GLENDALE, Ariz. – Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk didn’t face NHL action in more than a month, going 33 days and 15 games in between starts after being away from the team while his wife Jenn deals with a medical situation.
But Dubnyk was quickly reacquainted with the puck, facing 17 shots in the first period of his return.
And that heavy workload to start helped him ease into a back-and-forth offensive showdown with the Coyotes, a tug-of-war the Wild ultimately prevailed in 8-5 Thursday at Gila River Arena to wrap its three-game road trip 1-2.
“It only took a few minutes and got to see a few [shots],” Dubnyk said. “The rebounds weren't as clean as I'd like them at the start of the game, but I wasn't about to beat myself up too much about it. Just wanted to make sure they stayed out, and I felt better as the game went on.”
Dubnyk was tested early and responded well to the challenge, making 12 consecutive saves before Arizona finally eluded him on a Phil Kessel shot that came after a Matt Dumba turnover.
But Dubnyk stayed locked in, giving up just two goals through two.
“When you think about it away from the rink, you think it's going to be weird and you'll probably be a little bit nervous,” Dubnyk said about returning to the crease after such a lengthy absence. “Then as soon as you're here, even just being on the bench for the Vegas game, and going through the regular routine, it feels back to normal. Just try to be sharp. The biggest thing when you have time off is a lot of times you can get screened or let yourself get screened, so you have to make sure you're working to find the puck.”
There was quite a bit of tracking to do in the third period when both teams’ offenses took over, combining for seven goals. And although the high-scoring outcome isn’t one that typically flatters goalies, the Wild credited Dubnyk for making timely saves and the group was happy he was able to commemorate his return with a victory.
“It could have been 8-8 or even more,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “It was one of those things where you just want to get through it for him. He’s a huge part of our team, and we’re a family in here and we wanted to win this one for him and I know he really wanted it badly, too. So, we were really happy to get the win no matter how many goals went by him. It was good. He still played great.”
The newly-formed top line featuring Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello with Eric Staal, a trio that was test run in training camp before getting broken up, had a hand in three goals – including the game-winner from Zuccarello in the third.
But the performance by fourth liners Victor Rask, Ryan Hartman and Foligno was noteworthy.
This unit also was responsible for three goals; Foligno scored and assisted on two others. Hartman had a goal and assist, bumping him up to 100 career points, and Rask notched an assist.
“We all kind of looked at each other [Wednesday] and said, ‘OK, let’s do something,’” Foligno said.
Secondary scoring wasn’t just clutch against the Coyotes; it could be a recipe for long-term success while the Wild is without key forwards Mikko Koivu, Joel Eriksson Ek and Jason Zucker.
But Hartman said the line didn’t feel any extra urgency to deliver.
“We’ve been doing this for a while,” he said. “We’ve all played a lot of NHL hockey games, all three of us. We know how to be regular NHL players every day, and we know what it takes when you do have guys injured. It’s not the first time a team has gone through this. It’s how you respond. To everyone’s credit, we’re stepping up.”
The Wild didn’t look ready to overcome adversity in the first period, a stagnant start that put it behind by a goal.
But the team was much better in the second, scoring on its first two shots of the frame.
Asked what his message was to the team in between periods, Boudreau said, “That we weren’t very good, and we were letting Duby down, who had made so many good saves in the first period. We just weren’t moving our legs.”
While the team lacked poise in the third, blowing a two-goal lead and yielding a third, it was able to hang on by scoring another four after it produced that many in the second.
And considering the circumstances – the team had lost its previous two games, was at the end of a road trip and without three regulars – that response was impressive.
“We get behind. We get above,” Boudreau said. “They tie it up in the third and have all the crowd going crazy, and we come right back and score two more. I just think that’s pretty special resiliency from this group.”