NASHVILLE – As much as Devan Dubnyk loved the city and adored working with “one of the best guys you’ll ever meet” in Pekka Rinne, the Wild goalie’s short stint in Nashville was one of the most miserable experiences of his life.
That’s why the Wild’s most valuable player got a little extra satisfaction out of his latest marvelous performance Thursday night in leading the Wild to a 5-2 victory over the Predators at Bridgestone Arena.
“This was not an easy time in my career,” Dubnyk said of giving up nine goals in two games over two months with the Predators in 2014. “It was a challenging time. It’s fun to be able to come back and show the people of Nashville that I wasn’t that bad.”
After the Wild scored three first-period goals, including two 29 seconds apart in the last 1 minute, 23 seconds, the Wild mysteriously stopped playing offense the final two periods and once again leaned on Dubnyk.
Yet again Dubnyk came through, making 34 saves and being a rock when the Wild was outshot 23-9 the final two periods. Two of those nine Wild shots were empty-net goals by Eric Staal and Mikael Granlund to make the score look deceptively lopsided.
“We weren’t at our best, but our goalie was,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said.
In leading the Wild to a season-best sixth consecutive victory and points in 11 of its past 12 games (8-1-3), Dubnyk improved his point streak to a career-best 10 games (8-0-2). He still has not allowed more than three goals in a game this season and leads the league with a 1.62 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.
Here’s some perspective: Rinne, Nashville’s star goalie, has given up 25 goals in his past seven starts. Dubnyk has allowed 26 goals in his past 15 starts, 28 in his past 20.
“Look, he’s been doing it against every team he’s played. It seems like he gets into that zone there and says nothing else is going to beat him,” Boudreau said of Dubnyk, spotless after Mike Fisher’s power-play goal pulled the Predators within 3-2 8:55 into the second period.
Boudreau recalled how with 8:32 left in the third, Dubnyk slid right and robbed Ryan Johansen’s 30-foot snap shot on a power play.
“It just picked the whole team up,” Boudreau said. “If you look at the last seven minutes, we clogged the neutral zone, we forced them behind the net, we checked, we moved our legs, we did a lot of great things and didn’t allow them the offensive freedom they had the last period and a half.”
Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle and Staal scored the first-period goals, all created in some way by Nino Niederreiter. Brodin’s goal came through a Niederreiter screen. Coyle, playing in his 300th game, and Staal scored off primary Niederreiter assists. Coyle’s 10th goal came off a Niederreiter rebound. Staal scored after Niederreiter outhustled, then outworked Ryan Ellis for a loose puck.
Niederreiter has 12 points in the past 12 games.
“He plays hard, he’s a physical, big, strong guy,” Staal said of Niederreiter. “I didn’t play against him a lot [being in Carolina], but I knew him. He’s an important piece to what we got here.”
Boudreau — who sarcastically thanked a reporter Thursday morning for reminding him the Wild hadn’t scored a power-play goal in eight games despite the winning — didn’t have to wait long into Thursday’s game for that streak to end. Brodin went top corner over Rinne’s glove.
“I looked at John [on the bench] and said, ‘You relieved?’ ” Boudreau said, referring to assistant coach John Anderson, who runs the power play.
Brodin has 13 points in 29 games. His career high is 19 points in 79 games, and he had seven points in 68 games last season.
“We’re just trying to keep this thing going,” Staal said. “We had a good first period and really set the tone, and from there, maybe not as sharp. But you’ve got to find different ways to win on winning streaks. Wasn’t the prettiest tonight, but we’ve got a solid team and a great goalie right now.”