Matt Dumba’s season bottomed out mid-December in Chicago, a disastrous night that continued a baffling downswing for the defenseman who showed up at training camp looking like he could be the team’s MVP.
He was on the ice for four Blackhawks goals, including the game-winner that clipped his arm before flying into the net, and he had his minutes slashed after getting demoted in the lineup. Dumba was also fighting the puck offensively, knee-deep in a goal drought that was swallowing him up like quicksand.
“You go through the video [Tuesday] morning, and it kind of brings back memories of that game,” Dumba said. “It was just how it was going.”
But on Tuesday night during the rematch in front of 17,341 at Xcel Energy Center, Dumba got a chance at redemption and he took advantage — scoring his first goal in 34 games in overtime to lift the Wild to a 3-2 victory over the Blackhawks that helped the team’s dicey playoff push and showed just how much Dumba has progressed since that low point in a 5-3 loss almost two months ago.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Dumba said after burrowing out of the postgame celebration that fanned around him. “Obviously, it was good scoring in OT but it’d kind of been a long time coming. This feels good. I was trying not to think about it but now getting it, yeah, it felt awesome.”
After jumping onto the ice, Dumba took a Mats Zuccarello pass to the net and although he tried to stuff the puck five-hole, an errant stick sent the shot sailing over goalie Corey Crawford 2 minutes, 21 seconds into the extra frame.
“The last four games he’s really settled into being the guy that we know he can be,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s a real positive sign.”
Not only was Dumba’s fourth goal of the season his first since Nov. 12, but it was also his fifth career overtime tally — tying captain Mikko Koivu and Brent Burns for the most in team history.
“Everyone goes through those droughts at one point or another, and I’m glad I have great teammates around me, good staff,” said Dumba, who returned this season from a torn pectoral muscle that sidelined him for most of 2018-19. “Everyone kind of pushed me through that to get where I am now.”
Dumba’s goal also halted a late-game Blackhawks rally that smuggled control away from the Wild after it was leading by a pair after two.
At 3:53 of the second, Kevin Fiala converted on a rising shot from the slot for his first goal in nine games.
Later in the period, Fiala scored again — this time on the power play — to notch his fourth vs. Chicago this season. The Wild ended up going 1-for-2 with the man advantage, while its penalty kill was airtight for only the second time in 12 games after going 3-for-3.
But the Blackhawks, who are ahead in the standings, asterisked the Wild’s strong start with two shots through traffic in the third: from Adam Boqvist (6:23) and Olli Maatta (16:50).
“You can only control them for so long,” said goalie Alex Stalock, who was sharp and played the entire game despite getting kneed in the head in the first period. He finished with 27 saves, while Crawford had 31.
And although the Wild surrendered one point to Chicago, it did gain some traction in the standings — moving six points out of the second wild-card seed in the Western Conference after starting the day seven back.
That’s what’s also different from now and December: Dumba is reemerging when the stakes are much higher.
“I’m really looking forward to what we have ahead,” Dumba said, “and everyone’s excited here.”