If the near-perfect relief effort he pitched Tuesday or the late-game poise he demonstrated two days earlier in San Jose wasn’t enough evidence that backup Alex Stalock could handle the goaltending duties for the Wild while No. 1 Devan Dubnyk healed, he provided more proof Thursday.
Stalock racked up 28 saves, blanking the Maple Leafs 2-0 for his first shutout of the season in front of an announced crowd of 18,857 to help the Wild push its winning streak to four games — which ties a season high. The team also continued its prowess on home ice, as it improved to 7-0-1 in its past eight games at Xcel Energy Center.
“I felt confident going into it,” said Stalock, who’s been a big key in the past three wins for the Wild, which edged the Sharks in overtime Sunday and then outlasted the Flames on Tuesday in a shootout. “You sense from the group the guys were fired up today. It was just one of those feelings in the room where you’re like, ‘I don’t think we’re going to lose tonight. There’s no chance we’re going to lose.’
“You get that feeling sometimes, and hopefully that can stick around because I know guys are feeling good about their game now.”
The Maple Leafs weren’t at full strength, as second-year phenom Auston Matthews sat out a third consecutive game because of an upper-body injury. But they are already at the 20-win plateau, and still presented a challenge.
Stalock frustrated them, particularly early as the Wild discovered its groove, by sticking with the strategy that’s guided him throughout this season as the team’s understudy in goal.
He was mobile, challenged shooters and made timely saves that seemed to galvanize the Wild — further proof he seems more than equipped to backstop the Wild while Dubnyk is sidelined week-to-week because of, what a source says, is a minor knee injury.
“He’s especially good at playing the puck,” winger Tyler Ennis said of Stalock. “It makes it a lot easier for us going back for pucks and breaking out. He’s got a lot of energy, he’s a great guy and he’s given us a lot of confidence. And when you’ve got confidence like that, you create more offense.”
In the Maple Leafs’ zone, the Wild had pace, a physical edge and bursts of scoring chances.
All three of those traits culminated in its first goal.
Winger Chris Stewart chased the puck into the Toronto zone, forcing a drop pass before finishing his check. The Maple Leafs ended up turning the puck over, and defenseman Ryan Suter fed Ennis for a wraparound that he sent by goalie Frederik Andersen’s glove 18 minutes, 6 seconds into the first period. Andersen totaled 24 saves.
“I guess everyone plays well with a chip on their shoulder, a little bit of fire,” said Ennis, who was scratched Tuesday. “It was more our line got it in, played smart, played hard and played the way we were supposed to, and we were successful.”
The Wild also was attentive in its own end by clogging up shooting lanes and minimizing the quality of Toronto’s looks, as the team blocked 21 shots.
The Maple Leafs had another 21 attempts miss the net entirely. Toronto also struggled on the power play, going 0-for-4, while the Wild was 0-for-1.
“Guys did a good job of getting in lanes and doing their job,” Suter said.
In the third, the Maple Leafs had their best push — outshooting the Wild 8-0 at one point. But Stalock weathered the pressure en route to making 16 third-period stops, and the Wild rewarded him with a much-needed insurance goal 8:06 into the period when winger Mikael Granlund one-timed an Eric Staal pass from the slot.
“Everybody’s smiling. Everybody’s having fun,” Stalock said. “It’s four in a row now. It’s just an atmosphere coming in here. Everybody’s having a good time.”