EDMONTON, ALBERTA – Alex Stalock has started only one playoff game during his NHL career, getting the nod as a rookie for San Jose ahead of Game 6 in a 2014 first-round clash with Los Angeles.
“It was a ton of fun,” Stalock recalled.
Start No. 2 could be right around the corner.
On the brink of rebooting its season with a best-of-five series against Vancouver in the NHL qualifiers, the Wild still hasn’t publicly revealed which goaltender will be in net Sunday for Game 1.
The coaching staff has been examining Stalock and Devan Dubnyk throughout training camp, a competition that’s a testament to how well Stalock performed this season to challenge the long-running No. 1 for the most important assignment of 2019-20.
And although Stalock is short on playoff experience, it wouldn’t be unrealistic for the Wild to thrust him back into the crease to try to rediscover the rhythm he and the team had before the season was stalled in March.
“I just want to do the best I can every night and give the team a chance to win,” Stalock said Wednesday in a postgame video call following the Wild’s 3-2 exhibition loss to Colorado. “It’s a battle for the job for Night 1, and I think if you ask me or Duby, obviously we both want to be in there. We [both] can’t be in there, but I know either one of us will give the team a chance to win.”
Evason remains tight-lipped
Even after the Wild watched both goalies in action Wednesday, coach Dean Evason was still tight-lipped on his plans for his netminders.
Stalock gave up three goals on 17 shots before getting replaced by Dubnyk, who stopped all 12 shots he faced, and Evason was pleased with both players’ efforts.
“Obviously, we’re going to have a very difficult decision and something that we have to talk about clearly here for a couple of days,” he said, “and hopefully make the right decision.”
Tabbing Stalock would reunite the lineup that did a significant part of the heavy lifting in the second half to hoist the Wild back up the standings after a miserable start, and it’d also give Stalock a chance to finish the job he started in being one of the catalysts behind the climb.
The South St. Paul native started 16 of the final 23 regular-season games, including seven in a row — which tied his career high. He went 5-2 in that stretch and had another key spurt during the Wild’s season-high 11-game point streak when he went 5-0-2.
Initially, Stalock’s workload increased because Dubnyk was away from the team while his wife dealt with a medical situation. But once Dubnyk was back full time, Stalock still earned minutes, getting results that helped lift the team closer to contention.
In the end, he finished 20-11-4 with a .910 save percentage and 2.67 goals-against average while setting career highs in games played (38), starts (36), wins (20) and shutouts (four). His surge also earned him a nomination for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which recognizes the player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
“I felt these last couple years I’ve actually learned the game, learned some stuff that I’ve been able to simplify that I feel better about my game, and I feel like I’m actually getting better and understanding the position and realizing simplifying stuff not only helps me play faster but play a little bit bigger in my position,” Stalock said.
“Obviously it’s a work in progress, but I think to be able to get games and put it to the test and be resolved I think is really exciting for me.”
Stalock should find out who’s getting the first look at the Canucks on Saturday, and the last-minute notice isn’t new for the perennial backup.
Actually, that’s been the norm for most of his NHL service time — a journey with few guarantees but one that’s also bred the perseverance that’s led Stalock to the doorstep of what would be his first playoff start since that game with the Sharks. The result was a loss, but the experience was still positive.
“My whole career has kind of been that way,” said Stalock, who has four total playoff appearances, including one with the Wild in 2018. “You find out day before games and practice the same way.
“At this age, being 33, you learn how to get your body ready for the game. It’s a daily process. You know when you feel right, and you know when you need work. For me, it’s finding that happy medium, being ready to go, and whoever it is Game 1, I know that they’ll be ready.”