Photo by Associated Press.
GLENDALE — A late-March swoon had the Minnesota Wild in danger of backing into the playoffs.
Now that the calendar has turned to April, the Wild are rolling again and they’ll have a head of steam into the postseason.
Darcy Kuemper stopped 20 shots, Martin Hanzal scored in his return to the desert and the Wild set a franchise record with their 49th win by beating the Arizona Coyotes 3-1 on Saturday night.
“We’ve been pretty consistent most of the year and toward the end we got our game back,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. “We have been playing good hockey and getting better toward the end of the season.”
The Wild already clinched home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs after rallying from stretch of nine losses in 11 games.
Minnesota arrived in Arizona with four wins in five games and jumped to an early two-goal lead on goals by Erik Haula and Eric Staal in the first period. Arizona rallied with a goal in the third period, but Hanzal scored in the third in his first game in Arizona since being traded with Ryan White to Minnesota on Feb. 26.
That cleared the way for the Wild’s franchise-record 105th point and some momentum heading into the playoffs, which will start next week at home against St. Louis.
Brendon Perlini scored and Mike Smith stopped 41 shots his 312th game with the Coyotes, passing Bob Essensa for most in franchise history.
Coyotes captain Shane Doan had an assist in what may be the final game of his 21-year NHL career.
Doan contemplated retirement last season after leading the Coyotes with 28 goals, deciding over the summer to play at least one more season. Doan’s production fell off this season — six goals — but said before the final game of the season that he’s not sure if it will be the last of his career.
Saturday’s game was No. 1,540 for Doan, tying him with John Bucyk for 14th on the NHL’s all-time list.
“If it is the end, it’s a pretty impressive career to play for one organization for that long,” Smith said. “It’s tough to do these days and it just shows the type of person he is.”
Arizona played without All-Star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who traveled back home following the death of his mother in Sweden.
The Wild jumped on the Coyotes early without their best defenseman, scoring two goals by the midpoint of the first period.
Both came on mistakes by Smith.
On the first, Smith tried to pass it out front to Jordan Martinook in front of his own crease. Instead, Jason Pominville intercepted the puck and fed it to Haula, who one-timed it into an empty net.
Staal scored his 28th goal on a power play midway through the first period, ripping a one-timer past Smith after the Coyotes goalie reached down to recover his stick after dropping it earlier.
Perlini scored on a rebound early in the third period, but Hanzal gave the Wild a two-goal lead again a few minutes later.
“Obviously, the game didn’t go the way we wanted it to,” said Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who had to compose himself after what may be his last NHL game. “It was pretty emotional and I had a hard time getting it together once the game got going.”
The Arizona Coyotes honored minor leaguer Craig Cunningham and had him drop the ceremonial puck before the game, five months after he collapsed on the ice before a Tucson Roadrunners game and nearly died. ... Hanzal reached 20 goals for the first time in his 11-year career. ... Minnesota has a 14-game points streak against Arizona (11-1-2).
Wild: Open the playoffs at home next week against St. Louis.
Coyotes: Will have a high draft pick in this year’s NHL draft for the second straight season.