PHILADELPHIA – With his team stuck at the bottom of the Central Division standings, Bruce Boudreau thought the time was right for an inspirational story. So last Wednesday, the Wild coach pulled one from his own past: the tale of the Anaheim Ducks, who won only five of their first 17 games before finishing atop the Pacific Division in 2015-16.
“We got shut out six times in the first 10 games,’’ recalled Boudreau, who coached the Ducks from 2012 to 2016. “We just couldn’t score. But we didn’t panic, and that’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to stay the course.”
The moral of that story — that the karma wheel will eventually turn your way, as long as you keep playing the proper way — was reinforced in the Wild’s 3-0 victory over Montreal on Thursday. And no one felt more vindicated than goaltender Devan Dubnyk. The message Boudreau shared with the team is one Dubnyk has been voicing as well, through several games when neither he nor the team were at their best.
Dubnyk fought the urge to alter his approach or his usual routine. That constancy set him up for a breakthrough victory against the Canadiens, and perhaps a sixth consecutive start Saturday at Philadelphia as the Wild ends a four-game road trip. His 41 saves in Montreal equaled the most of his Wild career and carried him to his 16th shutout in Minnesota, second-most in franchise history behind Niklas Backstrom’s 28.
“When things just don’t feel like they’re going your way, the hardest thing to do is stay with what you’re doing, just have trust in what you’re doing,’’ Dubnyk said. “That’s a tough thing to do. Playing as many games as I have, you find a way to do that.
“Changing your approach is just not going to help anybody. But at some point, you’re going to need a big game out of the group to stop the bleeding and turn it around. [Thursday] was a big win for us.”
Dubnyk made a number of difficult saves Thursday and withstood some intense pressure from the Canadiens, who attempted 80 shots. Boudreau said the goalie moved well and tracked the puck proficiently.
“He just seemed calm back there,’’ Wild forward Jason Zucker said. “He seemed like he was making every save he needed to, and he wasn’t fumbling pucks. That was huge for us.’’
The Wild took Friday off, and Boudreau has not said who will start in goal against the Flyers. Backup Alex Stalock rejoined the team Friday after going home to attend the birth of his daughter, Selena, and Niklas Svedberg — called up from the AHL affiliate in Iowa to fill in — was sent back.
Thursday’s other big star was Zucker, whose natural hat trick in the third period provided all the Wild’s scoring. Zucker had gone five games without a goal before Wednesday, when he tallied both goals in a 4-2 loss at Toronto. The five consecutive goals are the most ever scored by a Wild player, according to Elias Sports Bureau, and Zucker joins Marian Gaborik as the only Wild players to net a natural hat trick. Gaborik had one in 2001 and another in 2007.
Zucker did not register a point in the final four games of the Wild’s homestand from Oct. 28 to Nov. 4. That slump coincided with the Oct. 27 birth of his son, Hendrix, prompting jokes about whether Zucker was getting enough sleep. In the past two games — both on the road — Zucker has five goals on 12 shots, is plus-three and has three hits.
“Nobody knows what [his wife] Carly has actually done for me at home,’’ Zucker said. “She’s made sure I’ve gotten plenty of sleep. This is definitely a coincidence.”
Eric Staal, who recorded his 500th career assist on Zucker’s second goal Thursday, has played on a line with Zucker and Nino Niederreiter for the past two games. The trio has clicked quickly, combining for 25 shots on goal, and Staal assisted on three Zucker goals.
Staal recalled playing only one period with Zucker last season. Their chemistry, he said, is coming at a good time for a team that will be without injured forwards Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle for several more weeks.
“It’s been fun to be a part of his game,’’ said Staal, who has a goal and three assists in the past three games. “I think both of us, along with Nino, are good skaters, and we can get in on the forecheck and make plays on the rush. It’s been good.”