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Zulgad: Loyal to a fault: Bruce Boudreau has obvious choice in goal, but doesn’t seem to realize it

ST. PAUL — When it comes to Devan Dubnyk, it’s as if Bruce Boudreau can’t seem to help himself. Instead of watching Dubnyk’s solid performance (31 saves) in a 3-2 victory on Friday in Dallas and then coming back with Alex Stalock on Sunday in a crucial home game against Colorado, the Wild coach put Dubnyk back in the net.

It didn’t take a hockey genius to figure out Boudreau was pressing his luck. Stalock had won back-to-back home games against Chicago and Vancouver last week after Dubnyk started in a brutal 6-1 loss against Boston on Feb. 1. So why not come back with Stalock?

There was some thought that Dubnyk might provide another solid performance after he made 10 saves in the first period against the high-flying Avalanche, but that hope ended when he gave up a weak shorthanded goal to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare at 1 minute, 37 seconds of the second period to give the Avs a 1-0 lead.

That goal, on a shot from the left wing side that went through Dubnyk on the blocker side, helped establish the tone for a 3-2 loss that the left the desperate Wild four points behind Calgary for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. The Wild (58 points) also are three points behind ninth-place Arizona, a point behind Nashville and remain tied with the Chicago Blackhawks.

After falling behind 1-0, the Wild did tie the score on Jared Spurgeon’s power-play goal but Colorado then got goals from Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog to take a two-goal lead.

Kevin Fiala’s power-play goal at 17:31 of the second was a work of art, but it was the final goal of the game as the Avalanche won their fourth in a row and ended the Wild’s winning streak at three.

“He was better tonight on a whole,” Boudreau said of Dubnyk. “I thought in the third period he made some good saves but there wasn’t the five and six (goals against). There was two last game, three this game. Maybe it’s taking a little bit more time than I would like but I think he’s getting a little more consistent.”

This is all part of Boudreau’s hope to get Dubnyk on a roll but at this point one has to wonder why he feels the need. The days of Dubnyk being the Wild’s workhorse in goal are gone and there’s no reason to try to bring them back. The Wild missed the playoffs last season and likely will miss again this season. If they manage to sneak in, there will be no expectations for them and there certainly isn’t a feeling that Dubnyk should be the guy.

Boudreau clearly feels pressure to win now because he’s in the final season of his contract, but what he has to realize is the more he tries to play the classics the more the Wild struggle. Boudreau should be commended for demoting captain Mikko Koivu to the fourth line. He also should be commended for playing Stalock more and more and he should stick with that plan. Just as Boudreau should have stuck with the plan to leave Jason Zucker on Koivu’s wing on the fourth line.

In the second period Sunday, Boudreau moved Zucker to the left wing on the second line and demoted Ryan Donato. Boudreau’s hope is that Zucker will want to prove that he doesn’t belong on the fourth line — a spot he was moved to a couple of games ago — but what Boudreau is overlooking is that constantly juggling Donato is doing a young contributor no good and, even if Boudreau doesn’t want to hear it, everything this team does should be geared toward 2020-21.

What’s interesting is that because Boudreau is so focused on getting this team into the postseason bringing back Dubnyk on Sunday made even less sense. Stalock almost certainly will be in goal Tuesday against Vegas at the X before the Wild plays host to the Rangers on Thursday and Sharks on Saturday to finish a stretch of 18 of 22 at home. The Wild almost certainly needs to be in the eighth playoff spot by the time that stretch ends or the X is going to be dark in the spring.

Dubnyk is likely to get one of those games but he should only get one. There is another factor, too, in all of this and it’s a point made to defend Dubnyk. The 33-year-old husband and father has had an extremely tough season as his wife, Jennifer, has dealt with an undisclosed illness. Dubnyk was away from the team earlier this season so he could be with his wife, and one can only imagine how difficult it must be trying to focus on stopping hockey pucks night after night when your mind is rightfully elsewhere.

Asking Dubnyk to get on a roll in the midst of what is going on in his personal life isn’t even fair. That doesn’t mean he can’t start games and that doesn’t mean he can’t play an important role in the Wild’s final 28 games. But making Stalock the main goaltender would appear to be the only real choice Boudreau has at this point. Does Boudreau realize this? The current answer seems to be no.


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