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Wild's Dubnyk set for first Stanley Cup Playoff game

by Dan Myers /

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk has done a lot of things during his hockey career. One thing he hasn't: played in a Stanley Cup Playoff game.

That will change Thursday when Dubnyk starts for the Wild against the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their Western Conference First Round series at Scottrade Center (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports 3, FS-N, FS-WI, FS-MW).

It's a game that has been a long time coming for Dubnyk, who has played in 231 NHL games since entering the League in 2009, including 39 with the Wild since being acquired in a trade from the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 14.

The Wild were in 12th place in the Western Conference at the time of the trade, but a 27-9-2 stretch helped catapult the Wild to the top wild card.

Dubnyk said it's helped the Wild have been in virtual playoff mode since the day he was acquired. Minnesota trailed the Winnipeg Jets for the top wild card spot by 14 points at the All-Star break and were seven points back of the second wild card position with four teams to jump over.

With the help of Dubnyk, the Wild did just that, finishing the season one point clear of the Jets.

"We've been playing these games for months now, and we've done a real good job of really being able to focus on a single game at a time, and regardless of winning or losing just forgetting about it and shifting our focus to the next game," Dubnyk said. "And we've had to do that for months now. So I think we've grown as a team to know how to do that well and that should help us going forward here."

Wild coach Mike Yeo hasn't advised Dubnyk on what to expect in his first Stanley Cup Playoff experience, but said his demeanor should be a benefit.

"What I love about [Dubnyk] is the way that he comes to the rink," Yeo said. "He's a very loose guy, he's a very confident guy, and if I were to say anything, it'd be to have fun."

Yeo said his last conversation with Dubnyk came before a game against the Chicago Blackhawks on April 7. The Wild had lost three games in a row at home and needed a win to clinch a playoff berth. The game in Chicago opened a season-ending three-game road trip against the Central Division's top three teams.

"I think that at that time, him dealing with that pressure was good and it was needed, so he's been through that. I would say that the pressure that he felt getting into the playoffs for the first time, getting our group there, was something he needed to face," Yeo said. "The game changes [Thursday]. It gets more intense, there's more emotion involved."

Yeo will have a relatively easy decision to make when it comes to his goaltender. Dubnyk has been one of the best goaltenders in the League over the past three months, but Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has no defined No. 1 guy to lean on as the playoffs open.

Hitchcock named rookie Jake Allen the starter for Game 1, but whether he is in goal for Game 2 on Saturday is anyone's guess.

"We're treating this no different than any other game," Allen said after being named the starter. "[Hitchcock] just tells you that you're going and that's it.

"I'm looking forward to it. It'll be a good challenge. I've been working for this moment all year. To be able to get the start, it's going to be huge. I know we're all ready and excited to go."

Dubnyk said he feels the same way. The four-day break between games has helped ease the nerves before playing his first playoff game.

"It's important not to get too wrapped up in the excitement of the playoffs," Dubnyk said. "We'll go out and do what we've been doing to try and get a win and shift our focus from there."

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