ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Alex Stalock started his extended stretch of action in the Minnesota net with his first NHL shutout in three seasons.
Blanking a Toronto team that tossed him aside less than two years ago made the feat that much sweeter.
Stalock stopped 28 shots for his fifth career shutout, using his first start during Devan Dubnyk’s absence to steer the Wild past the Maple Leafs 2-0 on Thursday night for their fourth straight victory.
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Tyler Ennis scored late in the first period and Mikael Granlund added a goal midway through the third period for the Wild, whose first three wins on the streak were all in extra time. They handed the Maple Leafs their first blank slate in more than a year, since a 3-0 loss at Calgary on Nov. 30, 2016. Since losing 4-2 to the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Nov. 8, the Wild are 12-4-1 in their last 17 games for an NHL-leading 25 points over that span. This was their fifth straight win at home.
”You just hope you can kind of keep it rolling. The way this group’s playing right now, just coming to the rink, everybody’s smiling. Everybody’s having fun,” said Stalock, who was acquired by Toronto from San Jose right before the trade deadline in 2016 but was stashed away in the AHL .
Stalock signed with Minnesota before last season and was elevated this year to the primary backup role for Dubnyk, who was pulled after one period into the previous game and will miss at least another week because of an unspecified lower-body injury. So the Wild net for now is in the hands of Stalock, who once played at South St. Paul High School just 5 miles from Xcel Energy Center.
”He’s got a lot of energy, he’s a great guy, and he’s given us a lot of confidence,” Ennis said. ”And when you’ve got confidence like that, you create more offense.”
The Maple Leafs, who have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and entered the game with the fifth-highest scoring average in the league, have totaled three goals over their last three games without young star center Auston Matthews because of an upper-body injury.
”We’re just doubting ourselves too much,” center Mitch Marner said. ”We’re not trusting ourselves with the puck.”
The Wild killed all four Maple Leafs power plays, making them 24 for 25 over their last eight home games, when they’re 7-0-1. Their home penalty kill (44 of 47) is the best in the league.
”We’ll have to get that fixed,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said, ”because that’s a critical part.”
The Maple Leafs were out of rhythm all night, with the Wild smothering their shooting lanes for 21 blocked shots. They had only six shots on goal at the midpoint of the game, after going a span of 28-plus minutes with only three tries on target. Twenty-one attempts simply went wide of the net.
The Wild were more than eager to sacrifice their bodies to help Stalock complete a shutout, given his brief, history with the Maple Leafs that served as the low point of his eight-year professional career.
”I don’t think we tried to mention it,” Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said, ”but they all knew about it.”
All four of Stalock’s previous NHL shutouts came with the Sharks.
”He works so hard in practice and is such a good teammate,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. ”Every time he’s in there, you want to make sure you play hard for him. You want to do the same for Duby, but a little extra when your main guy goes down.”
Ennis was a healthy scratch in the previous game for the first time all season, his first with the Wild. Boudreau said Ennis and fourth-line mates Daniel Winnik and Chris Stewart, both Toronto natives, were his best trio of the night.
NOTES: Frederik Andersen made 24 saves for the Maple Leafs. … Wild LW Zach Parise skated with the team in the morning, his first participation since microdiskectomy surgery on his lower back . The timetable for his return to game action remains undefined. … Wild D Jared Spurgeon (strained groin) missed his eighth straight game, but he has resumed practicing with the team and could be back in the coming days. … Ennis has nine goals and 13 assists in 30 career games against the Maple Leafs. … Boudreau (134 career games) and two of his assistants, John Anderson (534 career games) and Darby Hendrickson (233 career games), are all former Maple Leafs draft picks. … The Wild are 7-2 at home against the Maple Leafs in their 17-year history. They’ve won eight of the last nine matchups overall. … Granlund’s was the Wild’s first third-period goal in six games.
Maple Leafs: Wrap up a three-game trip in Detroit on Friday night for the second half of the back-to-back set.
Wild: Host Edmonton in a rare afternoon game on Saturday, before jetting off to Chicago to play on Sunday night.
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