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Aftermath: Born to Beat Wild

by Brian McCormack / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets defeated the Minnesota Wild on Monday night, their second straight victory as they head to Winnipeg for their final game before the All-Star break.

The Jackets played a tightly-checked game, got some great goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky, and were able to find the holes in a stingy Devan Dubnyk at the right time to put the Wild away late.

In a 3-2 loss to Montreal last week, it was the Blue Jackets’ discipline faltering in the third period and then their penalty kill stumbling as well, allowing the Canadiens to score three power play goals in four minutes. The Blue Jackets have been an entirely different third period team since, both in terms of discipline and defensive commitment. Yet against a swarming Wild team, it’s possible that it was a late second period sequence that gave them an extra push.

With 4:19 remaining in the second period, right after a disallowed goal by Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, David Savard was whistled for a high-sticking double minor. A scenario that could have spiraled on Columbus a week ago was instead a positive turning point in this game. The Jackets killed off both minors, surrendering only two shots in the process.

At 5:25 of the third period, when the Jackets got their second power play chance of the game, they didn’t miss. James Wisniewski snuck down from the right point just ten seconds into the power play and presented a target for Nick Foligno, who was posted behind the net. Foligno threw the puck to Wisniewski down low, with Dubnyk still stuck deep in the net, and Wisniewski buried the 50th goal of his NHL career.

The Jackets power play is third in the NHL at 25 percent and has accounted for 33 percent of their total offense for the season. The Jackets rely heavily on their power play for offense, and they were opportunistic in using their special teams to both stay alive in the game and pull ahead in the third.

If the four-minute penalty kill wasn’t the turning point of the night, another strong candidate for the honor came at 9:02 of the second. During one of the few stretches in the game where run-and-gun overtook cautious and defensively conscious, the Wild were able to stretch the neutral zone and Zach Parise was able to sneak in behind Jack Johnson and Savard. Savard dragged down Parise, who already had a goal on the evening, and the Wild’s best offensive player was awarded a penalty shot. Bobrovsky out-waited Parise, who deked to his forehand but was forced so far wide and had held the puck so long that he had no angle towards the net and forced the puck wide.

The Blue Jackets have now faced and stopped three penalty shots this season, one for Bobrovsky, one for Curtis McElhinney, and one for Anton Forsberg. In addition to the penalty shot he thwarted tonight, Bobrovsky has stopped 22 of 26 breakaway attempts in the shootout this season for a save percentage of .846. That save percentage across five shootouts certainly puts Bobrovsky in the conversation as one of the game’s best breakaway goaltenders, and his situational play throughout the third period made him a key factor in the Jackets’ quest for two points tonight.

As important as Bobrovsky was tonight, one player might have been just a bit more critical. Wisniewski played arguably his best game of the season, and he was everywhere in the third period to help secure a win for Columbus. Wisniewski broke the 1-1 tie with his fifth goal of the season, and his fourth on the power play.

Wisniewski earned an assist on the Jackets’ first goal of the game by Brandon Dubinsky, and then helped to put Minnesota away for good when his point shot ricocheted in off of Scott Hartnell at 16:57 of the third, making it a three point night for Wisniewski.

Wisniewski now has three goals and seven points in the last nine games, but also came up big defensively. While Bobrovsky made many key saves throughout the third period, Wisniewski might have made the biggest save when Parise’s wrister from the left-wing wall snuck behind Bobrovsky. With the Blue Jackets leading by a goal and time winding down in the third period, Jason Pominville had the puck on his stick and an empty net when Wisniewski came sliding through the crease to block the puck away to the corner and preserve the lead.

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