The save-ior: Dubnyk resurrected career, Wild's season
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Somewhat stunned, while excited, Devan Dubnyk packed his belongings and boarded a late-night plane in Phoenix to meet the Minnesota Wild in Buffalo. Dubnyk spent the evening flying to meet his new team following the midseason trade which would jumpstart Minnesota's run to the playoffs.
Back on Jan. 14 though, the Wild were winless in six games and the trade for Dubnyk â acquired from the Arizona Coyotes for a third-round draft pick -- seemed more like desperation than the beginning of an NHL-best second half.
Minnesota head coach Mike Yeo didn't even want to commit to Dubnyk playing the next day in Buffalo because of the long, late-night flight. Dubnyk, feeling good after resurrecting his approach with Arizona, didn't want to wait.
"I was kind of telling myself as I was traveling to meet the team, that this is too good of a hockey team to be where they are and have this going on," Dubnyk recalled this week. "It's only a matter of time. So, hopefully the time is now, and 'just go in and do what you can do to just be solid for them.' Fortunately for me, that first game, there was no stopping us in that game."
Dubnyk's debut was an 18-save shutout in a 7-0 shellacking of the Buffalo Sabres.
"I know there's lots of talk about me coming here and changing things but I don't know if I changed much in that game," Dubnyk said. "Right from the drop of the puck we were absolutely relentless on them and we took over."
However, Dubnyk did change the Wild's outlook. Yeo called Dubnyk's impact "immediate" this week as Minnesota prepared to face the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
When the Wild traded for Dubnyk on Jan. 14, the postseason picture was a mirage in a January desert. Minnesota was 18-19-5 at the time, 12th in the Western Conference with 41 points. The Wild were a season-high eight points out of a playoff spot.
"My first conversation with him was, 'we don't need you to come in and be a hero,'" Yeo said. "It probably appeared that way to him at that time. I think it was kind of well publicized, there was kind of an idea that we were sinking and understandably. So my message to him was, 'come in and do your job, and we'll make sure we do ours.' . . . It was something that happened very quickly and it was certainly a jolt to the team. Obviously winning that game in the fashion that we did gave us kind of a good springboard to the way things went the rest of the way."
Asked not to be a hero, Dubnyk basically became one for Minnesota. He started all but one game the rest of the season, setting a franchise record for consecutive starts in the process, and was 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and five shutouts.
The Wild led the NHL the rest of the way with a 28-9-3 record and .738 win percentage after the trade.
"It didn't feel like anything spectacular, I guess," Dubnyk said. "Obviously some games were, but it didn't feel like that. It felt like we were doing what we were supposed to be doing."
Dubnyk didn't know anything different with the Wild. To him, he made the saves necessary in Buffalo and his teammates did the rest. His new teammates knew better.
"It was like, 'This guy is awesome. He's what we needed,'" center Charlie Coyle said. "He just came right in and started playing well for us, and gave us confidence. We started playing well in front of him, so it was kind of going both ways . . . Every game was just kind of like, 'Oh my gosh, another huge game by this guy.' He just kept going."
Perhaps Dubnyk being in Arizona while Minnesota struggled in late December and early January was a good thing. He hadn't been a part of the slide and wasn't worn down by the losses. Dubnyk, easy-going anyway, brought a fresh outlook.
"I've been through stretches like that; I know what it's like and it kind of starts to pile up on you, and you feel like you're never going to get out of it," Dubnyk said. "So, for me to be able to come in there with a fresh mind and just approach it as that single game and that single start was probably a good time for that. I don't know if guys were able to sense that or feel it or not, I can only do what I'm doing. But I think it was probably a good time for that."
Timing, in a strange way, has worked out for Dubnyk.
Rewind to a year ago and Dubnyk's only thought was getting a chance to return home to see his wife and young son for one day following the American Hockey League season. A former first-round draft pick by the Edmonton Oilers, Dubnyk had been traded twice and finished the season in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs.
His confidence slipped right with his save percentage.
"It feels like that was 10 years ago now. It's crazy to think it was only a year ago now. It was a difficult time, but I certainly don't plan on ever having to go through that again. This feels a lot more right than that does. We'll make sure that this is the situation every spring."
Dubynk signed with the Coyotes as a free agent. Coming in as a backup to Mike Smith, Dubnyk was able to put the past behind him.
"Right from the time I showed up there, it was never, nobody was ever asking me about last year," Dubnyk said. "They just infused confidence in me from the time I showed up there and that allowed me to move on. Obviously you move on in the summer, but that really allowed me to move on right away and forget about it, and then start to move forward.
Most of all, Dubnyk was having fun again.
With renewed confidence, Dubnyk worked on finding his game again with former NHL goaltender and Arizona goaltending coach Sean Burke. Burke re-established small technique with Dubnyk; pushing, stopping, being set.
"I could just go out and play goal and have fun playing hockey again," Dubnyk said. "Right from Game 1 that I played (this year), I had that feeling and it never went away. That just allowed me to go out and play goal again, and have fun playing the game I love, which it had been a little while."
Dubnyk is always smiling. He's calm and level-headed at a position which typically features unconventional characters. Dubnyk will speak with the media on game days and takes everything in stride.
Through all he's been through, Dubnyk learned perspective. He often refers to "making the picture smaller" as he handles big moments, or the ebbs and flows of his career or a season. But it wasn't until he was talking to kids at a goaltending camp that he put the thoughts into words.
"Regular-season games that you get smoked or in the American League, and you realize the sun comes up the next day," Dubnyk said. "You just go back to work and it's not the end of the world. Maybe more telling myself that along with the kids."
The approach guides Dubnyk as he prepares for his first NHL playoff appearance. In the face of increased pressure in the postseason, Dubnyk tries to "keep the picture small."
"This is the most exciting time in my life, for sure," Dubnyk said. "But I'm going to treat it the same as I have this whole time as we've gone on and just make sure I enjoy every minute of it. And make sure it lasts."
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