Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards didn't need to think very long before stating that the second period and special teams were the difference in tonight's hockey game.
After an uneventful first period with both teams trying to find their legs and feel the game out, the second period saw a lot of action but it was at the wrong end of the ice for the Jackets. They were out-shot 11-4 in the middle frame and spent several shifts chasing the puck, causing a lot of work for Sergei Bobrovsky and a lot of retrieving for the defense corps.
Ryan Suter - who played a brilliant game on the blue line for Minnesota - opened the scoring with a crafty wrist shot through traffic at 3:13 of the second period, the first of two power-play markers for the Wild. The Blue Jackets had a chance to answer back, but the man advantage was not their friend tonight: Columbus went 0-for-4 on the power play and registered just three shots on goal combined.
The Wild got the game's biggest goal late in the second period from Charlie Coyle, who was camped at the back post after a Jackets turnover while shorthanded. Jason Pominville's first goal with Minnesota made it 3-0 in the final minutes of regulation.
With that being said: while it's a disappointing loss for the Blue Jackets in the grand scheme of this playoff race, there's too much time left for them to hang their heads. They have two more games at Nationwide Arena this week before embarking on a six-game road trip, and the points only get more important from here.
They'll get back to practice tomorrow, iron some things out and most importantly catch their breath; today's game was the Jackets' third in four nights against quality opponents, teams that thrive on grinding the game down.
Here's tonight's breakdown:
1) SPECIAL TEAMS: It was a perfect storm for Minnesota and quite uncharacteristic for the Blue Jackets, who went 0-fer on the power play and gave up two power play goals. They have been greedy on the kill all season and some times, your opponent has to get some credit. There's a lot of skill on the Wild power play and a handful of players who can make something out of nothing. Suter's goal is an example of that.
2) BACKSTROM THE BACKSTOP: For a guy who has made Nationwide Arena into a house of horrors in his career, Niklas Backstrom really stepped up and gave his teammates every chance to win tonight. He made the routine saves, but also a few tough saves that looked easy. His positioning was solid and his composure was evident, and it was clutch considering he was pulled from his last start.
3) GABORIK: You can tell this guy is capable of dominating a game, and he's had several instances of that throughout his career. In his three games with the Blue Jackets, it's obvious that opposing teams are keying on his line and trying to shut him down, which could in turn free things up for other lines. Despite not getting on the scoresheet tonight, Gaborik was one of the more noticeable players in the game. He led all forwards with 21:44 and had four shots, one less than Suter's game-high total of five.