When the Wild turned to a younger and more inexperienced blue line for the playoffs after losing Ryan Suter to a right ankle fracture, the margin of error didn’t just shrink for the new-look defense.
Goalie play became even more critical, too, and although the Wild trails its first-round, best-of-seven series with the Jets 3-1, Devan Dubnyk hasn’t disappointed.
But this steadiness isn’t a result of Dubnyk putting more pressure on himself to perform, because he hasn’t.
Instead, the 31-year-old focused on maintaining the outlook that helped him ascend to elite status among NHL goaltenders — a proficiency that has helped stoke the Wild’s competitiveness in its clash with the Jets.
“My approach to the game is a relaxed approach,” Dubnyk said. “I approach it, come game time, the same way — go out there, have fun, stay relaxed.”
Unlike starting pitchers or quarterbacks, goalies rarely ignite action. They don’t throw a pitch or send a spiral down the field. In hockey, the puck usually has to come to the goaltenders for them to have an impact. They certainly can leave the net to make a play, but they’re mostly on guard in the crease.
There they don’t dictate how many shots they face, whether it’s 25 or 50, or control how difficult each shot is to corral.
And these realities have shaped Dubnyk’s attitude, a mind-set that really crystallized as he began to settle into his role as the Wild’s starter.
“Goaltending is a reactive position,” he said. “So you can only do what you’re allowed to do. So all you can do is, you can’t focus on wins or losses or the outcome of the game. You just have to go and be sharp and make sure you’re prepared to be your best.”
Based on how Dubnyk has played since he joined the Wild and in this series against the Jets, this strategy has certainly suited him.
His 132 saves and 142 shots faced in the playoffs led the NHL entering Tuesday’s games. Among goalies who had played four games, his .929 save percentage sat third.
How Dubnyk has manufactured this productivity has been key, too. He’s been economical, with pucks hitting him since he’s tended to be in the right place at the right time.
When tough goals have happened, such as the Blake Wheeler deflection off defenseman Jonas Brodin’s stick or the half-wall shot from defenseman Tyler Myers in Game 3, he’s rebounded.
And he’s also made impressive saves when pressed, a well-rounded effort that’s oozed the poise the Wild needs.
“With him, you know when he’s on, he’s moving well from side to side,” center Eric Staal said. “He’s tracking pucks really well through traffic, and then he can come up with a really big save at a key time. And those are what great goalies do, they come up with saves at the important moments when you need them.
“If something goes bad against them, they forget about it and they move on and they worry about the next shot, next save, and have that right mind-set and mentality. Since I’ve been here, that’s what he’s had. He gives us a chance every night, and that’s all you can ask for.”
This showing by Dubnyk might not be enough to extend the Wild’s season — it could end as soon as Friday. But delivering on this stage has to be encouraging for the Wild, especially since Dubnyk believes the approach he’s utilizing can produce the type of success the team ultimately craves.
“If there’s a game that doesn’t go great, you can’t let it affect the next game,” he said. “Just gotta continue to go and put yourself in the best position to be good and be yourself.”