BUFFALO, N.Y. – Twenty minutes after becoming the first Wild goalie in history to debut with a shutout, Devan Dubnyk stood in front of reporters answering questions when Matt Cooke threw him a towel.
“You might need that for your sweat,” Cooke yelled.
“I don’t have any,” Dubnyk yelled back.
Too bad the Wild can’t play the Buffalo Sabres — losers now of a franchise-record nine in a row — every night because Thursday’s carefree 7-0 obliteration felt like an exhibition against a minor league club.
In the most lopsided victory in Wild history and the most lopsided loss by the Sabres since they moved to First Niagara Center in 1996, Dubnyk — who wore his Coyotes-colored pads and mask — had to make only 18 saves for his 10th career shutout and the Wild’s first since Oct. 23. The former Arizona goalie arrived in Buffalo at 8 a.m. after taking an overnight red-eye through New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.
The 6-5 goalie said earlier Thursday that he crunched up into a ball in his tight coach seat so he could sleep. He joked that his tailbone will be reminding him of the flight for weeks to come.
Luckily, Dubnyk didn’t have to overwork that tailbone because the Wild, using an undermanned blue line because of Ryan Suter’s suspension and Marco Scandella’s injury, collapsed down low and protected the goalie against the league’s weakest offensive team.
“The guys came out and worked so hard for me and allowed me to settle into the game,” Dubnyk said. “We had a lead and the way we were playing, we weren’t about to give it up. I could concentrate when the pucks came across the blue line, which wasn’t too often.”
The Wild owes the NHL’s schedule maker a bouquet of roses for booking the 29th-place Sabres for the 43rd game. The Wild had lost six in a row. Tension was high. Closed-door meetings were plentiful. Mike Yeo’s job security was being questioned.
Coincidentally, the Wild had lost six in a row heading into the 43rd game last season when the Wild also beat Buffalo. That victory triggered a season turnaround.
“I know it’s been a hard season for them, but for us, we needed a game like that,” said Zach Parise, whose goal 5 minutes, 13 seconds into the game turned out to be the winner. “We needed a game where guys felt good and guys scored.”
Parise and former Sabre Thomas Vanek combined for 14 shots with each scoring a goal and assist. Kyle Brodziak and Erik Haula also had a goal and assist and Matt Dumba (plus-3), Jared Spurgeon (plus-4) and Cooke also scored as the Wild outshot the Sabres 37-18.
Jason Pominville posted his 31st career three-point game with three assists on a night the classy former Sabres captain was welcomed back with a video tribute that bizarrely didn’t happen last season.
“We had a couple meetings and weren’t happy with where we were sitting, the way we were playing and most importantly, the way we were competing,” Pominville said. “I thought from the get-go, we competed harder, won more battles and were able to play in their end.
“We just needed a win. We just needed to find a way to win.”
Parise talked about how important it was for the Wild to get back to defending well. Yeo’s team trademark has always been good defense and structure, yet the Wild ranks 24th at 2.95 goals allowed per game.
It might have been the Sabres, but the hope is the Wild reinforced that good defense leads to offensive-zone time, scoring chances and goals. The hope is Thursday’s blowout can serve as a building block heading into a two-game homestand against Arizona and Columbus.
There’s a lot of work to be done. The Wild is seven points out of a playoff spot.
“We can’t sit around and start feeling really good about ourselves,” Yeo said. “Unfortunately, we put ourselves in a pretty deep hole here, so as good as this game was, the next game’s more important.”