ST. PAUL -- Backup goaltenders are sometimes relegated to the role of playing on the second half of back-to-back games or spot duty when a starter goes through a rough stretch of games.
That's not the case for Wild backup Alex Stalock, who will start on Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets at Xcel Energy Center.
Minnesota is not playing back-to-back games, and is, in fact, smack in the middle of an extended stretch at home. Starter Devan Dubnyk is coming off perhaps his best outing of the season in a 2-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.
But Stalock has earned the opportunity to start based on his play in two starts so far this season.
And while his statline in his opening game in Carolina is nothing to write home about, Stalock was Minnesota's best player in a 5-4 shootout loss.
The same can be said about his last start, a 4-2 win in Calgary 10 days ago where he confidently backstopped the Wild during a furious first-period charge by the Flames, keeping the game scoreless long enough for Minnesota to find its groove.
"So far he's been really good in tough situations," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "In Calgary he was really good and won us the game. In Carolina he gave us a chance as we weren't very good and we lost in a shootout, so it'd be nice if our players played really good in front of him one night."
Video: Boudreau pregame vs. Jets Oct. 31
Boudreau said before the Calgary game that Stalock's demeanor and his work ethic have made it easy for his teammates to want to play well in front of him. Both Wild goaltenders are well-liked and respected by teammates.
If Stalock continues his solid play and if Dubnyk builds on his start against the Penguins like most expect that he will, Minnesota will have a luxury it didn't have for a good part of last season; two goalies playing at a high level with the trust and confidence of the coaching staff and the players.
"We're super confident with our goaltenders," said Wild forward Marcus Foligno. "It doesn't matter [who it is], those guys come to play every night. They're really competitive and vocal back there, so it makes it easier for all of us."
Stalock will try and build on his impressive resume against the Jets. In five career games versus Winnipeg, Stalock is 3-0-0 with a .967 save percentage and a 0.73 goals-against average. Of his four career shutouts in the NHL, two have come against the Jets.
"It's good to know," Stalock said with a grin. "I mean, throw that out the window, any game, really. Maybe it's just worked out that way that teams went in and played a great game against them. It's a fun team to play every time. They get the puck to the net, they crash the net hard and they get big bodies in front. So it will be a good test."
Video: Wild pregame vs. Jets Oct. 31
Minnesota will get a big piece of its lineup back as forward Nino Niederreiter will return after missing the past six games with an ankle sprain.
Boudreau is expected to put him right back into the mix, skating on a line with Eric Staal and rookie forward Luke Kunin, who has continued to earn more trust and playing time.
"He's a big strong guy that averages 25 goals a year," Boudreau said of Niederreiter. "It's his first game back in six, and sometimes you get a little rusty when that happens, but at the same time it's good to have him back."
Here are the projected lineups:
Nino Niederreiter - Eric Staal - Luke Kunin
Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund
Marcus Foligno - Joel Eriksson Ek - Chris Stewart
Tyler Ennis - Matt Cullen - Daniel Winnik
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba
Mike Reilly - Kyle Quincey
Kyle Connor - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler
Nikolaj Ehlers - Bryan Little - Patrik Laine
Brandon Tanev - Andrew Copp - Shawn Matthias
Brendan Lemieux - Matt Hendricks - Marko Dano
Josh Morrissey - Jacob Trouba
Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Dmitry Kulikov - Tyler Myers