The Minnesota Wild sat seventeen points out on the Chicago Blackhawks when the first half of the season came to a close.
The club went on seven and eight game losing streaks in almost immediate succession before dealing a third round draft pick to the Arizona Coyotes for backup netminder Devan Dubnyk. Veteran starter Niklas Backstrom was getting too old to pull heavy minutes for the club and was constantly injured, but rookie Darcy Kuemper — like most NHL rookie netminders — was still finding his feet in the big leagues.
All Devan Dubnyk had to do was be a competent, light-load starter to make the deal worthwhile. Even if he put up the numbers he was in Arizona — which is to say, perfectly league average behind a struggling club — the Wild would see a vast improvement; at best, they’d compete for a bubble playoff spot and watch as Kuemper regained some confidence.
Now, the Wild — with Dubnyk starting every game — have just finished their sixth game in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, and they’re moving on to round two.
Oh — did we mention they’re doing it over the St. Louis Blues?
After putting up the second best numbers in the league (behind only Carey Price) and going 27-9-2 during his regular season tenure in Minnesota, Dubnyk — who managed to pull the Wild into a post-season spot with impressive poise and confidence — made thirty saves in the final game between Minnesota and St. Louis to earn a decisive 4-1 victory and take home his first playoff series victory. He’ll also take the honor of being the first starter in franchise history to earn a win in his playoff series debut, and boasts a shutout over the powerful Central Division rivals, to boot.
The Vezina nominee stood strong throughout the series, faltering in only one game with any kind of significant continuation of errors to lead his team on to the Central Division finals; the Wild will, for the second straight year, face off against the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the post-season.
For the Blues, though, this is their second straight year of dropping their elimination game in scathing fashion in the first round of the playoffs.
An insistence on starting rookie Jake Allen — whether he seemed ready to start or not — in every post-season game may have been the first step in St. Louis’ downfall; an ill-timed slump of their top line that coincided with a determined Minnesota team across the ice certainly didn’t help, though, either. The only player on the Blues who truly excelled throughout the series was Vladimir Tarasenko, who earned a hat trick in game four and remained the only forward on the Blues roster who truly played like it was a post-season appearance.