NEWARK, N.J. – Goalie Kaapo Kahkonen didn’t make a save until 3 minutes, 13 seconds elapsed, a puck he smothered after it was backhanded his way by the Devils’ Blake Coleman.
It was an important stop.
In his only other taste of NHL action, Kahkonen struggled – getting tagged for goals on the first two shots he faced in a preseason game in Winnipeg a few months ago.
But Tuesday at Prudential Center, Kahkonen was stout at the start and throughout the rest of his NHL debut to nab his first career win in a 3-2 victory over the Devils.
“I felt really good from the start,” Kahkonen said.
Although the evening was a first for him, Kahkonen said he “felt pretty normal” in the hours leading up to puck drop.
“Even though it is the NHL, it’s still hockey,” he said. “It’s still one of the games you play over the course of the season, so you’ve got to approach it the same way.”
And that poised outlook showed up in his play.
Kahkonen ended up recording 32 saves, becoming just the sixth Wild goalie to register a win in his NHL debut.
“That game in Winnipeg, that preseason game where he had the jitters those first few shots and then he settled down, I think that helped him an immense amount for tonight’s game that he wasn’t anywhere near as nervous,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
After the game, Kahkonen credited the team for helping him by getting pucks deep and defending the middle.
“They got their chances from the outside pretty much,” he said. “Couple better chances, obviously, but that’s going to happen in every game. Overall, we did a really good job and that made my job a lot easier.”
Defenseman Ryan Suter was another standout.
After he was beat on the game-winning overtime goal the night before at Madison Square Garden, Suter assisted on the first goal – a power play marker from winger Zach Parise – before scoring the clincher.
Only 3 minutes into the third, Suter pinched after a Wild offensive-zone faceoff win and wired the puck in from the left side.
Winger Jordan Greenway had arguably the best-looking finish of the game: a glove-side shot after he cut to the middle on a partial break into the Devils’ zone.
“[Linemate Joel Eriksson Ek] made a great play in the neutral zone and turned the puck over and kind of came up with me and drove the net and took their ‘D’ away,” Greenway said of his third goal of the season. “Just a little backhand, forehand shot for me, and it found its way into the net.”
From a team perspective, the most significant takeaway from Tuesday was its resiliency.
The team didn’t get down when the Devils’ first goal counted even though it should have been wiped off the board after the Wild challenged for the high stick by Wayne Simmonds that led to Jesper Boqvist’s tally.
And it didn’t fade late in the third like it did the previous two games on the trip, collapses that spilled over into overtime where the team lost.
Instead, the Wild fended off the Devils.
“I feel like we kind of learned from those games a little bit,” Kahkonen said. “I feel like we kept making the simple plays. It sounds boring, but in one-goal lead, five minutes whatever it is left in the game, you just have to do that. We didn’t take that penalty that I guess we did in the last couple games, so that helped obviously.”
By progressing, the Wild wrapped up the trip 1-0-2 while also extending its season-high point streak to seven games (4-0-3).
“You leave those last two games pretty down, games we were in control of and felt we should have left with more,” Parise said. “But to finish the trip with a win, get four out of a possible six, I think you have to look at and say, ‘It’s a good road trip.’”