ST. PAUL -- Kaapo Kahkonen has made a habit of stepping up when the Minnesota Wild need him most.
It started last season when Kahkonen filled in admirably with No. 1 goaltender Cam Talbot out of the lineup. How good was Kahkonen filling in for Talbot? He went on to set a franchise rookie record with nine straight wins.
It has been much of the same over the past couple of games as Kahkonen has gotten an extended look with Talbot nursing a lower-body injury. In fact, ever since he took over in the final 20 minutes of the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, Kahkonen has been nothing short of spectacular.
He calmed things down during a blowout loss at Target Field, backstopped the Wild to a gutsy win over the Boston Bruins on the road, and most recently, kept the Wild afloat long enough for them to complete a comeback win over the Washington Capitals on home ice.
He has been a big reason the Wild pivoted from five straight losses to back-to-back victories.
“He’s been really good for us,” veteran winger Mats Zuccarello said. “Whoever it is, Cam or Kaapo, I think the boys trust them. I think we have two really good goalies. We are lucky.”
Asked more about Kahkonen, veteran winger Marcus Foligno lauded his composure between the pipes. No matter the situation in front of him, Kahkonen never gets too high or too low.
“He’s been playing great,” Foligno said. “He’s just so chill back there.”
Well, except for the final 10 seconds of regulation between the Wild and Capitals.
With Alex Ovechkin racing toward a loose puck in the offensive zone, Kahkonen skated out of his crease to try to thwart the potential scoring chance from one of the NHL’s best players. The only problem was Kahkonen misplayed the puck, got caught in no man’s land, and ended up having to make an acrobatic save near the top of the circle.
“He made us all have a heart attack there,” Foligno said with a laugh. “I don’t know why he goes backhand and not forehand.”
It worked out as Kahkonen made the save before the Wild ultimately prevailed in a shootout.
“He just competes his (expletive) off,” coach Dean Evason said. “We talk about other people stepping up. He’s done a tremendous job of doing that, regardless if he’s played a stretch of games or been in and out, in and out He’s given us his effort each and every night.”
That’s something Kahkonen takes a lot of pride in.
“I think anytime I get to play it’s a chance to show that I can play and help the team win,” he said. “That’s been our whole team. Anytime there’s an injury, anybody who gets to go in everybody expects them to do their job. That’s the strength of our team, for sure.”