The Minnesota Wild season can be divided into two parts: pre-Dubnyk and post-Dubnyk.
Shaky goaltending had the Wild struggling before general manager Chuck Fletcher acquired Devan Dubnyk, a backup with the Arizona Coyotes, on Jan. 14 in a trade for a third-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. With Dubnyk turning in brilliant work on an every-night basis, the Wild quickly rose from being 13th in the Western Conference, eight points out of a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, to a playoff team that will win it all.
Suffice it to say that acquiring Dubnyk might be the best deal Fletcher ever makes. It certainly saved the Wild's season.
"He has given us a chance to win every night," Fletcher told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "and because of that, I think the players that are playing in front of him have a lot of confidence, and the players in front of him are playing very well."
Dubnyk's performance has been phenomenal. He allowed more than three goals once in his first 38 appearances with the Wild. He's had a six-game winning streak and two five-game win streaks, and the Wild did not lose consecutive games in regulation after the trade. Dubnyk has been First Star of the Month (February), Third Star of the Month (March), First Star of the Week (Feb. 9 and March 30) and Third Star of the Week (Feb. 2).
"From where we were then to where we are now, in our eyes, he’s our MVP,” Wild leading scorer Zach Parise told the Star Tribune. "He’s definitely been the biggest contributor to the turnaround of our season.”
Dubnyk was part of three organizations last season and had to settle for a one-year free-agent deal last summer.
"I've always believed that I can play lots of games and be a starter," Dubnyk said. "Obviously when you have a year like [last season], you don't know if that opportunity is going to come again. I just try to enjoy it and work for that chance. I certainly didn't think it was going to come halfway through one season, but to get to come to a team like this, it's just been unbelievable."
With that kind of security blanket in goal, the rest of the pieces fell into place.
Defenseman Ryan Suter is having a typical season for him; he plays about 29 minutes a game, moves the puck well, and is on the ice in all situations. The rest of the top-four on defense, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon, are solid in their zone and can contribute offensively. Rookie Matt Dumba has earned more time and given the Wild an offensive boost. Nate Prossser and Jordan Leopold provide veteran depth.
Combined with Dubnyk's play in goal, the Wild are among the League leaders in goals-against and have allowed fewer goals than anyone since his arrival.
"No knock against anybody I've played with before, but certainly [this is] the best group of D-men I've ever had a chance to play with," Dubnyk told the Star Tribune. "For a while there, it seemed like every game somebody was going down (with an injury) and it didn't seem to matter if guys were moving up in pairings or stepping [into the lineup]. There was really no hole, no drop-off; guys just came in and elevated their play.
Parise reached 30 goals for the sixth time in his NHL career, the first since 2011-12, his final season with the New Jersey Devils. Newcomer Thomas Vanek took a while to get settled with after signing as a free agent last summer, but he has become much more of an offensive force and reached 20 goals for the 10th time in as many NHL seasons.
The Wild don't have a star like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin up front, but they do have enough talent to assemble three lines that can score; Nino Niederreiter, who spends much of his time on the third line, reached 20 goals for the first time in the NHL. Minnesota is in the middle of the pack offensively, but it has the kind of depth that keeps the opposition from ganging up on one line. Coach Mike Yeo has done a good job juggling his lines to get the most from everyone.
The Wild were in the top five in fewest shots on goal against throughout the season, and under Yeo have excelled in limiting opponents' chances. They did that in last year's playoffs, but the goaltending didn't hold up against the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round.
The addition of Dubnyk to an already-solid cast is a Cup-winning combination.