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Blue Jackets back at .500 after defeating Wild

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- The transaction line Nov. 18 didn't cause a rumble when the Columbus Blue Jackets claimed 24-year-old defenseman Kevin Connauton off waivers.

But he has made an impression as loud as the cannon that sounds whenever Columbus scores at home.

Connauton continued his offensive production by scoring the tying goal and assisting on the third-period winner by defenseman David Savard when the Blue Jackets defeated the Minnesota Wild 3-1 at Nationwide Arena on Wednesday.

The Blue Jackets (16-16-3) are at .500 for the first time since the eighth game after winning for the 10th time in 12 December games.

Connauton has his five goals this season in their past nine games, with four assists in 15 games since joining the Blue Jackets. He had two assists in eight games for the Dallas Stars and one goal in 44 games in his career with them.

"He's done a great job for us. You can see his confidence," Richards said. "He had a rush in the second period where he went around our net and went up ice.

"That's one thing he's provided for us on the back end. He's a guy who can go back and pick up the puck and carry it the length of the ice, carry it out of trouble and make a play. He's been a great addition."

The Wild (17-14-4) held a 1-0 lead late in the second period and Minnesota goalie Darcy Kuemper had just made his 15th save on a shot from the slot by Matt Calvert when the Blue Jackets scored.

Kuemper lost his stick and was trying to pick it up when the puck was cleared to the left corner. Connauton retrieved the puck and shot from near the left wall, and Kuemper was unable to block it with 46 seconds left.

"I dropped my stick on the save before," Kuemper said. "The puck was shoved to the corner so I wanted to pick it up and it shot right out to him for a one-timer and I had trouble picking up the puck."

Connauton said he didn't see that Kuemper had lost his stick.

"The puck was along the wall," Connauton said. "There was a crowd in front. I wanted to put it in the area. It happened to find the back of the net. It was a grab and shoot and hope for the best."

It worked out well for the Blue Jackets.

"We got some momentum off that goal. It was big goal," Columbus left wing Nick Foligno said. "Kevin Connauton really stepped up. He's been playing awesome for us."

The Wild, who have lost six of seven, rued the missed opportunities against goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to increase their first-period lead after a Zach Parise power-play goal.

"They're goalie made some really nice saves to keep it 1-0," Parise said. "It's always tough when you give up one (late). We should have been going into the third 1-0."

Parise's goal with 4:02 remaining in the first ended the Blue Jackets' penalty-kill streak at 24, including one earlier in the period.

With Columbus defenseman James Wisniewski off for holding, Minnesota executed a perfect passing play down low. Thomas Vanek was in the left circle when he whipped the puck to Mikko Koivu in the slot. Koivu quickly threaded a pass to the right side of the crease, where Parise put a one-timer inside the near post.

Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said the Wild didn't test Bobrovsky until the final 10 minutes even though he made 28 saves.

"At that time we started to have a little more pressure," Yeo said. "That was the first time in the game I thought we started getting some bodies to the net. We were very perimeter for most of the night. I thought we didn't challenge their goalie at all."

Connauton set up Savard's power-play goal for a 2-1 lead 5:57 into the third period. Brandon Dubinsky got the puck to Connauton at the right point. He skated to the center of the blue line then dished the puck to Savard for a slap shot from the left circle, his sixth goal of the season.

"We need a contribution from everybody," Richards said. "Tonight we got it from the defensemen."

Columbus center Ryan Johansen scored his 10th of the season, first in 12 games, with 33 seconds left into an empty net off the second assist of the game for Dubinsky.

The Blue Jackets were 4-4-0 on Oct. 26 and 6-11-1 when Connauton arrived.

"Now we can't be satisfied," Richards said. "This (.500) is where we wanted to get to. We've done that. Now we've got to go for more."

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