While just about everyone is focused on the matchup, Devan Dubnyk can’t help but remember the journey that brought him here.
When the Wild plays Montreal at Bell Centre on Thursday, the presumed matchup will have Carey Price in goal for the Canadiens, Dubnyk for the Wild, even though Wild coach Bruce Boudreau insisted after Wednesday’s optional practice he had not decided who would start.
Bet on Dubnyk.
It would match two of the NHL’s best goaltenders this season. Dubnyk picked up his league-leading fifth shutout in Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over Colorado at Xcel Energy Center. He leads the league with a 1.55 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage. Price, meanwhile, is the season-in, season-out standard-bearer for the league. He has won gold at the World Junior Championship, the Olympics and the World Cup of Hockey. He ranks second in the league with 18 wins, third with a .936 save percentage and third in GAA (1.87).
That matchup, alone, is intriguing.
But for Dubnyk, it is a reminder of what he went through to reach it.
The 2013-14 season was not a good one for Dubnyk, who began the season in Edmonton, was traded to Nashville, then sent to the Canadiens’ organization, where he quickly was dispatched to the minors, becoming part of a three-goalie rotation in Hamilton.
“It really doesn’t seem real to think how are away I was from getting to where I am now,” Dubnyk said before boarding the team’s charter Wednesday afternoon. “Being in their minor league affiliate was the low point of my career. … In Hamilton it seemed like the season was never-ending. It was going on and on. I needed it to be over.’’
In the ensuing offseason Dubnyk signed with Phoenix, worked on getting his confidence back, got traded to a desperate Wild team, joined his new team in Buffalo and won his first game in a shutout.
Dubnyk essentially dragged the Wild into the 2015 playoffs and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, an award that went to Price. And if last season, statistically, wasn’t as stellar for Dubnyk, this season certainly is.
Boudreau talked in Toronto about how celebrated Dubnyk’s season would be if he played there. Wednesday, he reiterated that opinion.
“The talk wouldn’t all be about Carey Price,” Boudreau said. “It would be about both of them. I mean, Carey Price has done it for years. Dubnyk had a little bit of an off year last year. But the year before that, and this year, he’s been everything I would like to see in a goaltender.’’
Dubnyk’s play has backstopped the Wild’s successful season; the team has an eight-game winning streak heading toward back-to-back games at Montreal (tied for third in the Eastern Conference) and in New York against the Rangers (tied for first in the East),. To Boudreau, the two-game trip provides another measuring stick for his team.
“We’ll see where we’re at,” Boudreau said. “We’re going to play a team that’s played 19 home games and only lost two [in regulation]. And then the next team, who a week ago was the best team in the league, just got kicked 7-2 [by Pittsburgh on Tuesday]. They’ll be pretty mad sitting at home waiting for us.’’
For Dubnyk the game is a measure of how far he has come.
“To get an opportunity to come to Minnesota, to go from that to this? I’ve been lucky.’’
And good. Dubnyk has said many times how much he and the rest of the league’s goalies admire Price.
“He’s the guy everybody is pushing to get to,’’ he said. “He’s the best. He does it every year. To be able to be talked about in the same sentence as him, it’s exciting for me.’’
And Boudreau’s assertion that Dubnyk might be a little underappreciated by some?
“I can’t worry about that,’’ Dubnyk said. “It’s a combination of being in a hockey-crazy market and the fact he does it every single year. He’s always the guy who will be talked about, and with good reason. I’m happy to be here. I love Minnesota.’’