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Dubnyk saves series for Wild with solid Game 3

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) makes a save during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets in game three of the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Xcel Energy Center. Marilyn Indahl / USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL—The knives were out for Devan Dubnyk, and they were long, sharp and righteous.

The Wild goaltender took a brief nap guarding his left post during a Winnipeg power play early in the first period Sunday night, April 15. Blake Wheeler flipped a one-hopper past him as if leading infield practice with a fungo.

The groans were audible as turbocharged fans plunged faces into hands. Throughout the Xcel Energy Center, there was a palpable sense of dread, like watching the latest weather forecast.

Minnesota's best player in two nightmarish losses to the Jets north of the border had just yielded the game's first goal, on Winnipeg's first shot, spoon-feeding momentum it hardly needed.

This was the Dubnyk of dubious and untimely playoff goals past, rearing himself in a must-win game for Minnesota, which was staring into the abyss of a 3-0 series deficit to the relentless Jets.

Not on this night, though, not with the Wild offense finally unshackled and "Doob!" chants outnumbering gasps in Minnesota's 6-2 series-saving victory.

Dubnyk responded with a bevy of brilliant saves when it was still a one-goal game, holding serve and buying time for Minnesota's cathartic scoring burst.

"Goalies are amazing people in that they can let those things go and come back and play great," said coach Bruce Boudreau. "I guess it's a lot like a golfer making a bad shot. The good ones can let that shot go and look forward to the next shot. I think Duby's in that category."

Now he is.

Fluky goals used to doom the Wild in the postseason, piercing their confidence and green-lighting the Blackhawks, Stars and Blues—take your pick—to throttle down and conveniently advance.

Dubnyk processed Wheeler's bouncer, how he leaned off the post and opened a pocket for the seeing-eye, and quickly buried the memory.

"You just accept what it is," he said. "You do a mental checklist on what you would have done differently and then move on. You can't go out and force the next save."

Look what happens when you hand your star goalie a durable lead instead of a sympathetic flak jacket.

Dubnyk has been the Wild's salvation this series, never mind the bloated numbers coming out of Manitoba. He was the only one in green and white during Game 2 to match Winnipeg's high level during its dominant 4-0 win, when the Wild were completely overwhelmed by the Jets and the moment at raucous MTS Bell Centre.

Dubnyk was the one drinking in Sunday's inevitable win during the third period while his counterpart, Connor Hellebuyck, sat in the corner of the Jets bench, tarred and feathered for surrendering a half-dozen goals two days after yawning through a 17-shot shutout.

Dubnyk shrugged off the Jets' other goal early in the second when Tyler Myers stepped into a shot from the top of the right circle and threaded it through the netminder's right side to pull the Jets within 3-2.

The arena's collective blood pressure quickly spiked, with the Jets menacing on consecutive power plays and threatening to seize control.

Dubnyk, however, was the epitome of calm and cool throughout Minnesota's superb kills.

He moved across the crease quickly to deny Nikolaj Ehlers from point-blank range just after Zach Parise stepped out of the penalty box and later thwarted Bryan Little and Kyle Connor with the Jets still pressing.

"Instead of 3-3, all of a sudden we get a flurry of goals right after that," said Parise. "That's a game-changer. That was huge for us. He's been playing great."

This is Dubnyk's series to win for the Wild, who have received steady if unspectacular goaltending in the postseason from their regular-season stalwart ever since he arrived midseason 2014-15 from Arizona wearing savior's robes.

In 24 playoff games for Minnesota, he is just 8-16 with a pedestrian .906 save percentage.

Here is Dubnyk's chance to steal a series and the narrative. The Wild did that with Sunday's balanced attack, leveraging the home crowd energy to combat the Jets' thundering physicality.

This is still Winnipeg's series to lose. It has the firepower and depth to wear down Minnesota, whose blue line is absent Ryan Suter and apprenticing Nick Seeler and Carson Soucy on the big stage.

Seeler and fellow rookie Jordan Greenway, who bagged his first career playoff goal, have elevated their games to equal the intensity of playoff hockey. Sustaining it will be their biggest challenge.

The Wild answered for losing the first two games of this best-of-seven because Dubnyk atoned for his original sin.

"Their last game was a bit of a statement game, and this is a bit of a statement game for us," he said. "We're here to play, and we're fully capable of pushing hard. We showed that tonight."

We have a series again.