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Dubnyk expects two-goalie rotation for Wild in Cup Qualifiers

Says he, Stalock should get bulk of work over rookie Kahkonen against Canucks

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / Senior Fantasy Editor

Devan Dubnyk said he expects himself or Alex Stalock, not rookie Kaapo Kahkonen, to be the starting goalie for the Minnesota Wild against the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

"I can't speak for the coaching staff; I don't necessarily think they're approaching it as a three-goalie rotation," Dubnyk said Thursday. "[Kahkonen] played phenomenal when he was up here, and that's exciting for him. … But I would certainly expect that [Stalock] or I will be starting Game 1."

Stalock emerged as the Wild starter before the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. He played an NHL career-high 38 games (36 starts), going 20-11-4 with a 2.67 goals-against average, a .910 save percentage and four shutouts. 

Minnesota coach Dean Evason, who replaced Bruce Boudreau on Feb. 14, told the Star Tribune on June 3 that he hopes it'll be a difficult decision to make between Stalock and Dubnyk. On June 9, Stalock said he expected it to be an open competition between the Wild's goalies, with "whoever is looking the sharpest you got to go with the first night."

If NHL rosters are expanded for the qualifiers and Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kahkonen also could be in the mix. The 23-year-old earned at least one point in four of his five NHL starts (3-1-1) and had a 2.96 GAA and .913 save percentage but has not played for the Wild since Dec. 15.

Minnesota, the 10th seed in the Western Conference (35-27-7, .558 points percentage), will play seventh-seeded Vancouver (36-27-6, .565) in a best-of-5 series as part of the NHL Return to Play Plan, which will have 24 teams competing for the Stanley Cup. 

The tournament will begin with the qualifiers, which will include 16 teams playing eight best-of-5 series and a round-robin among the top four teams in each conference to determine seeds for the playoffs. Dates and the two hub cities -- one for the 12 participating Western teams, one for the 12 Eastern Conference teams -- have not been announced.

Formal training camps, Phase 3 of the plan, are scheduled to begin July 10.

Dubnyk, who had been the Wild's No. 1 goalie since being acquired in a trade from the Arizona Coyotes during the 2014-15 season, went 12-15-2 with a 3.35 GAA, an .890 save percentage and one shutout this season. He missed time in November and December when his wife, Jenn, was dealing with a medical situation.

The 34-year-old, who has skated twice this week at Minnesota's practice facility, said it was a good feeling to put on his goalie equipment for the first time since March 11 and that he's ready for the upcoming competition at training camp. 

"It was nice to get back out there and see some pucks and get in front of a couple," he said. "We had four skaters and two goalies. Not the optimal skater-to-goalie ratio, but it was fun to get back out there, get the equipment back on and see some pucks coming at you. It was a nice getaway for sure."


[RELATED: 5 questions for Wild in Stanley Cup Qualifiers | Wild-Canucks series debated]


Dubnyk said the qualifiers present a chance for him to regain the starting job.

"[Stalock] was playing great at the end of the year," Dubnyk said. "I'm never going to be in a position where I'm just completely good with sitting back and not playing. I always expect to play; I always expect to be the guy that they want in the net when the time comes and [I'm] certainly going to approach this the exact same way and just be prepared, be ready to play if I'm called upon to play.

"If it's [Stalock], then cheer him on and be ready to go. It's a short series, so you want to make sure you're prepared for anything."

Given the uncertainties surrounding players' health and conditioning after the long pause in the season, Dubnyk said he knows Kahkonen could pay dividends for Minnesota over the course of the tournament. Kahkonen went 25-6-3 with a 2.07 GAA, a .927 save percentage and seven shutouts for Iowa this season and was named a first-team American Hockey League all-star and the league's top goalie.

"It's nice to have somebody who's capable of playing the way that Kaapo is capable of playing because you just don't know," Dubnyk said. "You look at history with injuries and just kind of what can happen in different scenarios in the playoffs. It's one bump or bruise and one missed game and all of a sudden, somebody grabs the reins.

"You just don't know what that scenario could be, so to have a guy that you feel comfortable with, if needed, to hop in there is a big asset to us as a group."

The Wild went 8-4-0 under Evason. Although Dubnyk doesn't know if that momentum will carry over after the long pause, he said he likes Minnesota's chances once the season resumes.

"Everybody was chipping in and that's in the past as well, what's made us a huge group and such a dangerous team. … If we can just get that mojo back and that jelling as a group, I think we're in a really good spot to just try to continue rolling." staff writer David Satriano contributed to this report

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