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Special Teams Come Through

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets players probably were not aware of the stat, but it proved astonishingly accurate after Antoine Vermette’s game-winning goal in the second period.

In their 53 games this season, the Minnesota Wild had only lost five games in regulation (prior to tonight) when not allowing a power-play goal by the opposition. Their special teams have been a strong point during their hot streaks this year, but a barrage of penalties – including four by defenseman Nick Schultz alone – broke the Wild’s back in a 3-1 loss to the Blue Jackets.

The second period was largely controlled by the Wild, who came out sluggish in the first period and fell behind in the first nine minutes on David Savard’s first career goal.

After Nate Prosser tied the game late in the first, the Wild got momentum back and carried it over to the second period – but an ill-timed penalty caused a self-inflicted mess, and a provided the Blue Jackets a big boost.

Rick Nash made a crisp pass from the half wall that was tipped by Wild center Matt Cullen, but the puck ended up right on Vermette’s tape and his backhander clanged off the post and in for a 2-1 lead.

“We took advantage of that power play in the second period,” Vermette said. “We take a lot of pride in our face-offs on the power play; if you lose a face-off, it kills 20 seconds by the time you get it back in their end and establish your set-up.

“Right away, we got good execution and made some nice pass, and had net-front presence. It turned out to be a huge goal for us.”

Columbus built its own momentum thanks to seven penalties committed by the Wild, which did not sit well with Minnesota coach Mike Yeo, who said the Blue Jackets out-worked his team all game long.

"The reality is, I don’t think we deserved to win the game,” Yeo said. “It’s a game of one-on-one battles, and they got the better of us by a large margin in that department tonight. They deserved to win."

Colton Gillies

Blue Jackets interim head coach Todd Richards may not have said he was eager to win this game against his old team, but he said post-game that he was satisfied with the victory regardless of the opponent.

“My message to (the players) was I’ll sleep pretty good tonight and enjoy this one,” Richards said. “I told the coaches beforehand I was a little more anxious, and I think it was all day, too.

“As a coach I was trying to figure out why I felt this way, and a lot of it had to do with leading up to the game.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by left winger Colton Gilles, who was elevated to the top six alongside Jeff Carter and Vinny Prospal before Friday night’s game in Anaheim. Gillies was waived by the Wild on Jan. 13, and as soon as he arrived in Columbus, he said he wouldn’t forget the next game the Blue Jackets had scheduled against Minnesota.

Richards said Gillies’ energy and motivation against the Wild helped the Blue Jackets on a pair of goals tonight, and he was rewarded with the primary assist on Carter’s tally in the third period.

“Minnesota does a really good job of deflecting people out of the shooting lanes,” Richards said. “The first goal was a great example of that – Backstrom never saw it and Colton was right there.

“That’s true with any goaltender in this league; we have to make it difficult on them where they can’t come out of their crease, and keep them deep in their net.”

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