Columbus used a goal from Alexandre Texier with 6.3 seconds left in overtime to down Minnesota by a 3-2 score at the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City on Saturday.
With the win, the defending champion Blue Jackets now lead the Ted Lindsay Division with five points in two games and will clinch a spot in the title game for the third year in a row with one point Monday vs. Dallas.
Egor Sokolov and Eric Hjorth also scored for Columbus while Finnish goaltender Veini Vehvilainen made 28 saves in his North American debut.
It was one-way traffic in the first period, as the Blue Jackets outshot Minnesota and led 2-0 after a frame. Columbus outshot the Wild by a 10-2 margin and got goals from Sokolov and Hjorth to take the early lead.
It took more than nine minutes for the Wild to get a shot on Vehvilainen, and shortly thereafter, Columbus made it 1-0 when Sokolov scored. The free agent invite won a battle for the puck in the corner and came out into the left circle before beating Minnesota goalie Dereck Baribeau short side.
Columbus pushed for goal No. 2 and finally got it with 48.5 seconds left in the period. Trey Fix-Wolansky did a great job to keep the puck in along the right hand wall and fed Texier in the center of the ice. Texier tried a wraparound and ran out of room, but he was able to throw the puck into the slot for Hjorth to shoot past the scrambling Baribeau.
But as dominant as the Blue Jackets were in the first, Minnesota responded in the second and nearly knotted the shot count by the end with a 14-7 advantage in the frame. And the Wild also got a goal, as Will Bitten was able to get behind the defense after a long breakout pass and deked past Vehvilainen with 3:08 left in the period to make it 2-1.
The CBJ's Finnish goalie also had some strong saves in the period, including a shorthanded breakaway stop on Connor Dewar and a full extension right pad stop when Shawn Boudrias got open alone in front.
Vehvilainen had to be on his game in the third, as well, including during back-to-back CBJ penalties that included 35 seconds of 5-on-3 time. Columbus survived that but Minnesota knotted the score at 2 with 6:32 to go on a 2-on-1 down low as Matvey Guskov sent the puck across the Brandon Duhaime for the score.
It stayed that way until the end of regulation, leading to a five-minute, 3-on-3 overtime. Both teams had excellent chances - Vehvilainen stopped Duhaime on a 2-on-0 while Columbus had some good looks as well - before Texier's winner.
After a faceoff in the right circle, Fix-Wolansky tied up a Minnesota defender and the puck squirted free for Texier to pick up right in front of the net before shooting it past Baribeau.
By the numbers
Sokolov, a 6-foor-4 Russian who had 30 goals with Cape Breton of the QMJHL last season, has scored in both games of the tournament. … Columbus finished 0 for 4 on the power play. … There were two fights in the third period that earned five-minute majors. Columbus' Jacob Paquette scrapped with Duhaime early in the period while Maxime Fortier fought with Minnesota's Nicholas Boka in the final moments of the third. … Texier now has a 2-2-4 line in two games and is second in the tournament in scoring. … Minnesota tied the shot count at 24 at the end of regulation and had a 6-5 edge in OT.
- Vehvilainen was impressive in his North American debut as Elvis Merzlikins was the night before. They're certainly different goalies - Merzlikins is bigger and a tremendous athlete, while Vehvilainen is a tactician - but both can stop the puck, as they proved over the years in Europe. Vehvilainen made some solid saves and also wasn't afraid to aggressively and confidently play the puck.
- Hjorth scoring might be something Blue Jackets fans will have to get used to down the road, as the Swedish defenseman taken in the fourth round of the 2019 draft certainly has some offensive abilities. His excellent shot was on display during practice sessions leading up to the tournament, and he's also not afraid to join the play in the offensive zone. His goal came from the slot, continuing a pattern of trying to get into advantageous shooting positions.
They Said It
Vehvilainen: "It was very fun, the first game of the season. Exciting and fun. I think it was nice to see that the stuff I've worked with (goaltending coach Manny Legace) works very well in the game. It's a good first experience."
After a day off Sunday, the Jackets complete the round-robin portion of the tournament Monday with a game vs. Dallas at 2 p.m.