TAMPA – When Lightning center Anthony Cirelli swerved to the middle during his solo trek into the Wild’s zone, goalie Devan Dubnyk almost changed his mind.
But by then, he figured he was committed to the move.
So he sprawled out as originally planned.
And the decision paid off.
With the Wild protecting a one-goal lead in the second period, Dubnyk’s save on Cirelli’s breakaway was a crucial moment in the game – especially considering it helped preserve a shutout for Dubnyk en route to a well-earned 3-0 win for the Wild at Amalie Arena Thursday that extended its recent run of success (6-0-2) and kept the team in a playoff spot.
“It’s just about timing,” Dubnyk said. “You can only do it in-game because he has to be skating at full speed.”
Dubnyk was frustrated after the Wild’s 5-4 shootout loss Tuesday in Nashville to the Predators, taking issue with center Ryan Johansen’s slow trot during his try on the deciding goal – this after Dubnyk felt he was too deep in his net on the Predators’ third goal and had the fourth sail under his armpit.
Those miscues, however, didn’t pop up Thursday, as Dubnyk was locked-in – an effort that coach Bruce Boudreau called Dubnyk’s best of the season.
Expect him back between the pipes Friday when the Wild wraps up this three-game road trip against the Panthers.
“I felt great,” Dubnyk said. “A big part of that is we defend well. Defending well doesn’t mean not giving up chances or not giving up shots. I thought for the entire game I just was able to have really good reads on plays when they were moving the puck. They were doing a really good job in front of me, and that just gives me an opportunity to kind of see and now there’s this play or this play.”
The other star of the evening was winger Jason Zucker, who scored all three goals for his second career natural hat trick. He also has six in his last six games, a timely outburst since the Wild continues to battle for playoff positioning.
“He’s always been a streaky player,” Boudreau said. “Last year, he went through droughts and then he’d score seven goals in a row. So I just hope this streak doesn’t end.”
It took Zucker a few tries to finally cap off his hat trick with an empty-net goal late in the third period.
“Third time’s a charm,” he said.
Those two players were clear-cut standouts for the Wild, but this performance also reflected well on center Joel Eriksson Ek and winger Jordan Greenway – both of whom Boudreau called “beasts” after the game for their play.
Eriksson Ek skated a career-high 18 minutes, 30 seconds while tying a career-best in shots with seven. And Greenway had four shot attempts and two blocked shots; he was a force in the offensive zone, leveraging his size and strength to get to pucks and hold onto them.
There was more opportunity to go around because the Wild played the second half without center Luke Kunin. He left the game in the second period after taking an open-ice hit from center Cedric Paquette.
After falling down, Kunin struggled to get to his feet and then fell again as he tried to make it to the Wild bench.
Boudreau said Kunin was woozy and called his issue an upper-body injury. He expected to know more about Kunin's status after the game. The team could call on winger Matt Read if needed, and Greenway could be a possibility at center – lineup decisions Boudreau said he’ll mull Friday morning.
“You hate to see a player coming off the ice like that,” Boudreau said. “But his character, he was going to make it. That’s Luke.”