The outcomes were the same, one of the 16 coveted invites to vie for the Stanley Cup, but each of Devan Dubnyk’s three trips to the postseason with the Wild was manufactured differently.
The goalie helped engineer a remarkable rally in his debut that sparked the Wild to overcome an eight-point deficit in mid-January during the 2014-15 season. For his encore, he backstopped the team to the final berth on the heels of a race down the stretch in 2016. And only a year ago, the Wild cruised to the playoffs amid Dubnyk’s best performance to date.
This season, however, more closely resembles 2015-16, as the Wild is engaged in a playoff battle with a handful of other hopefuls — a return to the logjam that doesn’t scare Dubnyk.
And that’s encouraging for the Wild, because while it will take more than strong goaltending to reach the postseason, the team’s chances of succeeding take a major hit without a rock-solid performance from the 31-year-old.
“This is why you play hockey,” he said. “This is what it’s about. It’s not just about being there and being a team in the league. It’s about winning and being part of it all, and that’s the fun part of it.”
Being in the mix is certainly much more enjoyable than being irrelevant, a reality that Dubnyk faced early in his career when his struggles mirrored those of the teams he represented.
But amid a revival that has overlapped with his tenure in Minnesota, competing for the playoffs looks like it’s suited him. Some of Dubnyk’s best showings have come in months when the Wild was in thick of the postseason push. He boasted a .939 save percentage in February 2015, a .942 clip the next month and a .930 efficiency for January 2016.
Dubnyk’s numbers this season are probably a reflection of the Wild’s sometimes-rocky team defense. His 2.66 goals-against average is the highest of his time in Minnesota, although his .918 saves percentage is identical to his 2015-16 season, when he made the first of his two All-Star Game appearances. As a team, the Wild is last in the league in Corsi percentage, a measure of overall shot attempts for and against, during 5-on-5 play.
“There’s a few things I gotta concentrate on and be sharp at then just play the game, and that kind of allows me to forget about all the stuff that isn’t going to help me play because every game’s played the same way,” Dubnyk said. “My position doesn’t change. I have to do a few certain things every single game to give myself a chance to stop the puck — whether it’s Game 7 of the Finals or the first game of the season, that doesn’t change. The more you can kind of grasp that and be able to focus on those things, the better off you’re going to be.”
Dubnyk and his wife, Jennifer, are expecting their third child during the Wild’s five-day bye week. The veteran goalie missed seven games because of a knee injury in December, but none of that affected his focus Wednesday in Chicago. The Blackhawks were dominating the Wild in the first period — a seemingly 20-minute game of keepaway, as they outshot the Wild 14-5 and had 41 shot attempts compared to just 11 for their opponent. Dubnyk turned aside all but one of those shots and with his play airtight the rest of the way, the Wild was able to pocket a 2-1 victory that ranks as one of the most significant of the season.
“If every team’s No. 1 goalie isn’t on top of their game, they’re in trouble in this league,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Goaltending, we don’t talk about it a lot unless we don’t have it. It’s the most important position.”
That’s the reality every goalie signs up for when he takes on the gig, but it’s how each individual processes that role that seems to influence his productivity.
And based on his track record since he slipped on a Wild sweater, Dubnyk has been able to discover a mentality that works for him — an outlook that, along with his results between the pipes, will be vital to the Wild’s pursuits once again.
“There’s no point in sitting around and trying to prepare like you gotta go out and steal a game,” he said. “You’re going to be part of a group of five guys, and you have to do your job like they have to do theirs.
“At the end of the day, you’re all going to win together. That’s been the best part about coming to Minnesota and playing with this group is we win together, and it’s going to have to be the case going down the stretch.”