ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Wild were flailing in mid-January, badly needing a boost in the net when Devan Dubnyk arrived just in time.
The lanky goalie still has a lot more big saves to make this spring.
“That’s what we’re hoping for here,” coach Mike Yeo said, “and I think there’s more to this story.”
The next chapter will start in Chicago.
Zach Parise scored twice, including a short-handed, highlight-reel goal to get Minnesota going in the first period, and the Wild beat the St. Louis Blues 4-1 on Sunday in Game 6 of the first-round series to advance to the Western Conference semifinals for a rematch with the Blackhawks.
“I was thinking about it over the last couple days. It just feels right,” said Dubnyk, who made 30 saves. “It feels right for our group to be where we are and to continue to move forward. That’s why it’s easy to go out and play and feel like we’re going to win, because we’ve done it all year.”
Dubnyk made 66 saves over the last two games, resolutely responding to the 6-1 defeat here on Wednesday that let the Blues tie the series. The Wild outscored the Blues 8-2 after that, despite being outshot 68-40.
The building was buzzing from the start, befitting of the occasion to see the Wild celebrate a postseason advancement at home for the first time. The Wild won three of their previous nine playoff series, all with Game 7 victories on the road. The crowd serenaded Dubnyk at every opportunity, with that catching “Duuuuub!” cheer.
“There was a play in the third period where they got forecheck pressure, and he kind of hangs on to the puck and shows some unreal composure,” Yeo said, adding: “When your goalie’s playing confident, when the heat is on, I think that the rest of the group feeds off that.”
Parise’s relentless play was contagious, too.
“I try to be a lead-by-example type of guy,” said Parise, who tied for the franchise postseason lead with 22 points in 24 games, five fewer than Marian Gaborik played in.
The Wild were killing an early penalty when Parise snagged a loose puck in the neutral zone, raced away from Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and triggered a huge roar from the crowd with that bad-angle shot that slipped between goalie Jake Allen’s right arm and the near post into the far side of the net.
“I was a little too aggressive on it. I should have just let him stay to the outside and take the middle away,” said Shattenkirk, who leads the NHL with eight assists this postseason. “That was a tough one to swallow, especially that early.”
Allen was disheartened afterward.
“Two terrible goals again. I just let us down,” said Allen, who made 11 saves.
Justin Fontaine also scored for the Wild, prompting Blues coach Ken Hitchcock to pull Allen for Brian Elliott with 8:41 left in the second period. T.J. Oshie’s first goal of the series came with 4 seconds left before the second intermission to spark the Blues, who outshot the Wild 27-11 over the last two periods.
Parise’s next goal came on a rebound of Jason Pominville’s attempt early in the third, though, and Dubnyk and the Wild were in lockdown mode after that. Nino Niederreiter added an empty-net goal, steering the Blues toward their third straight first-round ouster.
Dubnyk made a big save soon after the St. Louis change when Chris Porter crashed the net on his shot from the slot. The puck was dislodged during the scrum in the crease but after the whistle, and a replay review upheld the no-goal call. Porter was so upset on the bench afterward, he was caught on camera snapping the blade off his stick.
Only one of the six games in the series was decided by less than three goals, a 4-2 win by the Wild in Game 1, and the average margin was 3.2.
“Closing out a series is always hard. You obviously expect the opposition to bring a great game, and they did that,” Parise said.
The Blackhawks, who beat Nashville in six games to move on, knocked the Wild out in six games in the second round last year and in five games in the first round the year before that. The Blues are used to this. This was their 10th straight postseason loss when facing elimination.
The Central Division champions could experience some turnover this summer, and Hitchcock’s job might not be immune to the changes.
“Hitch has been the reason why we’ve been here for four years. He’s hard on us, but he does it because he knows the right way and how to get to this position,” Shattenkirk said. “You can never take that away from the way he coaches. He coaches fundamentals. It’s something we needed, and we were able to get here because of him.”
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