ST. PAUL, Minn. -- There are just enough quirks in the NHL schedule to make you believe that there are hockey gods or, at the very least, hockey sprites.
Who cares, you might ask?
Well, the Wild sure care, because in the two previous Game 43s, wins against the Sabres turned around their season and might very well have saved head coach Mike Yeo’s job.
Two years ago, the Wild hit Game 43 having lost six in a row in regulation and sitting fifth in the Central Division and 10th in the Western Conference. They won 4-1 at home that night and then won three more in a row en route to a 23-10-7 finish and a playoff berth.
Last year’s game was even more dramatic and an even greater harbinger of the future, as Game 43 marked the first game goaltender Devan Dubnyk was in a Wild uniform.
His career on the skids, Dubnyk had started to revive himself with the Arizona Coyotes and was acquired by a desperate Wild team that looked dead in the water, having gone winless in six (0-5-1) and having dropped to 12th in the conference.
Dubnyk traveled literally all night to make it to Buffalo, where he started and won 7-0.
The Wild would go on a tear behind Dubnyk, finishing the season 28-9-3 en route to a third straight playoff berth and a first-round playoff victory over the St. Louis Blues.
Dubnyk found himself going from clinging to a job to competing for a Vezina Trophy.
"I didn’t even actually put that together," Dubnyk said Tuesday prior to this year’s Game 43 tilt with the Sabres.
"A lot has changed since then. We’ve put together a pretty good first half of the year now, so obviously we’re in a much better spot and we just want to continue to build."
Is the 29-year-old Regina, Saskatchewan, native beyond reflecting on the incredible journey?
"You know what? It’s fun," he said. "It’s a good story. It’s obviously not something bad that you’re reflecting on that you’re trying to forget. It’s fun to think back on it. It still seems crazy that it’s only been a year.
"It just seems so long ago. It’s such a different mindset and kind of place in my life to where we are now with this group here and just being on this team and in this city. It’s crazy the difference that it is. But it’s fun to look back on it."
At the time, the Wild were 12 points out of the playoffs -- something that didn’t faze Dubnyk.
"I remember looking and thinking, oh, they’re only 12 points out. Because you don’t realize, you don’t realize how tough it is to gain those back. You think to yourself, 'Oh it’s only six wins,'" he said with a laugh.
This season, however, the Wild are in no such dire straits, sitting comfortably in fifth place in the Central Division with a seven-point lead on the sixth-place Nashville Predators.
Did Yeo have anything to add on the momentous anniversary?
"No, just keep going, Devan," Yeo said Tuesday. "That’s all I can say. He’s been fantastic. Obviously we’re in a bit of a different position this year than we were last year and a good part of that is due to Devan and what he’s done for us."