If attendance at tonight’s game was 10,833, then the bathrooms at Nationwide Arena must have been plenty crowded. The lower bowl was noticeably empty, and at the end of the game, there were barely enough fans left to boo the Columbus Blue Jackets after their 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild.
Coming off a win against Winnipeg, the Blue Jackets started the game like they had finished the last, playing strong physical hockey.
Antoine Vermette gave Columbus the all-important first goal when his active stick forced a turnover in the Blue Jackets’ offensive zone. Vermette quickly scooped up the loose puck, fired a shot on Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, then shoveled in the rebound.
Minutes later, Columbus fans rose from their seats when Derek Dorsett caught Marek Zidlicky skating with his head down. Dorsett rag-dolled the Wild defenseman, then answered the ensuing fight call from Warren Peters. Adding to the ‘Jackets good fortune, Minnesota defenseman Clayton Stoner went to the penalty box for cross checking on the same play.
On the power play, Nikita Nikitin sent a cross-ice pass from the top of the faceoff circle to the stick of Mark Letestu who was patiently waiting outside the Wild goal crease. Letestu tapped the puck through the legs of Backstrom to give Columbus a 2-0 lead.
Unfortunately for ‘Jackets fans, Minnesota silenced the cannon and took control of the game after a rocky first 20 minutes of play.
Mid-way through the second period, miscommunication resulted in a game changing too many men on the ice penalty against the Blue Jackets. Wild forward Matt Cullen started the comeback with a power play goal. Twenty seconds later Nick Johnson tied the game after a scramble in the goal crease left Steve Mason helpless. In less than one minute, the ‘Jackets saw their momentum evaporate.
“For thirty minutes, (we) absolutely dominated them, probably our best thirty minutes of the year and then we just seemed to go into a shell,” said coach Scott Arniel.
Minnesota’s traffic in front of the net continued to create problems for the Blue Jackets. Various times throughout the game Mason caught breaks while battling screens and close-in shots. The Wild’s swarming attack and tight defense allowed the Blue Jackets only a few quality-scoring chances after the first period. Backstrom, solid between the pipes, finished the game with 43 saves.
With 12:22 left in the game, Pierre-Marc Bouchard zoomed into the Blue Jackets’ zone and dropped a pass to Cal Clutterbuck. Clutterbuck unleashed a slap shot that pinged off the goal frame before beating Mason to give Minnesota the advantage.
Minutes later, Rick Nash stood with the puck in front of an open net, though he missed the golden opportunity when Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon dived across the net to deflect his shot off the post.
“We have to make sure we’re burying the second and third opportunities. It seemed like they were laying there with empty nets and we were whacking at them but missed them,” said Derek Dorsett.
Still searching the game-tying goal, Columbus pulled Mason with 1:33 remaining. Even with six players, the ‘Jackets could not control the puck in their offensive zone. Errant passes and uninspired efforts rounded out the rest of the game. In the final minute, James Wisniewki mishandled the puck giving the Wild’s Devin Setoguchi a chance to notch the empty-netter.
“Its frustrating, we don’t feel good about what’s happening overall here. Were not in a good spot,” said Antoine Vermette.