LAS VEGAS – The Wild have had two goaltenders finish as finalists for the position's top honor, and they could have another Vezina Trophy candidate this season.
Filip Gustavsson continues to rank among the best in the NHL between the pipes, a distinction that makes his slam-dunk debut with the Wild even more impressive.
"In hockey all you need is someone to believe in you," Gustavsson said, "and then you have to take the chance and the opportunity and take good care of it."
That certainly describes Gustavsson's ascent from bouncing around Ottawa's system to tag-teaming the Wild's crease with future Hall of Famer Marc-Andre Fleury following an offseason trade for Cam Talbot.
After backstopping the Wild to a 4-2 win over Colorado on Wednesday, Gustavsson improved to 20-9-5 with a .933 save percentage and 2.01 goals-against average. Only Boston's Linus Ullmark, a Vezina Trophy frontrunner, has better numbers at .938 and 1.88.
Ullmark also has an edge over Gustavsson in games and wins; same with the likes of Colorado's Alexandar Georgiev, the New York Rangers' Igor Shesterkin and Dallas' Jake Oettinger. But Gustavsson's breakout performance in his first prolonged NHL stint makes his contributions to the Wild particularly unique.
What's more, the 24-year-old could end up posting the highest save percentage in franchise history.
Devan Dubnyk, who was a nominee for the Vezina Trophy in 2015, holds the record at .936 from 2014-15. Niklas Backstrom (2009) is the other Wild goalie who ranked in the top-three for the Vezina. The trophy is voted on by general managers.
"It doesn't feel like I've changed a lot in my game," Gustavsson said. "It just feels like, I always say it, but just consistency. Not too many bad goals. Those ones are the ones that really hurt you both confidence and stats-wise."
Coach's challenges currently only allow for teams to check for goalie interference, offside and missed stoppages in the offensive zone before goals, but Wild coach Dean Evason said the delay of game penalty whistled against captain Jared Spurgeon late in win over the Avalanche "has to be" a challengeable situation.
"That's just too big a point in the game to leave that one to chance," Evason continued.
With 52 seconds left in the third period, Spurgeon's clear in the Wild zone's sailed over the boards but the Wild protested that the puck clipped the glass. The officials still sent Spurgeon to the penalty box with the Wild clinging to a 3-2 lead. Although Colorado didn't take advantage, the Wild were still dropped into a nail-biting finish.
"It's not a penalty. It hits the boards," Evason said. "It's tough because it's a big point in the game. I get there's mistakes, but you gotta be 100 percent — especially when our guys are yelling down, 'It hits the boards.'
"I know it's tough, but yeah, really tough to have your captain, your leader, your guy sitting in the penalty box for a 6-on-4 against that team."
Brandon Duhaime (illness) and Ryan Reaves (upper-body injury) returned against Vegas on Saturday after missing the previous game, but Mason Shaw left in the first period because of a lower-body injury.
Shaw crashed into the boards awkwardly and had to be helped off the ice.
Sam Steel went back to being a healthy scratch, but he made an impact when he was ushered into action against Colorado while Duhaime and Reaves were out. After idling for four in a row, Steel tallied the Wild's second goal in the first period to become the team's 17th different scorer since Kirill Kaprizov exited the lineup.
"You're just itching to get back in so when it comes, you have that adrenaline and what not," Steel said. "Other than that, getting put through some pretty hard workouts, pretty hard skates just to keep the legs in as good of shape as you can being out."