By Dane Mizutani, St. Paul Pioneer Press
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Alex Stalock sat exasperated in his crease for nearly 45 seconds last week, contemplating how the heck the once-promising game against the Dallas Stars got away from him so quickly.
After looking so sharp for nearly 40 minutes of play, the Wild’s backup goaltender watched things unravel over the final 20 minutes of play, punctuated by a trio of own goals in the Wild’s frustrating 6-3 loss.
“You look back at the game and throughout I actually felt really comfortable,” the 32-year-old South St. Paul, Minn., native and former Minnesota Duluth Bulldog said. “It would’ve been a nice game to win. But a few bounces there and it’s like, ‘Holy cow. This game is over.’”
As the backup to starter Devan Dubnyk, Stalock usually would have had to wait at least a couple of weeks to get back in the crease. But because Dubnyk is struggling mightily at the moment, coach Bruce Boudreau went with Stalock for Tuesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks.
That proved to be the right call as Stalock overcame a 25-second debacle midway through the game and backstopped the Wild to a galvanizing 4-2 victory.
“He’s confident in his game,” Boudreau said. “He made that big save when he was 3-2 right from the slot. You see that and know things are turning our way a bit.”
Just getting that opportunity against the Ducks was a blessing for Stalock, especially considering how the game against the Stars played out.
“It’s never fun to be sitting there stewing for a couple of weeks or something like that,” Stalock said. “That’s always been the hardest part for me, so it was beneficial to get right back in there.”
As a career backup, Stalock has gotten familiar with the waiting game over the past decade. Just look at last season, for example, when he only started 16 games, sometimes going nearly a month between starts.
As tough as that was for Stalock, he never complained, understanding his role on the team, and trying to do it to the best of his ability. That positive attitude has paid off this season as Stalock has put together solid numbers for the Wild: a 3-3-0 record, 2.42 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
“My job has always been to step in and give the team a chance,” Stalock said, adding that getting regular reps this season has helped. “You get back in there and it’s not like, ‘Holy cow. This game is fast.’ You’re just back at the speed.”
While the uptick in playing time for Stalock initially came as a result of Dubnyk suffering a minor injury last month, he has taken the opportunity and run with it over the past few weeks. To this point, Stalock has vastly outperformed Dubnyk, who is 2-6-1 with a 3.68 goals-against average and .883 save percentage.
In fact, Stalock has emerged as such a steadying force between the pipes that it wouldn’t shock anyone if he started Thursday’s game against the Sharks in San Jose.
“He made a lot of key saves at the right time (against the Ducks),” veteran center Eric Staal said. “You can’t say enough about how important that is. You need that in order to get wins in this league.”
More than anything, though, Stalock was simply happy to prove that trio of own goals last week was a fluke.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “To get back in there and feel the puck again kind of gave me the confidence that that kind of thing is not going to happen every night.”