We saw flashes Wednesday of the one thing that could rescue the Wild’s season and make Minnesota an actual threat in the playoffs if a spot can be obtained: A steady, in command stretch from goalie Devan Dubnyk.
For two periods Wednesday in Vancouver, Dubnyk formed a wall that let Minnesota build a 2-1 lead. He gave up two in the third, but the Wild regrouped to force overtime. He stood firm in that extra session, then stopped Vancouver’s final three shootout attempts for an important 4-3 win and two points.
Dubnyk made 31 saves in all, many of them high-danger looks from right in front of the net.
It’s been a frustrating year on the ice for Dubnyk and a far more serious one off the ice as he has missed time while tending to his wife Jenn’s significant medical issue. It’s impossible to know just how much those two things are connected, but anyone who has tried to do their job while also dealing with a major life crisis knows the two are both understandably and likely inextricably linked.
“I’m very competitive and I have a lot of pride in my game, and it’s been an extremely difficult year in just about every way possible,” Dubnyk said earlier this month.
None of how I feel about Dubnyk’s potential to help the Wild down the stretch on the ice should be taken as a sign that I somehow think it’s more important than the health of his wife. Rather, it is my sincere hope that they are getting clarity and good news on that front – and that among the many benefits of that is a mindset that gives Dubnyk every opportunity to succeed on the ice.
Because we have seen Dubnyk have long stretches where he performs like one of the very best goalies in the NHL. And if was able to lock into one of those runs as winter turns to spring, the Wild might be able to make a playoff push.
Alex Stalock has done good work in a role that has expanded from clear backup to getting the bulk of the action, but he is the very definition of a league average goalie.
The league average save percentage this year is .909, which is also Stalock’s number. Goalies on average deliver “quality starts” — defined as better than league average save percentage or at least .885 on nights facing fewer than 20 shots — 53% of the time. That’s Stalock’s number this season.
That’s good to have as a fallback plan, and Stalock’s contributions have kept the Wild on the fringe of the playoff race, but it’s not likely to get you very far.
Dubnyk is a three-time All-Star, with his most recent appearance coming last season. He was pretty much reasons 1-5 that the Wild saved its 2014-15 season when he posted an incredible stretch after being traded from Arizona on Jan. 15: 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals against average and .936 save percentage in 38 consecutive starts as the Wild rallied to make the playoffs.
He was 28 years old then and 33 now, so maybe such a run is far-fetched. But how about this: In his final 18 games of the 2018-19 season, starting right around this time (Feb. 21), Dubnyk had a .927 save percentage and allowed just a shade over two goals per game on average.
That sort of save percentage over an entire season would put Dubnyk in the top 10 this year.
Wednesday was a glimpse of that goalie — and just the ninth time out of 26 outings this year that Dubnyk has delivered a “quality start.” If he can deliver a bunch of those on a consistent basis, this Wild season might not be over yet.