ST. PAUL – How do you know when a goaltender is in a zone?
Devan Dubnyk answered that question with 14 minutes, 35 seconds left in the third period Tuesday night against Philadelphia at Xcel Energy Center. Winger Dale Weise collected a loose puck at center ice and moved in on a breakaway that could have tied the score at 1-1.
Only Weise never had a chance against the red-hot Dubnyk, who made the save like routine. That was among the 30 shots the Flyers got on Dubnyk. For the third consecutive game, and the second in a row against Philadelphia, Dubnyk did not allow a puck to get behind him.
The Wild scored three times, including twice into an empty net late in the third, in a 3-0 victory. Nino Niederreiter opened the scoring only 12 seconds into the game against Brian Elliott – that tied the franchise record for the fastest goal to start a game at home – and Dubnyk spent the rest of the night playing the role of a human wall in front of his goal. The Flyers actually outshot the Wild by 10.
Dubnyk’s shutout streak is now at a franchise-record 195:05, breaking the shutout stretch of 183:16 that he had over four games from Oct. 25 to Nov. 1, 2016.
“He did the same thing last year,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said when asked where this ranked among Dubnyk’s hot streaks. “He was really good most of the year last year, but he’s seeing the puck right now and his reflexes are on fire so we’ll take it as long as he can give it.”
Dubnyk’s shutout streak started last Thursday in the Wild’s 3-0 win at Montreal – that broke a three-game losing streak – and continued on Saturday with a 1-0 victory in Philadelphia.
The Flyers have one of the NHL’s best lines in Sean Couturier between Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. On Tuesday, that trio combined for seven shots. Dubnyk stopped them all. He made two fantastic saves on fourth-line center Scott Laughton midway through the second period, stopping an initial shot in front and then a rebound chance. Michael Raffl, who plays on Laughton’s wing, skated right down the slot late in the second only to see Dubnyk turn his shot away.
“I feel confident in there,” said Dubnyk, who got the first assist on Jason Zucker’s empty-net goal (the Wild’s second of the night) at 19:23 of the third. “The biggest key for me is just finding pucks (and) making sure my feet are set. That kind of trickles down into everything else as far as moving around and rebound control. All that stuff kind of starts with that, finding the puck and having my feet set. The guys are doing a good job letting me see it and that certainly helps as well.”
The Wild’s three-game winning streak has pulled them out of the cellar in the Central Division, putting them in a tie with Chicago with 18 points, a point ahead of last-place Colorado.
Dubnyk has not given up a goal in his last 106 shots faced.
“I looked up a few times and there were some miraculous saves,” Wild defenseman Gustav Olofsson said. “That’s kind of been the story. He’s bailed us out a couple of times. We’ve been feeding off of it for sure.”
A victim of some fluky (read: bad) goals earlier this season, Dubnyk appeared to be getting on the right track in the Wild’s previous home game, a 2-0 loss to Chicago on Nov. 4. He did not give up a goal until Artem Anisimov scored on a power-play in the third period and he stopped 33 of 34 shots as the Blackhawks added an empty-net goal.
The Wild then opened a four-game road trip on Nov. 6 in Boston with a terrible effort in a 5-3 loss before losing 4-2 at Toronto two nights later. Dubnyk started both those games. The goal he gave up at 3:40 of the third period to Connor Carick of the Maple Leafs was the last puck to beat him. (Toronto scored an empty net goal at 19:29.)
So is Dubnyk thinking about the streak?
“In a 1-0 game you can’t,” he said. “Obviously, if you get up three or four it might start creeping in a little bit but that was a close game from 12 seconds in and sat there. So you can’t start letting that creep into your head. You just have to try to continue to go. Obviously, when you get two and there’s a minute-and-a-half left you start to think, ‘This would sure be nice if we could hang onto it.’ The guys did a good job in the last minute-and-a-half there for me.”
It was the least they could do after all Dubnyk has done for them of late.