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Wild's Dubnyk finds his groove

Minnesota goalie steps up when team needs him most

by Dan Myers / Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk got his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. Now, he's doing everything he can to get back.   

Dubnyk is 10-1-1 in his past 13 starts with a 1.98 goals-against average and a save percentage of .930. The recent run is reminiscent of a hot streak he put together last season after joining the Wild, who traded a third-round pick to the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 14, 2015 for Dubnyk in the hopes he would solidify their goaltending situation. Dubnyk closed the regular season with a 27-9-2 run, and was a finalist for the Vezina and Hart trophies.

"The more you play, the more you get a chance to get rolling a little bit," Dubnyk said. "Sometimes, it makes sense and sometimes it doesn't. It's a long season and there are times when you need a break both physically and mentally." 

It's no coincidence that, like last season, Dubnyk's best hockey has come during the most important part of the season. 

"At this time, when the points are as crucial as they are and we're getting ready to roll into the playoffs, I'm certainly happy to just roll with it and get in a groove here," Dubnyk said. 

For the Wild, who are trying to stave off the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference, Dubnyk's play couldn't have come at a better time. 

The Wild bring a season-long five-game winning streak into their game Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks at Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota increased its lead to five points over the Avalanche for the final wild card spot in a 4-0 win at Pepsi Center on Saturday, a game in which Dubnyk made 29 saves for his fifth shutout. The Avalanche defeated the Nashville Predators 4-3 on Monday to cut the Minnesota lead to three points.

Video: MIN@COL: Dubnyk robs Mitchell with the glove

Dubnyk has allowed seven goals during the five-game winning streak, averaging more than 31 saves per game. 

"It's coming together at the right time," Dubnyk said. "Just trying to find that exact combination of being relaxed and intense at the same time. It's been great for me." 

Since coach John Torchetti took over for the fired Mike Yeo, Minnesota's margin of error has mostly been between slim and none. 

Yeo was fired on Feb. 13 after the Wild lost their eighth consecutive game. Torchetti, who had been overseeing the Wild's American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa, made the four-hour drive north on Interstate 35 later that night with plenty on his mind. 

"The first thing you worry about when you take over a team is, what's the goaltending like?" Torchetti said. "So as a coach, you feel blessed when [you have a guy like Dubnyk]." 

Torchetti said he appreciates Dubnyk's affable personality and even-keeled approach, relaying a story from last Thursday when Dubnyk allowed a goal to Calgary Flames defenseman Jakub Nakladal, who skated into the Wild zone and beat Dubnyk with a heavy slap shot just under the crossbar from a few feet inside the blue line. 

"I didn't know they traded for (Predators defenseman Shea) Weber," Dubnyk told Torchetti. 

"That's the kind of demeanor you want, when your goalie says that," Torchetti said. "He never gets rattled and I think the team sees that during the game."

On March 17, Dubnyk playfully gave backup goaltender Darcy Kuemper a hard time for taking the loss after Dubnyk allowed three goals on eight shots during the first period of a game against the New Jersey Devils before getting pulled. 

Minnesota trailed 6-2 entering the third but scored twice in the final period, putting the loss on Kuemper's ledger. 

Since that game, the Wild have won five in a row. 

"He's pretty low key with things. We try not to get too heavy with things and keep the mind light," Wild goaltending coach Bob Mason said. "The less we think about things consciously, the better we are." 

That's not to say Dubnyk doesn't take things seriously. 

Dubnyk lost nine consecutive games between Jan. 12 and Feb. 11 (0-8-1). It was his longest losing streak since he lost the first 13 starts of his NHL career (0-11-2) in 2009-10. In 2013-14, he was the No. 1 starter for the Edmonton Oilers, but went 11-17-2 with a 3.36 goals against average before being traded to the Predators, where he played two games that season. On March 5, 2014, he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens, who sent him to their AHL affiliate in Hamilton. He signed a one-year deal with the Coyotes on July 1, 2014 and six months later was traded to Minnesota, where he turned his career around.   

"More than anything, having that down year where you're almost out (of the NHL), you realize that wins are hard to come by," Dubnyk said. "Every single chance you get when it's a tie game, or you're in overtime or up by one, you need to really gather every single ounce of energy to get those two points because they don't come easy in this league." 

The win against Colorado was Dubnyk's 100th game played with the Wild, a milestone Dubnyk said amazed him when he heard it from a member of their public relations staff in the locker room afterwards. 

"It's pretty crazy to think about it," Dubnyk said. "The math doesn't even seem to add up to do 100 in what feels like a short amount of time with this team."

Video: LAK@MIN: Dubnyk sprawls for two nice saves

Mason credited Dubnyk's consistency and his durability as reasons why he's been able to play so many games in such a short time. 

"His efficiency is key for him. He doesn't seem to get tired," Mason said. "His mental toughness, it started last year when he got here; he's had a couple of ups and downs this year but for the most part he's always positive and always working on improving his game. That keeps you out of the doldrums that might approach when you're not [playing well]." 

Dubnyk said his main focus now is on learning from last year's run to the postseason. His red-hot 39-game stretch to close out the regular season helped him reach the playoffs for the first time in his NHL career. 

A first round series win against the St. Louis Blues followed but a four-game sweep at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks ended his first postseason trip sooner than Dubnyk would have liked. 

That loss is what keeps Dubnyk motivated as he tries to lead the Wild back to the postseason. 

"There's less distraction, just having that experience and knowing what to expect a little more," Dubnyk said. "It was tough to watch the third round and the [Stanley Cup] Final, just feeling like with the team that we had, we certainly could have been there if we'd continued to play the way we had the previous months. 

"You quickly learn that making the playoffs isn't enough. You don't know how many opportunities you're going to get to be in the playoffs and to get a chance to win the Stanley Cup. You've got to want it and I certainly want it more after going through the disappointment of last year."

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