Of all the questions Mike Yeo received heading into Game 1 of the playoffs, the identity of the Wild coach’s starting goaltender was not one of them.
Devan Dubnyk started 38 consecutive games for the Wild until finally getting a night off last week in Nashville. Needless to say, Dubnyk, 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average and .936 save percentage with the Wild, will be making his playoff debut Thursday against the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues, on the other hand, may be going with goaltender by committee against the Wild. Coach Ken Hitchcock at least claims he hasn’t decided yet whether veteran Brian Elliott or youngster Jake Allen will start Game 1.
“I don’t know, I’ll flip a coin in the next couple of days,” Hitchcock said. “One guy’s had a great season [Elliott], one guy’s had a great last five weeks [Allen]. They’ve stolen us games. Elliott ... other than that fluke shot barrage that happened in Minnesota [6-3 loss March 21], Brian’s played great against them.
“This is a new experience for Jake, so we’ve got a veteran guy who’s had good experience and a young guy who’s really emerging. I’ve got the best of both worlds.”
Prior to Dubnyk stoning the Blues at every turn and Nino Niederreiter and Kyle Brodziak scoring 17 seconds apart in the third period at St. Louis on March 14, Elliott, 30, was 6-0 lifetime against the Wild with a 1.76 GAA Elliott lost that start and the next to the Wild before rebounding with 23 saves in the Blues’ 4-2 season-ending win over Minnesota.
Elliott went 26-14-3 with a 2.26 GAA and .917 save percentage this season. Allen, 24, went 22-7-4 with a 2.28 GAA and .913 save percentage this season. He gave up four goals in his past four starts.
“I think you’ve got to really base on who played well against the opposition; I think that’s significant,” Hitchcock said. “Some goalies are set up for different type of opposition. Ells has played more against this team and he’s played well. We like them both though.”
Asked why Elliott plays well against the Wild, Hitchcock said, “Because they’re a rush-attack team. Their scoring chances on us this year, they’ve got a predominant amount of scoring chances off the rush.
“It’s really interesting. We’ve got way more than they do on the cycle; they’ve got way more than we do on the rush. That’s been the big difference, and [Elliott] had a heck of a year defending the rush.”
Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk told St. Louis reporters that the Blues are comfortable with either goalie.
“Whoever ends up being in there, we’re going to be fine,” Shattenkirk said. “I think the way that those two drive each other and that healthy competition is good. It’s only made them better goalies and I think it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with the decision, but we’re happy either way.”
With so many extra forwards, it appears Yeo has settled on veteran Matt Cooke to play left wing on the fourth line with Brodziak and Justin Fontaine on Thursday. Erik Haula, Ryan Carter, Jordan Schroeder and Sean Bergenheim skated as extra forwards Monday.
Yeo said Cooke’s playoff experience (103 playoff games, one Stanley Cup) set him apart, as well as his physical presence and penalty-killing work.
Nate Prosser also skated with Christian Folin as an extra, meaning former Blues defenseman Jordan Leopold likely will draw in as rookie Matt Dumba’s partner Thursday.
Viewing party set
The Wild will hold a Game 1 viewing party at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday. Gates 1 and 2 will open at 7:30 p.m. and the game will be showed on the Jumbotron. Entry is free, but fans are encouraged to bring a nonperishable food item to benefit Second Harvest Heartland or make a cash donation to benefit the Wild Foundation. The Wild also will hold a pep rally Thursday from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at Rice Park in St. Paul.