CALGARY, ALBERTA – Zach Parise said it plainly Thursday morning. With the number of teams the 12th-place Wild is chasing, it had no choice but to beat the Calgary Flames, who occupy the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Wild’s leading goal scorer repeated that mantra after scoring the only goal in a hard-fought 1-0 victory at the Saddledome.
“Like I said this morning, five [points back] looks a lot better than nine had we lost that game,” Parise said after the Wild’s second consecutive victory on a three-game trip that ends with a Sunday matinée in Vancouver. “Good start to the trip.”
As Thomas Vanek said, it sure helps to get “unbelievable” goaltending. If the Wild continues to get the type of play Devan Dubnyk has provided since arriving from Arizona on Jan. 14 and particularly supplied all night Thursday, the Wild could make things interesting.
Dubnyk made 30 saves for his 11th career shutout and second in six starts with the Wild. Playing behind a team that had gotten erratic goaltending for much of the season, Dubnyk has been a revelation. The Calgary hometown boy, who grew up idolizing former Flames and Oilers goalie Fred Brathwaite, is 4-1 with a 1.62 goals-against average and .931 save percentage since his arrival.
“We owe a lot to Dubnyk,” Parise said. “A lot of times you have breakdowns and you need to get bailed out. He’s done that for us. He’s made big saves and the saves he should make and some that you don’t expect him to.”
Dubnyk made 22 saves over the final 40 minutes, including 10 consecutive at one point in the second period. Facing the league’s high-scoring third-period team (59 goals, plus-27 differential), Dubnyk then shut the door and made clutch saves to deny Paul Byron on a breakaway, Johnny Gaudreau from point blank and Mikael Backlund in the waning seconds.
“He earned that shutout,” coach Mike Yeo said. “What you need is big saves at big times. Those were big-time saves and that’s how you win hockey games.”
The Wild, 4-1-1 in its past six games, had one of its best road first periods in a while. The team defended well, had sustained pressure in the offensive zone and competed impressively against the hard-working Flames.
Parise hit the 20-goal mark for the seventh time at the 8:59 mark, and it came after what might have been Vanek’s finest all-around shift of the season.
After Mikael Granlund took a faceoff, Vanek helped win the draw by outmuscling a Flames defender. Vanek then turned and fired on net. After the puck popped out, Jonas Brodin walked down the wall and backhanded the puck into the corner. Vanek sneaked in front of Gaudreau and picked off Norris Trophy contender Mark Giordano with one hand to set up Parise alone. Parise outwaited Jonas Hiller for his sixth goal in as many games.
“That’s why we call [Vanek] Selke,” said Parise, a sarcastic nickname referring to the NHL’s defensive forward award. Asked if that’s true, Parise said, roaring with laughter, “Well, that’s what I call him.”
The Wild defended hard all night. Marco Scandella was a beast in his own zone, and the Wild blocked 19 shots in what Brodin called a “total team win. It felt like a playoff game. It was a huge game for us.”
Dubnyk couldn’t have been more appreciative of his teammates’ effort.
“We’re certainly not going to win every game 1-0, but the way that game was going, you could tell it was going to be that kind of game,” he said. “Guys buckled down. We were working so hard down low. They had some possession time in our end, but we did a good job of holding them out and blocking a lot of shots.”