Rostislav Klesla found the perfect way to celebrate his new contract.
The first draft pick in Columbus Blue Jackets history signed a four-year extension Saturday afternoon, then scored the go-ahead goal midway through the third period a few hours later as the Blue Jackets opened their season with a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild.
"He wants to finish what he started here, back in 2000," coach Ken Hitchcock said of Klesla, who's been hampered by injuries for much of his career
The 27-year-old defenseman teed up a slap shot at the top of the right circle and beat Niklas Backstrom inside the near post at 10:10 to break a 1-1 tie.
"It was a big effort by everybody on the ice," a smiling Klesla said. "The whole game everybody put in everything they had. It was a really tough game. It was a great victory for us to get things going."
Klesla hadn't scored a game-winner since Dec. 29, 2007.
"I'm very happy to be here for another four years with this organization," Klesla said. "We've got a great team, with a lot of young talent and good guys. I'm really looking forward to the upcoming years and to create a winning team and a championship team here."
Andrew Brunette had tied the game for the Wild earlier in the period with a power-play goal after R.J. Umberger gave the Jackets the lead with a shorthanded goal midway through the second period.
Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason, who helped Columbus to the first playoff berth in franchise history last spring, finished with 32 saves. The Blue Jackets had to kill off a late penalty to Mark Methot that gave the Wild a power play for the final 1:17 of regulation, and Mason preserved the win by getting in front of Marek Zidlicky's screened shot from the right point in the final five seconds.
The loss spoiled the coaching debut of Todd Richards, who took over during the summer after Jacques Lemaire, the only coach in Wild history, stepped down.
"Before the game there was a little bit of butterflies - it wasn't anything major," said Richards, an assistant last season with San Jose. "When you got into it, you're watching it and you block out the environment and what's going on. It was a good crowd. But quite honestly, it felt like I was coaching in Albany and quite frankly, in Albany there's not a lot of people there. For me it was just another game."
Backstrom finished with 37 saves but lost the goaltending duel.
"Both goalies took turns being great," Hitchcock said. "It was a 2-1 game, but there were more than 70 shots. Both goalies were the best players in the game."
Nikita Filatov, the Jackets' top pick in the 2008 draft, had the game's first good chance when he broke in alone four minutes into the game, only to have the puck slide off his stick as he cut in front of Backstrom.
The Jackets missed another great chance just after the 11-minute mark when Backstrom couldn't control a rebound and Rick Nash slid the puck toward the wide-open net -- but Backstrom somehow knocked the puck away before it crossed the line.
Minnesota's Pierre-Marc Bouchard took the game's first penalty, a hooking call at 15:25. Columbus managed two shots but couldn't score and the opening period ended without a goal despite 11 shots by Columbus and nine by Minnesota.
Mason kept the game scoreless during the Wild's first power play early in the second period, diving across to foil Martin Havlat from just off the left post.
Columbus' Sami Pahlsson took an interference penalty at 9:23, but the Jackets caught Minnesota napping and got the game's first goal when Umberger broke in alone on a breakaway, went forehand to backhand and tucked the puck past Backstrom at 10:30, giving the sellout crowd at Nationwide Arena something to cheer about.
The Jackets nearly got a second shorthanded goal seconds later, but Backstrom stopped Nash on a second breakaway.
Columbus had a chance to extend its lead when Brent Burns drew a double minor for high-sticking at 15:02. But the Jackets, who had the NHL's worst power play last season, couldn't convert. They took their one-goal lead into the locker room after two periods after outshooting the Wild 19-12 in the second and 30-21 through 40 minutes.
The Wild tied it 4:43 into the third period after Filatov took a needless tripping penalty by taking down Burns in the neutral zone. Havlat played the puck from the left boards to Mikko Koivu behind the net to the left of Mason. Koivu found Brunette alone in front, and Brunette made a quick deke before sliding the puck past Mason for his 600th career point.
--John Kreiser, NHL.com
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