With the spring temperatures dropping back down in the State of Hockey, the Minnesota Wild looks to stay hot on the road. The Wild has been turning typically hostile environments into tranquil-as-a-summer-day atmospheres on the road of late. Winners of a franchise-best eight straight road games, the club again will look to quiet one of the rowdiest crowds in the National Hockey League, the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, tonight against the Maple Leafs.
Despite the variation in buildings, cities and opponents, there has been one constant for Minnesota since Jan. 15: between the pipes. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk has started every contest since coming to the Wild from the Arizona Coyotes. The story of Dubnyk’s arrival and the coinciding Wild rise is as worn as old pair of jeans. However, with the Leafs struggling and the Toronto media hungry for a fresh story, the netminder held court for a gaggle of cameras and microphones.
If you include one start with Arizona, Dubnyk will get his 32nd consecutive start in goal tonight against the Leafs. It’s the most by an NHL goalie since Jonas Hiller started 32 consecutive games for Anaheim, Jan. 12-March 18, 2012.
“A lot of credit has to go to Devan, but a lot of credit has to go to the players who are playing in front of him,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “It’s been a good partnership. His solid play has given us a lot of confidence and allowed us to concentrate on our own jobs.
“With that, the guys are playing a better game in front of him.”
The Wild and Dubnyk have paired like a medium rare rib eye and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Minnesota has allowed the League-low 52 goals since the arrival of the netminder and is 12-1-2 on the road. Yeo credits the team’s preparation to its success away from home.
“Every team that you play is different, every building that you play is different, but how you prepare shouldn’t be,” Yeo said. “That’s one thing I compliment our players on the most.”
While the team is built on stout defense, forward Thomas Vanek has helped bring more of an offensive punch. The forward is on a seven-game point streak (5-3=8) — the longest of any Wild player this season. The wing has found some familiarity on a line with Charlie Coyle and Justin Fontaine. The Austrian said he hasn’t changed his approach, but things have just started clicking, like the last game against the St. Louis Blues where the puck went in after hitting him in the back.
“Sometimes you get on a streak where things are just going in,” Vanek said. “There were games before where I had three, four, five good looks, but nothing.
“But I think it helps that I’m back on the left and playing consistently with two guys that I’m comfortable with.”
He’s so comfortable with Fontaine that he doesn’t even need to give him a hard time about their alma maters meeting in the NCAA National Tournament.
“He know the Gophs will take care of it so there’s not much to trash talk there,” Vanek laughed.
Vanek’s University of Minnesota will face Fontaine’s University of Minnesota-Duluth in the First Round at 4:30 State of Hockey Time on Friday at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H.
The State of Hockey is well represented, yet again, in the National Tournament. St. Cloud State skates against Michigan Tech at 3:30 on Friday at the Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D. Meanwhile, Ryan Carter’s Minnesota State University Mankato earned the No. 1 seed and is set to take on the Rochester Institute of Technology at 3 p.m. at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Ind.
Carter has been cleared to play, but will not be in the lineup tonight against the Leafs. Yeo said that he could see action tomorrow night as the club faces the New York Islanders, but that will be dependent on tonight’s game.