Wild climb back in contention

Published 12:30 am Tuesday, February 3, 2015

ST. PAUL — Shot after shot, Devan Dubnyk has been effectively defending the Minnesota net since arriving in a trade less than three weeks ago.

He might have saved the Wild’s season, too.

Dubnyk has a 5-1 record with a 1.71 goals against average and two shutouts while starting all seven games since the Wild acquired him from Arizona for a third-round draft pick.

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“You wait and see how he’s going to play, but you know what? I feel like any time you bring in a new player you have that initial inject of life in the room right away,” left wing Zach Parise said.

Then on top of that, Dubnyk has made an immediate impact on a team stuck in a six-game losing streak at the time of the deal. The 28-year-old made 35 saves in a 4-2 victory at Vancouver on Sunday to help the Wild complete a three-game sweep of their western trip to Canada and revive their postseason chase. Dubnyk beat Calgary 1-0 on Thursday.

“He deserves an awful lot of credit for the way that he’s played,” coach Mike Yeo said on Monday. “I think we have a much better focus in front of him right now.”

The Wild host Chicago on Tuesday, their first home game in 15 days. They’ve pulled within five points off the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, though three teams are between them and eighth place.

“Obviously we need every win that we can get, especially the Calgary and Vancouver games. Those were huge games,” Dubnyk said. “But if you approach the game and think, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to beat these guys in regulation,’ it’s just not a good way to be successful.”

The Wild last won three straight games in regulation from Nov. 1-5, 2013. They had a four-game winning streak earlier this season, but one of those came in overtime.

Goalies Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom struggled badly between the pipes while the Wild went 2-8-4 from mid-December until mid-January, prompting general manager Chuck Fletcher to call the Coyotes about Dubnyk. The former first-round draft pick, coming off a rough year with Edmonton, was limited in action behind Mike Smith in Arizona. So he welcomed the move, his confidence buoyed by work with Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke.

“To go from a place where there obviously wasn’t an opportunity to start long term and to come to a place and have an opportunity to play games right away is exactly what I wanted,” Dubnyk said.

At 6-foot-6, he stands out in a room, but with the Wild he has quickly fit in. With Kuemper is currently on a conditioning assignment in the AHL and Backstrom’s last win coming on Dec. 13, the job will likely be Dubnyk’s for the rest of the season. Having only appeared in 26 games, there’s no concern about his workload.

If he keeps up this performance, Dubnyk could find himself part of the Wild’s future plans. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time here and would love to be here going forward, but I’ve just got to keep playing games for now and that’ll work itself out,” Dubnyk said.