Advertisement

‘It was not beautiful.’ Wallstedt, Wild put harsh debut in perspective

DALLAS — Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 40-goal scorer Ziggy Palffy on a breakaway in addition to denying a penalty shot and still lost his first game in the NHL.

But that outcome didn't set the tone for Fleury's career: The goaltender is a three-time Stanley Cup champion, Vezina Trophy recipient and a lock for the Hall of Fame who's tied with Patrick Roy for the second-most wins all-time at a whopping 551 through the 1,003 games he's played since that initial defeat.

So, fellow Wild goalie Jesper Wallstedt doesn't have to look far for an example of how irrelevant debuts can be. The proof is sitting in the locker stall next to him.

"He's going to have a long career," Mats Zuccarello said. "I know my first pro game something similar happened. Played awful. Obviously, we wish we could have given him a better start, helped him more, but he'll bounce back. He's strong mentally."

Wallstedt and the Wild were blitzed 7-2 by the Stars on Wednesday at American Airlines Center, a result Zuccarello made clear was indicative of the play in front of Wallstedt and not the goalie's performance — even though Wallstedt didn't agree.

"I just see if you give up seven goals, some of them in very key moments, too," said Wallstedt, the first-round pick (20th overall) in 2021 getting called up from the minors while Filip Gustavsson recovers from injury. "We were coming back in the game, and also early we were trying to find our momentum."

After taking the traditional solo lap in warmups that rookies skate ahead of their first game, Wallstedt led the Wild onto the ice for the opening faceoff and rattled off a series of saves before the first puck eluded him.

But Jason Robertson's five-hole shot was overturned because Dallas was off-side on the play.

Not until 3 minutes, 15 seconds remained in the first did the Stars score a goal that stuck, and it was a blistering shot by Joe Pavelski off a Zuccarello turnover.

"I was definitely nervous in the beginning," Wallstedt said. "A lot of pucks were bouncing off me. Didn't feel like I could catch anything. I remember there was one shot from their 'D', and I tried to glove it and it just jumped out of my hand. So, the nerves were definitely hitting me early.

"After that, I felt more and more comfortable."

The next goal came after a fluky sequence.

Sign up for our Wild Update newsletterBOXSCORE: Dallas 7, Wild 2

A dump-in smacked off the end boards and right into the slot where the Stars' Matt Duchene got just enough off the puck to send a floater by Wallstedt.

"Crazy bounce," Wallstedt said," and I wasn't ready for it, and it ended up in the back of my net."

Down 3-0 in the third period, Matt Boldy spoiled Dallas goalie Scott Wedgewood's shutout bid but the Stars clapped back with authority.

They scored twice after Boldy's goal and then two more times after Ryan Hartman capitalized on a 5-on-3 power play.

"It just felt like I gave up goals in situations where the game was really mattering," said Wallstedt, who finished with 27 saves.

Still, it's difficult for a team to win with just nine shots through the first two periods like the Wild had and although they were better in the third, their progress was no match for Dallas' prowess.

"The players are great," said Wallstedt, who was named to the American Hockey League All-Star Classic before the game after going 11-9-0 with a 2.54 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and two shutouts in 20 games with Iowa. "A lot of players I've watched since I was growing up. It was kind of surreal seeing them out there, kind of try to chirp you and go around and shoot on you and all those things.

"It was kind of unreal."

While Wallstedt tried not to show his frustration, "there's definitely some Swedish swear words" when he left the ice.

"It was not beautiful. It was not like I could have imagined," Wallstedt said. "But it was the first game. Now that's done."

As a kid, he watched hockey on his computer at school instead of studying and stayed up at night to catch Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers. Now Wallstedt was in the NHL and Lundqvist in the TNT studio talking about Wallstedt, who wears No. 30 like Lundqvist did.

"He's been playing really well in Sweden for a few years and coming over to North America now and adjusting to this style of play," Lundqvist said during the pregame broadcast before praising Wallstedt's positioning during the first intermission and noting how calm and in control he looked.

The 21-year-old planned to watch the goals he gave up to understand what he could have done differently; Wallstedt didn't feel his structure was off, just his execution.

"He's obviously a very talented goalie," Fleury said. "I'm sure he's going to have a long career."

And the next game in Wallstedt's career could be sooner than later.

The Wild have a back-to-back this weekend at Xcel Energy Center beginning Friday vs. Philadelphia.

"There's more to give," Wallstedt said. "I'm definitely not where I want to be. I want to be even better and become even better. But it's a start at least."