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Surging Wild shut out Leafs


ST. PAUL, Minn.—Alex Stalock started his extended stretch of action in the Minnesota net with his first NHL shutout in three seasons.

Blanking a Toronto team that tossed him aside less than two years ago made the feat that much sweeter.

Stalock stopped 28 shots for his fifth career shutout—using his first start during Devan Dubnyk's absence to steer the Wild past the Maple Leafs 2-0 last night for their fourth-straight victory.

Tyler Ennis scored late in the first period and Mikael Granlund added a goal midway through the third period for the Wild, whose first three wins on the streak were all in extra time.

They handed the Leafs their first blank slate in more than a year—since a 3-0 loss at Calgary back on Nov. 30, 2016.

Since losing 4-2 to the Leafs in Toronto on Nov. 8, the Wild are 12-4-1 in their last 17 games for an NHL-leading 25 points over that span.

This was their fifth-straight win at home.

“You just hope you can kind of keep it rolling,” said Stalock, who was acquired by Toronto from San Jose right before the trade deadline in 2016 but was stashed away in the AHL.

“The way this group's playing right now, just coming to the rink, everybody's smiling,” he noted.

“Everybody's having fun.”

Stalock signed with Minnesota before last season and was elevated this year to the primary backup role for Dubnyk, who was pulled after one period into the previous game and will miss at least another week because of an unspecified lower-body injury.

So the Wild net for now is in the hands of Stalock, who once played at South St. Paul High School just five miles from Xcel Energy Center.

“He's got a lot of energy, he's a great guy, and he's given us a lot of confidence,” Ennis said.

“And when you've got confidence like that, you create more offence.”

The Leafs, who have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and entered the game with the fifth-highest scoring average in the league, have totalled just three goals over their last three games without young star centre Auston Matthews because of an upper-body injury.

“We're just doubting ourselves too much,” said centre Mitch Marner.

“We're not trusting ourselves with the puck.”

The Wild killed all four Leafs' power plays, making them 24-for-25 over their last eight home games, when they're 7-0-1.

Their home penalty kill (44-of-47) is the best in the league.

“We'll have to get that fixed beause that's a critical part,” stressed Leafs' coach Mike Babcock.

The Leafs were out of rhythm all night, with the Wild smothering their shooting lanes for 21 blocked shots.

They had only six shots on goal at the mid-point of the game after going a span of 28-plus minutes with only three tries on target.

Twenty-one attempts simply went wide of the net.

The Wild were more than eager to sacrifice their bodies to help Stalock complete a shutout, given his brief history with the Leafs that served as the low point of his eight-year professional career.

“I don't think we tried to mention it but they all knew about it,” said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau.

All four of Stalock's previous NHL shutouts came with the Sharks.

Elsewhere in the NHL, Montreal nipped New Jersey 2-1 (OT), Chicago dumped Winnipeg 5-1, Nashville blanked Edmonton 4-0, San Jose edged Calgary 3-2, Philadelphia shaded Buffalo 2-1, Washington beat Boston 5-3, and Columbus topped the N.Y. Islanders 6-4.

Anaheim beat St. Louis 3-1, Colorado edged Florida 2-1, Tampa Bay downed Arizona 4-1, and Vegas upended Pittsburgh 2-1.

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