The big hit from Matt Dumba in Game 1 that changed Wild-Stars playoff series
After knocking Stars winger Joe Pavelski out of the game, Dumba got booed every time he touched the puck.
DALLAS — Minnesota Wild star Matt Dumba has always had a penchant for delivering big hits. To his credit, regardless of the situation, Dumba has almost always been able to do it within the parameters of the rulebook.
In the final month of the regular season, for example, Dumba twice lived on the edge during separate games with big hits on Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov and Pittsburgh Penguins winger Drew O’Connor. Both left the opposing player face down on the ice. Neither elicited a trip to the penalty box.
Which set the stage for Dumba’s big hit in Game 1 against the Dallas Stars on Monday night at American Airlines Center. With the action funneling beneath the goal line, Dumba lined up Stars winger Joe Pavelski, then finished his check at full speed, which resulted in a shoulder-to-shoulder collision.
The immediate aftermath was sobering as Pavelski’s head slammed into the ice in the process of him falling. He stayed face down for a few seconds before struggling to his knees. Not surprisingly, Stars center Max Domi jumped Dumba after the whistle and hit him with multiple punches.
The officials initially tagged Dumba with a major penalty before reviewing the play and ruling it was a legal hit on Pavelski. They dished out a minor penalty to Dumba presumably because of the chaos that ensued around him. Asked postgame about the play, Dumba maintained that he thought it was a legal hit.
Wild coach Dean Evason praised the officials for the way they handled the situation while also sending his thoughts out to Pavelski.
“You never want to see that,” Evason said. “We believe they got it right. We still don’t like to see anybody lay on the ice like that.”
Stars coach Pete DeBoer was shockingly calm postgame despite the fact that he lost Pavelski for the foreseeable future.
“If they reviewed it and decided it was not an illegal hit, I guess it’s not for me to argue with that,” DeBoer said. “They got to look at it with multiple different angles. That was the decision they made. We have to live with that.”
As for Dumba, the way he kept his composure the rest of the game was impressive, and it helped the Wild earn a 3-2 win over the Stars in double overtime.
Never mind the fact that Dumba got booed literally every time he touched the puck. He played his best game in recent memory, defending impeccably in his own zone, while logging 38 minutes, 31 seconds of ice time to set a new franchise playoff record.
“You make a hit like that and have to stay locked in,” Dumba said. “You have to keep the head on a swivel because guys are coming.”
It’s almost as if Dumba being forced to watch his back actually elevated his game. He competed every time he hopped over the boards and made quick decisions any time the puck was on his stick.
“Just simple,” he said. “Nothing too tricked up. Just moving pucks. Trying to get my feet moving when I can.”
His game has been trending in the right direction ever since being a healthy scratch a few months ago. That served as a wakeup call for Dumba at the time, and he used it in a positive way to get the most out of himself.
Though he’ll likely never shed his reputation as a player who takes too many risks on the blue line, Dumba was the epitome of a stay-at-home defenseman down the stretch in the regular season. He and best bud Jonas Brodin proved to be among the most effective defensive pairings in the NHL at shutting down the opposing team.
“I know what makes me successful now,” Dumba said. “I have a better perspective on that and understanding of what my role is. It’s allowed me to flourish in those areas. I think I’ve added a part of my game that I think a lot of people discredit because they probably never held me in that regard.”
No doubt he’s talking directly to a faction of the fan base that seems to blame him whenever things go sideways during a game. The criticism is something Dumba has dealt with throughout his career, fair or unfair, and he’s learned the importance of having thick skin.
Because of that, no, Dumba will not be fazed if his big hit on Pavelski makes him Public Enemy No. 1 for the rest of the first round.
“Yeah,” Dumba said with a smile when asked if he can handle the boos. “Love it.”
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