MONTREAL — Devan Dubnyk is currently in rarefied air.
The Minnesota Wild goaltender came to the Bell Centre with a blistering .948 save percentage and an unearthly 1.55 goals-against average, and he left after making 32 saves to pocket a 4-2 win over his strongest competition for the Vezina Trophy this year in Montreal’s Carey Price.
“It was a big (media) build-up,” said Dubnyk after the game. “We joked in warmup and I said, ‘I’ve been talking about you for the last week and a half.’
“He said, ‘Same here.’
“You try to drown it out as much as you can and approach it like another game,” Dubnyk continued. “There were, I wouldn’t say nerves is the right word, but a little more excitement I guess with all the hype and just playing in this building.”
Considering where Dubnyk has come from to have the opportunity to enjoy this type of moment certainly puts that excitement into perspective.
He talked at length on Thursday morning of his treacherous time with the Hamilton Bulldogs after he was downgraded from the NHL in 2013-14 and rendered to serving as the fourth auxiliary in Montreal’s goaltending system.
“That was definitely rock-bottom, no question,” Dubnyk said. “I think, more than anything, by the end of all that, it was time for me to hit the reset button and just forget about that entire year.”
He took a leave from the Bulldogs instead of skating with Montreal’s ‘Black Aces’, as the Canadiens prepared for a run that inevitably stopped in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals.
“I just needed to get home,” he said. “I knew they weren’t going to re-sign me, and I had time to think about it and felt there were more important places I needed to be. That meant going home and being a dad to my son, who I hadn’t seen for 10 weeks.”
That was the beginning of turning the worst year of his career into a distant memory.
He started ’14-15 in Arizona, got shipped to the Wild after 19 appearances, and the rest is history.
Watching Dubnyk turn aside dangerous shots from Canadiens Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and Brendan Gallagher, and seeing him get beat by perfect ones from Max Pacioretty and Artturi Lehkonen in Thursday’s game, one couldn’t help but be impressed with how far he’s come.
He was calm and collected, patient and resolved; a picture of grace under fire.
Resetting made Dubnyk a runner up to Price for the ’14-15 Vezina, and after a bit of a tumble back towards Earth the following season, it would be impossible to deny that he’s leading the current race between the two.
“His journey has been a rough one at times, but you gotta respect his resilience and the way he’s carried himself throughout the whole process,” said Price. “You gotta tip your hat to a guy like that sticking with it and finding a way to be successful.”
Adversity has come in more than one form for the six-foot-six behemoth.
At the onset of the Wild’s 2016 Stanley Cup playoff series with Dallas, teammate Jason Pominville shattered the knuckle of the index finger on Dubnyk’s blocker hand in practice.
“I (couldn’t) make a fist with my right hand,” he said, curling his index halfway to where it should normally go. “It changed the way I hold my stick, changed the way I play the puck, and because I don’t react well to painkillers I didn’t take them, and every time a puck hit my stick the vibration just killed me.”
But he played on.
It’s the type of resilience that lends well to the idea that Dubnyk will bounce back from whatever adversity he faces in the future.
Some will come—probably as early as this season.
The Wild have won nine consecutive games, mostly thanks to Dubnyk’s brilliance (he hasn’t allowed more than two goals in any game on this run), but staying up in the stratosphere as a goaltender in this league is as hard of a job as there is in professional sports.
Though he may not finish with the best numbers in NHL history (if the season ended today, he’d have them), you can’t take experiences like beating Price away from him.
“I just enjoy it,” Dubnyk said. “I’m just happy to be playing.”
He’s breathing well at altitude.