Swelling around Kuemper’s eye goes away, prepares for Blues

DENVER (AP) — The swelling around Colorado Avalanche goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper’s right eye has subsided a week after a stick pierced his mask. ‘

“Now I can see,” he said with a smile Sunday after practice.

This is also clear to him: the incident could have been much more serious.

“I was very lucky,” Kuemper said, “that it wasn’t worse.”

Nashville center stick Ryan Johansen slipped through the protective bars of Kuemper’s mask and struck him around the eyelid during Game 3 on May 7. It is the second time in his NHL career that an inadvertent stick blade has pierced Kuemper through his mask.

“Super weird,” said Kuemper, who will be back at the net when the Avalanche begin their second-round series against the St. Louis Blues. “The first time, I definitely thought I was one in a million. Double is two in a million.”

Still, he has no plans to change goalkeeper skins.

“Unfortunately, the stick was the right shape,” explained Kuemper, who was also injured while with Arizona in 2019, when a stick accidentally hit him after a backhand goal. “Just a scary situation. … It just happened so fast and obviously it’s pretty scary when your eyes are involved.”

The play took place at the end of the first half of the Avs’ 7-3 victory. Replays showed Johansen’s stick going through Kuemper’s mask as he battled for position near the net with Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon. Kuemper fell backwards before skidding to the bench. Halfway there, he dropped to the ice.

“I was skating but kind of blind to my direction,” Kuemper said. “The referee was yelling at me to stay down. That’s why I went back down.”

Kuemper then headed to the locker room covering his right eye.

“I saw the doctor right away and he said it was more of an eyelid than an eye,” Kuemper, 32, explained. “So that was reassuring.”

Johansen said shortly after that he was “sick to the stomach” upon seeing Kuemper’s injury. Kuemper sat out Game 4, Pavel Francouz filling in for him, as the Avalanche closed out the series in a sweep.

And while he hasn’t spoken to Johansen, Kuemper said it was a “total accident and very bad luck.”

“He’s not even looking in my direction,” Kuemper added.

Defenseman Erik Johnson recalled not really knowing what was going on.

“I thought I was selling it to try and get a penalty. Then I saw his eye…” Johnson said. “He wasn’t selling it. He is crazy.

“Luckily it wasn’t in his eye, just his eyelid. So she’s pretty lucky.”

The week-long layoff has given Kuemper more time to heal and more time for the swelling to subside. However, the incident will not be on his mind.

“Once the game starts, you’re in the zone and you’re playing,” said Kuemper, who averaged 1.63 goals against in the Nashville series when he stopped 57 of 61 shots. “We really want to start again.”

In practice, his teammates have not held back. They have been grooming Kuemper for a Blues team that featured eight forwards with 50 or more points during the regular season.

“It doesn’t do him any good if we take him slow if he’s with us,” Colorado defenseman Devon Toews said. “He is also doing a good job with our goalkeeping coach. When he is with us, we are happy to have him.”

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