GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Darcy Kuemper has gone from backup to backstop in goal for Arizona this season.
Kuemper made 36 saves for his second straight home shutout and Josh Archibald had two goals as the Coyotes continued a playoff push with a 4-0 victory over Minnesota in the closest thing to a playoff elimination game each team has faced this season.
“We wouldn’t be where we are at without his game,” Coyotes forward Alex Galchenyuk said of Kuemper. “Again tonight, he made a couple of game-changing saves. He’s been our best player the whole year. You have to give him all the credit.”
Kuemper began the season behind Antti Raanta, but took over when Raanta suffered a season-ending lower-body injury in late November. Kuemper has career highs in starts (53) and victories (26) and has started 20 straight games, tied for third-longest for a goalie in franchise history.
“A lot of guys are feeding off him,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said. “He’s calm during the off days. He’s calm during practice and he’s calm during the game. That exudes a lot of confidence to your players when your goalie is like that.
“Goalies can do that to a team, lift a team, and obviously, ‘Kemps’ is the heartbeat of our team.”
Kuemper had his second shutout in three games overall, and the Coyotes moved within one point of Colorado for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference with three games to play. The Avalanche have four games remaining.
The Coyotes, who have not made the playoffs since 2012, have won 10 of their last 12 at home.
One of Kuemper’s key saves came with three minutes remaining, when he stopped a rising slap shot from the slot by Brad Hunt with three minutes remaining to keep the game 2-0, Kuemper shut out Chicago 1-0 on Tuesday and has three shutouts in March.
“It feels good,” Kuemper said. “Huge win. It keeps us alive. The guys did a great job in front of me. They allowed me to see it (puck). It always takes a full team to get a shutout, and we had everyone tonight. We need some help. We need Colorado to lose. But we feel like if we win these last three, we have a good chance here.”
Devan Dubnyk made 19 saves for the Wild, who have lost eight of 11 since beating Tampa Bay 3-0 on March 7, when they were three points ahead of Arizona and four points ahead of Colorado for the second wild-card spot in the west. The Wild pulled Dubnyk with 2:59 left.
Galchenyuk scored his 18th goal in the first period, and Archibald and Vinnie Hinostroza had empty-netters in the final two minutes for the Coyotes (38-33-8), who have rebounded after losing six of seven, including one in overtime and two by shootout. They had nine goals in those seven games.
Galchenyuk poked a loose puck past Dubnyk at 7:48 of the first period after Oliver Ekman-Larsson flipped a shot on net from the left circle and Dubnyk could not control the bouncing puck.
“Keep fighting,” Galchenyuk said. “Same approach we’ve had for the last month or two now. Same mentality. We keep pushing. We’re still in it. A couple of games left. We have to battle it out.”
The Wild’s Jason Zucker had a breakaway with six minutes left in the first period, but could not get off a shot when Niklas Hjalmarsson was penalized for slashing. The Coyotes killed the penalty to preserve their lead.
Archibald gave the Coyotes a 2-0 lead in the final minute of the second period when he skated in on the right side and beat Dubnyk with a wrist shot high to the glove side.
NOTES: Coyotes F Nick Schmaltz to a seven-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season on Saturday. Schmaltz has five goals and 14 points in 17 games with the Coyotes after being acquired from Chicago on Nov. 25. He has not played since Dec. 30 because of a lower-body injury. … Wild F Zach Parise (lower-body injury) missed his fourth straight game. He has a team-high 26 goals. … The Wild finish the season with home games against Winnipeg and Boston and a road game at Dallas. All have clinched playoff berths. … Dubnyk leads NHL goalies in games (66) and road victories (19) this season.
Wild: Play host to Winnipeg on Tuesday. The Wild have won the first four games of the five-game season series.
Coyotes: Play host to Los Angeles on Tuesday.