two periods of suffocating the Washington Capitals, while gaining the lead on a beautiful goal.
Carl Hagelin took advantage of a vast amount of space that opened up in front of the Washington net, finishing off a nice pass from Nick Bonino, burying his shot just under the cross bar on the glove side of Braden Holtby.
Through two periods, the Penguins were outshooting Washington 28-10. Only four Capitals players — Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen — had registered shots on goal.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were without defenseman Olli Maatta for most of the first period of Game 2 after he was on the receiving end of a high, late hit from Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik.
The hit occurred early in the first period, well after Maatta had gotten rid of the puck on a rush into the Washington zone.
Maatta, who nearly fell over as he tried to stand back up, was in obvious distress as he went to the dressing room. Orpik was given a minor penalty for interference on the play.