Niklas Backstrom made 43 saves, Cal Clutterbuck bagged the game-winner and the Minnesota Wild roared back from a two-goal deficit for a 4-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday night.
The Wild win – their seventh in nine games – means they end their five-game road trip with a winning record (3-2-0). First-year coach Mike Yeo was pleased with his players' effort.
"I was real impressed with the character of the guys," Yeo said. "It would have been really easy when you're that tired, you don't have everything in the tank you had at the start of the trip, to just say, 'OK, it wasn't our night. It wasn't a terrible trip. We got a couple of wins here, let's just move on to our home stand,' but the guys didn't do that."
Despite tying their season-high for shots – and nearly doubling that of their opponents – the Blue Jackets (3-13-1) failed to capitalize on the first-period momentum. In the Jackets' crease, Steve Mason managed just 20 saves against a Wild team that grew more confident as the game progressed.
Pre-game questions about Minnesota's thin defense were answered early, as the Blue Jackets capitalized on blue-line mistakes to jump out to a 2-0 first-period lead.
At 6:51, Antoine Vermette's snapped his 21-game scoreless streak with Columbus shorthanded. With seconds left in their first man advantage, the Wild's Marek Zidlicky was guilty of a defensive lapse in his own zone. A lazy pass to Kyle Brodziak was stolen by Vermette, who skated in on Backstrom from the right side and, after his first shot went off the goalie's pads, finished the rebound from a tight angle.
When the Blue Jackets embarked on a power play of their own four minutes later, Mark Letestu swept in a crossed puck from Nikita Nikitin for his second goal in three games and a 2-0 Columbus lead.
"It's been a long trip for us," Yeo said. "The travel we've had along the way, changing time zones, not skating yesterday. There were a lot of things to indicate we might have the start we did."
Midway through the second period, Minnesota roared back, tying the game with two goals just 20 seconds apart. With the Wild on the power play, Matt Cullen latched onto a bouncing rebound near the crease and buried it past Mason's stick side for his team-leading eighth of the season. As the man advantage ended seconds later, Nick Johnson wristed home off a pass from Darroll Powe for his second of the campaign.
The comeback was complete at 7:37 of the third period, as Clutterbuck latched onto a Pierre-Marc Bouchard drop pass and fired high past Mason from the right circle for the game-winner.
"I didn't really see it go in, to be honest," Clutterbuck said of his fourth. "I heard it. I saw the light."
After Mason was pulled for a sixth attacker, Devin Setoguchi iced it with seven seconds to play.
"For 30 minutes (we) absolutely dominated them, probably our best 30 minutes of the year and then we just seemed to go into a shell," Jackets coach Scott Arniel said. "We just seemed to proceed to turn pucks over."
Columbus had the majority of possession in the third – and a 17 to five advantage in shots – but Backstrom responded with a number of outstanding saves. Rick Nash had a golden opportunity to equalize with 10 minutes to play, but his straight-on blast found post instead of a wide-open net.
Typically an offensive force for the Jackets, Nash has just one goal in eight games and came up empty again Tuesday despite five shots.
"He's squeezing his stick pretty tight now," Arniel said of Nash. "Everybody’s seen those pucks go in, and it's not going in. With a game like that and it's 2-0, your best players have to be your best players. … I thought tonight our skill guys had to be better."