GLENDALE, Ariz. — A little trash talk goes a long way.
While nobody on the Wild will ever say for sure exactly what words were uttered to former teammate Darcy Kuemper on Saturday night at Gila River Arena, it sure looked like their chirps got to him in a 4-3 comeback win over the Arizona Coyotes.
It started midway through the game with the Wild trailing by a couple of goals. That’s when captain Mikko Koivu scored a big goal to cut into the deficit and then screamed a few choice words in Kuemper’s direction. Jason Zucker got into the action, too, chirping at Kuemper as he slowly returned to his crease.
“I’m a big fan of Kuemps,” Zucker said. “He’s a good friend of mine, and he’s been playing great here for these guys. I’m happy for him. There’s always a little bit of jabbering going on.”
It was clearly a little gamesmanship from both Koivu and Zucker, attempting to burrow their way into the subconscious of their former teammate, and it looks like it worked.
Not only did that sequence breathe life into the Wild, it appeared to plant a seed of doubt inside of Kuemper, as he struggled between the pipes down the stretch.
“Some guys had fun with it,” Jared Spurgeon said. “He was here for so long and everyone has a good relationship with him, so once we get into the game, it’s pretty fun.”
Not for everyone.
“I don’t want to say anything about that,” Koivu said. “To me it’s not fun what happened. It is what it is. I’ll leave it at that.”
Nevertheless, it seemed to spark the Wild to a comeback as they improved to 2-1-0 on the West Coast road trip. They finish up with Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings. Regardless of what happens in that game, the fact the Wild found a way to beat the Coyotes was huge.
Especially considering how the game nearly got away from them early on.
After a few big saves early in the first period, Devan Dubnyk fell victim to his latest fluky goal, as winger Michael Grabner tried to kick a pass to his stick and instead inadvertently redirected the puck slowly over the goal line.
It was a tough break for Dubnyk, though there wasn’t much he could do about the next goal, as defenseman Jakob Chychrun collected the puck all alone in the high slot and unleashed a blast to increase the lead.
While things looked grim for the Wild at that point, Koivu turned the tide in the second period, hammering home a rebound and screaming at Kuemper afterward.
That appeared to rattle Kuemper, and even though winger Vinnie Hinostroza restored the lead with a twisting wrist shot, the game still felt well within reach for the Wild, namely because Kuemper was on the other end.
Sure enough, Kevin Fiala cut into the deficit after Kuemper allowed a big rebound in front, and Matt Dumba blasted home a slap shot shortly after that to tie the game.
That paved the way for the third period, and Ryan Hartman put the finishing touches on the comeback midway through the frame, finishing off a beautiful no-look pass from Spurgeon for the go-ahead goal.
So do the Wild actually think they got in Kuemper’s head?
“I don’t know,” Spurgeon said. “I thought he made some pretty good saves. (Jordan Greenway) had a great screen on Hartsy’s goal. I don’t even think he saw the pass. I thought he played really well.”
Just not well enough.