It stands to reason that Minnesota would be an underdog against the Chicago Blackhawks no matter who was in goal for the Wild.
To be without your best goaltender is unfortunate. Being without your backup is unlucky. But losing your No. 3 goalie and having to go with your fourth on the depth chart is a curse.
Josh Harding, who put up Scrooge-stingy stats (1.65 GAA,.933 SP) in the first half of the season, hasn’t played since New Year’s Eve after a setback with multiple sclerosis. Former first-string goalie Niklas Backstrom has been on injured reserve since Jan. 31 with an abdominal injury and is out for the season. And goalie of the future Darcy Kuemper is day-to-day with an upper body injury after leading Minnesota over Colorado in Round 1.
So in steps Ilya Bryzgalov, again, who started and ended the series against the Avalanche with Kuemper doing all the winning in between until he got injured late in Game 7. Bryzgalov played well for the Wild after being acquired at the trade deadline from the Edmonton Oilers, so much so that coach Mike Yeo opted to go with him in Games 1 and 2 against Colorado before giving way to Kuemper.
Yeo had no such choice in Game 1 against the Blackhawks, unless he felt like shaking his fist against the hockey gods and starting Bryzgalov’s backup, John Curry, Friday night. But if he does for Game 2, bank on him not choosing Bryzgalov. After losing 5-2 to Chicago, Bryzgalov is now 1-3-1 these playoffs, with a 4.12 GAA and .821 SP. Kuemper is 3-1-1, with a 2.12 GAA and .913 SP.
Not to hang the loss on Bryzgalov – the Blackhawks look so in synch after sending the Blues home in the first round that a sweep of the Wild seems likely – but Minnesota has only won playoff games this spring that Kuemper has started.
If the Wild have any hope of making this a series, option No. 4 can’t be on the table.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.