BLUE JACKETS 3 | WILD 1
Inch by inch, the Blue Jackets have clawed their way back into the conversation. With tonight’s New Year’s Eve win over the Minnesota Wild, they are back at .500 (16-16-3) when such an accomplishment appeared - what’s the word, lofty? - a month ago.
Just don’t tell the players or coach Todd Richards that getting back to level terms is an accomplishment. Their sights are set much higher, and their 10-1-1 run in the month of December was a mere stepping stone on the way to where they want to go. But in order to get one step closer, they had to gut out a 3-1 win over a hungry Minnesota team in front of 18,000-plus at Nationwide Arena.
The Wild opened the scoring with a power play goal from Zach Parise late in the first period, as he converted a wonderful pass from captain Mikko Koivu at the side of the net with 4:02 left in the frame. The goal ended Columbus’ run of 24 consecutive penalty kills heading into the game, but the Jackets were perfect on the kill the rest of the way and did an admirable job in some dangerous moments.
There were nervy sequences, close calls and near misses but Sergei Bobrovsky, making his return to the net after a one-game absence (illness) was terrific between the pipes. He made 11 saves in the first period and 12 in a spotless third period, allowing the Blue Jackets to grab hold of momentum and ride it to the finish line.
Kevin Connauton scored a big goal for the Blue Jackets late in the second period, after a scramble in front left Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper without a goal stick - and Connauton made a heads-up play from the wall just to get the puck on net. Kuemper was reaching for his stick and was not ready for the shot, and Connauton’s fifth goal of the season made it a 1-1 game headed to the third period.
David Savard scored the game-winning goal on the power play with 5:57 gone in the third period, ripping home a one-timer from the left circle off a pass from Connauton. Ryan Johansen scored his first goal in 12 games into the empty net with 22.5 seconds remaining, sending the Blue Jackets into the new year with two more points.
“We stuck with it,” said Nick Foligno. “You're seeing more and more guys step up and take roles on this team. We keep finding ways to get it done.”
It was quite the New Year’s Eve for Foligno, who signed a six-year contract extension with the Blue Jackets earlier in the day and played his 500th career game tonight against Minnesota. He picked up his 15th assist of the season on the Johansen empty-netter.
The Wild were in good stead and appeared headed into the third period with a one-goal lead, a lead that could have swelled if not for Bobrovsky's solid night. But the Blue Jackets kept on pushing (thanks in large part to the Dubinsky line with Calvert and Foligno) and finally broke through, with Connauton’s goal giving them a much-needed lift late in the second period and putting them in a great position to win the third period and the hockey game.
at Arizona Coyotes
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
Gila River Arena