St. Louis – In the first elimination game of the Wild’s season, Devan Dubnyk stood on his head and Jake Allen failed to use his.
Dubnyk played like a franchise goalie in the Wild’s 2-0 victory over the Blues in Game 4 of the first-round playoff series on Wednesday night, ending a run of games in which he was statistically proficient but nowhere close to being the better goalie in the series.
He produced his first shutout since Dec. 20 and was the better goalie in part because of his controlled performance, and in part because Allen made the first big mistake of the game.
At the Wild’s morning skate Wednesday, coach Bruce Boudreau looked jittery. Dubnyk looked like himself: calm, and affable.
Not all goalies even speak on the day of games, but Dubnyk does. He didn’t have much to say, but there was little of import that could be said. In a matter of hours, the Wild’s season would either be over or headed to St. Paul for Game 5.
Dubnyk’s play is one reason the Wild will play at least one more home game this season.
Dubnyk is many things to the Wild. He is the result of General Manager Chuck Fletcher’s best trade deadline deal. He is the most important player on the roster by virtue of his position.
And he has become even more crucial during the playoff series with the Blues because of St. Louis’ ability to shut down the Wild’s scoring.
Entering Game 4, Dubnyk’s goals-against average was 1.87. That’s pretty good, and yet not good enough, because his opponent, Allen, has faced many more shots and performed more efficiently.
Dubnyk’s save percentage before Game 4 was .923. Allen’s was a stunning .974.
The game and perhaps the series changed in the first period when Allen went behind the net and flipped a pass to … no one. Forward Charlie Coyle gratefully flicked it into the open net and the Wild had its first lead of the series. “We’ll take it,’’ Coyle said.
In the second period, Wild forward Martin Hanzal got the puck in the slot and unleashed a brilliant shot, beating Allen to the blocker side. It was the first goal the Wild scored this series where Allen could have been expected to make the save. The Wild led 2-0, and the onus was on Dubnyk to make it hold up.
Dubnyk had not played poorly enough to be blamed for the Wild’s three losses in the series, but he hadn’t played as well as his counterpart, and that’s what playoff competition is about.
In the Game 3 loss, Dubnyk allowed a goal high to his glove side on a shot that may have been deflected. It was an emblematic goal because he shouldn’t necessarily be blamed for it but it was similar to shots that Allen has stopped.
In 2015, the Blues and Wild played in another first-round series; the Wild won in six games. Twice during that series Dubnyk allowed the Blues to win big — 4-1 in Game 2 and 6-1 in Game 4. Each time he rebounded. In Game 3, the Wild won 3-0, and in Game 5, the Wild won 4-1, before closing out the series in Game 6 with another 4-1 victory.
So Dubnyk has bounced back before and has beaten the Blues in big games before. The difference in this series is that Allen was a liability in 2015 and has become a St. Louis strength in 2017.
Dubnyk countered on Wednesday.
“Shutouts always feel good, and I felt really good tonight,’’ Dubnyk said. “I felt like the guys did a really good job, just allowing me to trust exactly what was going on in front of me, exactly what was open and what wasn’t, so I was able to square up to shots and get to rebounds.
“We just said coming into this game that we just needed to win one game. One game was what mattered. This was our Stanley Cup.’’
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org