The Arizona Coyotes didn’t quite “ace” what’s arguably the biggest regular season weekend in franchise history,* but they deserve at least a B+.
By that analogy, maybe Darcy Kuemper is the overachieving student who’s carry a ragtag group project to a decent grade? Kuemper continued his brilliant 2019 on Sunday, pitching a 39-save shutout as the Coyotes blanked the Minnesota Wild 4-0 in a game that was huge for both teams.
This comes two days after a game against the Colorado Avalanche that inspired a mixture of emotions.
- The letdown of falling behind 2-0.
- Pride in being resilient once again this season, as Arizona managed to tie things up 2-2, sending the game beyond regulation.
- Fear and tension, as while the Coyotes salvaged a point on Friday, the Avalanche increased their lead for the final West seed by a point, while both teams creeped one game closer to the end of the season.
As you can see from the Push for the Playoffs, the Wild technically needed this game even more than the Coyotes, but that’s really just a matter of semantics, as both teams really, really needed to win on Sunday.
So, the good news is that the Coyotes managed three out of a possible four points during this enormous weekend.* The bad news is that it might not matter, as Colorado was greatly emboldened by getting that 3-2 shootout win; even after today’s win, the Avalanche have more points (85 to Arizona’s 84) and more games remaining (four left for the Avs, three for the Coyotes).
* – It’s at least in the top … what, two? Three? Pipe up, Coyotes historians.
For all we know, the Coyotes might need some help, even if they win out.
But the Wild would need a small sports miracle for this to work out. It may help to see the three teams’ spot in the standings really quickly (note: a more detailed rundown of both conference playoff races will come later Sunday night):
WC 1: Avalanche: 85 points in 78 GP, 34 ROW
Coyotes: 84 points in 79 GP, 34 ROW
Wild: 81 points in 79 GP, 35 ROW
The Wild would max out at 87 points if they won all three of their games, which would already be a tough haul considering they’re closing things out against the Jets, Bruins, and Stars. Ultimately, Minnesota finishing ahead of both Colorado and Arizona is pretty tough to imagine, and the players know it.
Ouch but … yeah, those are understandable reactions.
Just to circle back, though: Sunday stands out as one of the most remarkable performances by Kuemper, and he’s been an absolute rock for the Coyotes since the calendar turned to 2019. This is Kuemper’s second shutout in his last three games (just two goals allowed overall in three games), and it’s not just about brilliant outcomes, as he’s been consistent. Kuemper got those two shutouts, allowed one goal three times, gave up two goals three times, and allowed three goals twice in his last 10 games.
Basically, Kuemper’s given the Coyotes a chance to win all of their last 10 games, and he’s stolen a few of those. If you handed out a Post-New-Year’s-MVP, he’d give Nikita Kucherov and others a run for their money.
Sadly, most people will forget about Kuemper’s run – and the Coyotes’ hard work in general – if they fail to make the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The odds remain against Arizona after this weekend, but credit the Coyotes for keeping the fight alive.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.