NEWARK, N.J. -- Talking to Minnesota Wild rookie Kaapo Kahkonen after Tuesday’s win over the New Jersey Devils, it was nearly impossible to tell he had just put the finishing touches on a successful NHL debut.
Like a true Finn — never too high, never too low — Kahkonen was calm in the days leading to the milestone moment and rather stoic in the aftermath of his impressive 32-save effort.
“I almost had to try not to get too excited, just calm myself down,” said Kahkonen, who became the sixth Wild goaltender to record a win in his NHL debut. “It’s still one of the games we play over the course of the season. You’ve got to approach it the same way.”
It was clear from the onset that Kahkonen was on his game. Even though he didn’t see a shot until Devils center Blake Coleman backhanded a puck his way 3 minutes, 13 seconds into the contest, he gobbled it up with relative ease.
“It took a while to get the first save,” said Kahkonen. “It’s important to get that. Like we talked about earlier, in the preseason, it didn’t go that way for me. But tonight I felt really good from the start.”
Kahkonen struggled in a preseason game in October, allowing a pair of goals before finally making a save, but his play on Tuesday impressed teammates who late in the third period were blocking as many shots as possible to make sure the rookie walked away with a win.
“He played great,” veteran winger Zach Parise said. “He looked calm in there, and I thought our defensemen did a good job boxing out and letting him see the puck for the most part. It’s exciting to be a part of his first win. Hopefully a lot more to come.”
“He’s such a good kid, ” veteran defenseman Ryan Suter said. “You always want them to get their first win. He played good. He made some really good saves for us.”
Just as impressive as the saves Kahkonen made was the way he responded to adversity. He allowed a pair of goals in the contest, neither of which he could do much about.
The first came on a play that should have been blown dead after Devils winger Wayne Simmonds high-sticked the puck. The second came when Devils winger Kyle Palmieri finished off a pinpoint pass on a rush.
“Nothing seemed to faze him,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “As far as the goals that went in, as we know, one shouldn’t have counted, and one was a perfect play by them. He did what he was supposed to do.”
It’s unclear what exactly the Wild are going to do with Kahkonen. He probably deserves a chance to build on his success, but the team has two veteran goalies in Alex Stalock and Devan Dubnyk, expected to return this week from a personal absence.
Kahkonen could start Friday’s matinee against the Ottawa Senators at Xcel Energy Center. Maybe by then Kahkonen will fully grasp winning his NHL debut.
“I don’t really know how to feel right now,” he said Tuesday night. “Obviously, I’m really happy. It’s good to build on this for sure.”