Cam Talbot gave the Rangers a chance to leave Minnesota with two points Thursday night, but rookie Darcy Kuemper was just a bit better between the pipes as the Rangers dropped a 2-1 decision to the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center. The loss was the second straight on this road trip after the Rangers were defeated 3-1 Tuesday night in Carolina. They will close out their-three game trek Friday night in Winnipeg against the Jets.
"We want to turn it around," alternate captain Marc Staal said in a quiet Rangers postgame dressing room. "Games are not getting easier, they're tighter and tighter. Everyone is vying to get in the playoffs. We need to get back on the winning track."
Talbot was extremely sharp while starting for the first time in seven games. He now has allowed two goals or fewer 14 times in 17 starts this season. On Thursday Talbot stopped 24 of 26 shots.
Kuemper finished the night with 29 saves for Minnesota. He stopped all 15 shots he faced from a desperate Rangers squad in the third period.
Minnesota's Zach Parise snapped a 1-1 tie just 63 seconds into the third period, scoring on Minnesota's fourth shot during a scramble in front of Talbot's cage. The goal was Parise's 23rd of the season, and was assisted by Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund, who both fired shots on goal that Talbot had denied during the scramble.
"That was unacceptable," Rick Nash said of the Wild's go-ahead goal. "We can't give up 2-3 shots like that and expect (Talbot) to make all the saves."
The Wild scored the only goal of the first period, and the Rangers responded by scoring the lone tally of the second as its two Minnesota natives combined on the game-tying goal in their home state.
Skating on a power play--and mere seconds after a Derek Stepan shot hit Kuemper and then caught iron--Ryan McDonagh slid a pass from right to left to Stepan, who this time hammered his shot through a Rick Nash screen, beating Kuemper cleanly to even the score, 1-1, at 3:19 of the second period. The goal was Stepan's 12th of the season, fourth on the power play, and first ever in his native state as a pro. McDonagh now has four assists in four career games against the Wild, and he nearly had his first career goal against Minnesota later in the period, but his snap shot that beat Kuemper found iron instead of net and stayed out of the cage.
Minnesota had taken a 1-0 lead at the 13:08 mark of the first period, scoring after a combined turnover by Nash and John Moore in front of the Rangers net. Kyle Brodziak worked the puck to a wide-open Nino Niederreiter, and he buried his 12th goal past a helpless Talbot.
Though beaten that time, Talbot was the best Ranger on the ice, keeping his team in the game with a string of timely saves. He stoned Parise point blank 13 minutes into the second period, robbed Matt Moulson with a quick left pad during a Wild power play three minutes later, and then with four seconds left in the middle stanza Talbot made a sensational save on a wide-open Jared Spurgeon.
Even on Parise's early third-period go-ahead goal, Talbot made three outstanding stops as the Wild outworked New York down low before Minnesota's captain fired the puck into the back of the cage off a scramble.
At the other end of the ice, Kuemper made his best save with 2:40 remaining in the first period when he made an extremely difficult stretching pad save on a Carl Hagelin backhand shot after the Rangers winger used his speed to create a partial breakaway.
Kuemper, making his 18th start in Minnesota's last 19 games, also swallowed up a glorious scoring chance for Derick Brassard at 7:35 of the third period in which the Rangers center was all alone in the low slot after Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot's hard work created the opening for him.
"I was pretty upset with myself there," Brassard said. "If I go high-glove on him I score, but instead I hit him in the crest. We just couldn't find a way tonight. It's just a nightmare."
Alain Vigneault made a pair of changes among his top lines trying to generate more offense, shifting Chris Kreider to a line with Brad Richards and Marty St. Louis, and moving Hagelin to play alongside Stepan and Nash. The moves had mixed results as the Rangers managed just 14 shots through two periods, though they generated more chances over the final 20 minutes.