ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In the tight-knit quarters of an NHL locker room, adding a player has the potential to change a team's energy, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively.
In the case of the Minnesota Wild, adding goaltender Devan Dubnyk not only was a positive, it was a stroke of genius.
DESPERATE FOR A CHANGE
On the morning of Jan. 13, the Wild were a team in crisis. Hovering around .500 and in last place in the Central Division, a season that began with high expectations was spiraling out of control.
That night, the Wild went into Consol Energy Center and lost 7-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was the second time in 10 days the Wild allowed seven goals in a loss; they lost 7-1 at the Dallas Stars on Jan. 3.
"We needed to make a move," Wild assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. "We talked to a couple of teams and they were aware of our situation. There were a couple of guys we weren't really interested in. And Devan, and he wasn't even available shortly before the trade was made. When they made him available, we quickly got it done."
The trade was finalized on the afternoon of Jan. 14; the Wild sent a third-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft to the Arizona Coyotes.
The issue of getting Dubnyk to Buffalo, where the Wild were scheduled to play the Sabres the following day, was left to operations manager Andrew Heydt, who was in his first few days on the job.
With no direct flights from Phoenix to Buffalo, 6-foot-6 Dubnyk had to sit in the middle seat on a red-eye to New York City, then take a connecting flight to Buffalo. Dubnyk arrived at First Niagara Center a few hours before faceoff and told coach Mike Yeo he was OK to play.
EARNING THE TRUST
Dubnyk made a good first impression, stopping 18 shots in a 7-0 win.
The next day, the Wild flew home for the funeral of Zach Parise's father, former NHL player J.P. Parise. New to the team, running on fumes, and with his family in Phoenix, Dubnyk was there with the rest of the Wild to support Parise on one of the most difficult days of his life.
"That meant a lot," Parise said. "I knew the whole team was coming. When you get a new guy ... I had never met him before. And for him to show that kind of support, it meant a lot to our family. It was really nice."
Dubnyk's easy-going personality blended perfectly with a Wild locker room that's laid-back and veteran-driven. For years, Wild goaltenders were unavailable to talk to the media on game days; that practice changed when Dubnyk arrived.
"He's such a likable guy and a really good person," Flahr said. "Personality-wise he fit in right away. Of course, coming in and playing well certainly helped."
The Wild were tested immediately following the All-Star break, beginning on the road with games at the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.
Dubnyk allowed three goals on the trip, including a 1-0 win at Calgary, and Minnesota won its first six games out of the break.
"That was when, maybe, we all started looking at it and saying, 'We have a pretty special group in here,'" Dubnyk said. "I felt that way before I came here. I played lots of games against this group before. I knew it was a great hockey team. Coming here I felt that."
With the Wild getting hot and making up ground in the Western Conference, Dubnyk's wife and infant son joined him in the Twin Cities. Parise allowed Dubnyk and his family to move into a home he had purchased from former Wild defenseman Nick Schultz.
It was something that allowed Dubnyk to get even more comfortable in his surroundings.
"From stuff off the ice, just the way [general manager Chuck Fletcher and Yeo] treated me, how much they cared about getting me here and settled and getting my family here," Dubnyk said. "And coming down to the guys in the room, having every single guy, doing everything they could to get me settled. That's a real nice feeling to have with a new team."
Two five-game winning streaks bookmarked the month of March as the Wild charged toward a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Dubnyk played 39 of the final 40 games, going 27-9-2 with five shutouts, a 1.78 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.
"We didn't change anything big from the time before [the trade]," Parise said. "It was just a little change, and sometimes a small change goes a long way. That's what happened. His numbers speak for themselves."
Wild forward Kyle Brodziak said, "He definitely gives us a lot of confidence. You see when he came in, our group was struggling for sure. We kind of lost our identity a little bit. He came and calmed things down and let us get back to our game. We feel very confident with him back there."
REACHING THE POSTSEASON
Once the Wild got into playoffs, some wondered whether Dubnyk could keep his strong play going. He never had been in a Stanley Cup Playoff game before, and his lone postseason experience came as an extra goaltender last season with the Montreal Canadiens.
He was so far down the depth chart, however, that when he requested to go home to Edmonton to be with his pregnant wife, the Canadiens obliged.
Goalie - MIN
GAA: 2.32 | SVP: .913
A 4-2 win in Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues
showed the playoffs weren't too big for Dubnyk. A 3-0 win in Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center gave Minnesota a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.
Then, for one game, the bottom fell out.
St. Louis scored six goals on 17 shots on Dubnyk, driving him from the Game 4 late in the second period. It was Dubnyk's worst game since he joined Minnesota three months prior.
"Luckily for me I had plenty of experience dealing with that," Dubnyk said.
The Wild weren't sure how Dubnyk would respond. With the series tied 2-2 and headed back to St. Louis for Game 5, Dubnyk's response would play a big part in whether the Wild would advance.
"There were reasons why we could believe that he would bounce back from that, but you never fully know until you're faced with that," Yeo said. "Especially because there are more emotions in the playoffs. You're dealing with a lot more. But the way he got through that was extremely impressive."
Dubnyk stopped 66 of the final 68 shots he faced in the series, including 36 saves in a 4-1 win in Game 5. He then made 30 saves in Game 6 when the Wild eliminated the Blues and advanced to the second round to face the Chicago Blackhawks for the second time in as many seasons.
"Win or lose he's the same. It's not an emotional roller coaster," Parise said. "He's pretty consistent in the way he carries himself."
TIME TO REFLECT
With four days between the end of the series against St. Louis and the start of the one against Chicago, Dubnyk said he has had time to reflect on the season he and the Wild have had.
Last Friday, Dubnyk was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the NHL's top goaltender, along with Carey Price of the Canadiens and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. The winner will be announced June 24 during the 2015 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
"It's really special, especially for it to happen in a year after the turbulent year that it was [last season]," Dubnyk said. "It feels extra special. It's kind of a cap on a really special few months for me. It's something I'm really proud of, and at the same time it's a nice personal accomplishment, but you realize playing in the playoffs is what the most important thing is."
Parise said a mumps outbreak, a stomach virus that went through the Wild locker room, and injuries to three of Minnesota's top four defensemen seems like forever ago. The deaths of his father and that of former NHL player Bob Suter, father of defenseman Ryan Suter, during training camp, also cast a shadow over much of the season.
But the arrival of Dubnyk and the Wild's second-half charge up the standings has changed the tone.
"It was just hard at the beginning of the year, there's no easy way to put it," Parise said. "Once Dubnyk came in, everything came together at the same time; that's when we took off."