The sting of the loss twisted up goalie Devan Dubnyk’s insides long after the Wild was steamrolled off the ice and out of the playoffs, a 5-0 romp by the Jets in Game 5 last season that Dubnyk surveyed mostly from the bench since he was yanked after getting tagged for four goals on 10 shots in less than 12 minutes.
“It hurts,” he said. “It never really goes away. You can throw it out and not let it affect you, but years from now when I’m done playing I’ll probably look back at that game and still have a bit of a sour taste.”
Despite that finish, there’s plenty Dubnyk liked about that series.
In fact, he’s trying to rediscover how he felt in the playoffs on the brink of his fourth full-length season as the Wild’s No. 1 because he believes it’s the best vibe he’s had in the crease his entire career.
“I’m just going to try to grab that and get back to that feeling,” he said.
While the clash with Winnipeg didn’t flatter the Wild, it was more complimentary of Dubnyk.
Aside from that Game 5 collapse, a spiral that Dubnyk pins on the first goal when he didn’t get his knees down in time to stop a puck skidding across the ice and the third tally that was a glove-side shot off a turnover, he was a catalyst for the team’s competitiveness.
“It’s two plays,” Dubnyk said. “You know what you did, so fix it. You’re not going to start changing a bunch of things.”
Through the first four games of the playoff series agaisnt the Jets, he snuffed out 132 of 142 shots — a .930 save percentage – while handling a heavy workload. In each of those contests, Dubnyk faced at least 27 shots and twice saw 40 or more.
What those numbers reinforce is how comfortable and confident he felt in his stance, tracking pucks and moving in the blue paint.
“Everything just kind of culminated from what I’d been working on all year,” the 32-year-old said. “It was a great feeling. I felt as good as I ever have.”
Goaltending coach Bob Mason noticed how Dubnyk was rotating his toes quickly to the puck and then “getting quiet” — or stable — so that he could cleanly encounter the puck.
Having what Mason terms “strong ice” is also key, and that’s when Dubnyk sets his skates at the top of the crease — a position that gives players less room on net to target with Dubnyk’s 6-6 frame obscuring the view.
“He’s big as a house,” Mason said. “[When] he’s big, he’s tough to beat.”
Dubnyk, who’s halfway through a six-year, $26 million contract, paid attention to these details that worked, as he always does, and is using that as a template for how he wants to begin this season so he can essentially pick up where he left off instead of starting back at Square 1. But he’s also open to modifications.
Throughout the summer, Dubnyk watched back each game from last season and tried to identify trends of how shots eluded him and then figure out why that happened.
“It’s probably just a minor tweak,” he said.
Although he didn’t divulge what he observed, Dubnyk did pinpoint some improvements and has used training camp to adjust while also getting reacquainted with his approach from the playoffs — a process Mason has noticed Dubnyk work at during his preseason action that led up to his likely final tuneup Wednesday against those familiar Jets.
“That’s when your confidence grows,” Mason said.
Belief is important, but Mason also labeled a hunger to win as integral for a netminder.
And just like the disappointment from last season’s demise, that motivation is also churning inside Dubnyk.
“I want to be getting better until I can’t walk anymore,” he said, “until I can’t pull myself out of bed.”