First the eye, then the groin. At one point, Corey Perry tried to dislodge his stick from Darcy Kuemper’s groin area the way you’d use a crowbar to remove rotting wood from a porch.
“He just likes to get to the net,” Kuemper, the Avalanche goaltender, said of Perry, the Lightning pest who later nose-dived into Kuemper’s midsection during Colorado’s 7-0 curb-stomping in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night. “That’s how he plays.”
Did you think it was some sort of gamesmanship on Perry’s part?
“I don’t know,” Kuemper replied. “Just try to get out there as best as I can.”
So when they’re swinging at sensitive areas, how do you keep your composure?
“They’ve got guys and that’s how they play. It is what it is.”
With that, Kuemper sort of shrugged. The way he’s shrugged off everything thrown at him — sticks, pucks, stats, historical precedent, pithy one-liners — during his historic playoff run.
Mea culpa, Darcy. Apparently, you can win a Stanley Cup with Kuemper between the pipes, for the same reason you could win a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer or Brad Johnson as your quarterback.
If the unit on the other side of the field — or ice, in this case — is that stinking good, that completely, utterly dominant, just don’t screw it up, and the rest will take care of itself.
The Avs’ offense was their best defense Saturday night, proving once again that it’s awfully hard for Kuemper to get you beat if the action is unfolding some 150-200 feet in front of his crease.
Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, Valeri Nichushkin, Andre Burakovsky and Darren Helm are scoring for fun right now, line after line, wave after wave. Colorado is the first NHL team in 37 years to record at least four outings of seven goals or more in a single postseason, making it the greatest offensive tsunami to crash the Cup since Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Mark Messier carried the flag for the 1985 Edmonton Oilers.
“They’re playing at an elite level right now,” shell-shocked Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after his side lugged an 0-2 series deficit with them back to Florida for Game 3 Monday night. “Give (the Avs) credit.”
Let’s give Kuemper some credit, too, while we’re at it. Yes, Saskatoon’s finest had enough time during Game 2 to catch up on episodes of “Stranger Things” on his side of the rink while his teammates were badgering Tampa netminder Andre Vasilevskiy on the other.
But a goose egg is a goose egg, and Mount Darcy stopped all 16 of the Lightning’s shots, however infrequent, that came his way. It was the first shutout in a Stanley Cup Final by a Colorado goaltender since Patrick Roy did it during Game 6 of that 2001 title scrap with the New Jersey Devils.
In franchise history, Kuemper now joins Roy as the only Avs netminders to ever hang a clean sheet in a Cup Final — although Roy had to do a lot more heavy lifting, granted, turning away 24 shots (Game 6, ’01), 25 shots (Game 1, ’01) and a whopping 63 shots (Game 4, ’96), respectively.
“I thought he was poised,” Avs vet Andrew Cogliano said of Kuemper.
“It was just one of those nights where you knew that when a shot was going, he was square and he was making the save. They had a couple pushes in the second (period) and some chances on the power play, but he seemed very tall and very positional.”
Yet Kuemper was never bigger than the times when Perry was either in his face or at his hip, gooning it up, baiting, prodding, punching, pushing or yanking. Looking to start something.
“I think, this time of year, you’re just trying to do different things to throw guys off their game,” Helm explained. “And that might have been one of their ways.
“We’ve just got to (forget) all that … we know that’s going to come a little bit. But Kuemps is a smart guy. And he knows (how) to stay out of it.”
It is what it is. Let Perry yap.
After two tilts, one goaltender in this series has his head on a permanent swivel while giving up almost six goals per game. The other goaltender is Darcy Kuemper, silent, steady, halfway home to immortality.