In last night's game for the Chicago Blackhawks, Patrick Kane extended his record streak among American-born NHL players. On a lopsided play in which the Minnesota Wild left him open below the right hash, he fussed with the puck, faking and fanning on his own shot in a way that's been his style in shootouts for way too long.
Eventually, Kane settled the puck enough and fluttered a shot in off Devan Dubnyk's left pad. At a TV timeout, Dubnyk commented to an NBCSN broadcaster something to the effect of "how many other guys in the NHL could do that?" He then glided back to his crease and watch the replay on the big screen and reread the play. Dubnyk composed himself, studied the play that tied the game, and reset himself in net.
Sometimes, studying pays off.
Only a few short moments later, Dubnyk got his chance at redemption, and this time, he was prepared for the test the Blackhawks presented.
With red jerseys weaving through the right circle, Artemi Panarin slung a wrister at Dubnyk's left shoulder, high and tight against the corner of the post. In last season's playoff series, Dubnyk's glove hand became a prime target for the Blackhawks. Last night, it was too, but this time Dubnyk shrugged the shot off and reset himself to the play as a slew of Chicago players crashed the low slot, ready to pounce on rebounds created from Panarin's shot and Kane's control of the puck.
The chaos near the crease created traffic in front of Dubnyk and allowed another low shot to come off, which Dubnyk kicked to the corner, where the Wild were able to regroup and chip it out. They played the rest of the game with that kind of breakout in mind. Dubnyk's confidence in the moments after a tough goal to let in gave the Wild a moment to catch themselves. It didn't stop the Blackhawks from seizing control of play every so often, but it let the Wild, and their goaltender, engage with the game and keep themselves in it.
As the game progressed, Dubnyk stopped numerous series' like that, halting play with smart covers, relying on his defense to clear the puck away while maintaining his position on the puck. Each series of strong play from Dubnyk stacked the momentum in the Wild's favor. Each save inched them closer to that much-needed win. That flurry of shots from the Blackhawks following Kane's goal was one of a number of moments in which a Wild win hung in the balance. Each time, though, Dubnyk closed down on those opportunities and gave his team the time and space they needed to get rolling on offense again.
In truth, I could have told you just about any series of saves Dubnyk made were a pivotal moment in last night's matchup, because they were. Each series of shots were risky for the Wild, who let the puck get too close to Dubnyk too often. And each time, Dubnyk stood up and let his team know that they weren't going to lose this game for themselves.
Over the course of the night, Dubnyk stopped 30 of 31 shots, made smart covers when it wasn't clear who would win a footrace, and maintained a clear vision of the play. At a team level, the Wild struggled at points throughout the night suppressing the Blackhawks' offense and clearing the puck. The Wild had gained and lost their first lead on the road in a long time on Kane's stick, something that could and should deflate a team's spirits. However, Dubnyk's confidence in net following his second-period lapse provided brief cover for a team that sorely needed it.
With the kind of space and time Dubnyk afforded his team, the Wild snapped out of it during the third period and drove play more consistently, with strong play on both offense and defense. By shouldering the burden of play for much of the second period, Dubnyk bought his team a chance to win. When it comes down to it, that's what the Wild have needed over these past difficult weeks: a chance to win.
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