It's hard to say the Blue Jackets played a good game against the Wild, but they showed some serious determination in coming back from a 2 goal deficit, only to see it slip away in the final minutes of regulation.
After gutting out an ugly win against the Dallas Stars, it seemed likely that the game against the Wild would be another messy affair.
Stuck in Columbus overnight due to weather conditions, the team had to forgo their normal routine, including the pre-game skate. Arriving in St. Paul in the early afternoon, the team held a meeting, then worked to prepare for the game on an even shorter than normal schedule.
The first sign of trouble came when Matt Calvert left the pre-game warmups due to "some bumps and bruises" that had been bothering him, and even though Derek MacKenzie was available to fill his spot in the lineup, he could not replace the young winger's sheer speed and net presence.
The Wild would dominate much of the first period as the Jackets tried to find their legs, and Mikko Koivu would open the scoring midway through the period with a shot from the goal line that banked in off Steve Mason's leg. (Zach Parise was parked with his skates inside the crease when the shot went in, but apparently that's only goalie interference when Nick Foligno does it.)
Despite some good jump from the Foligno / Johansen / Prospal lines, the Jackets couldn't generate any kind of sustained pressure, and even a Colton Gillies / Darrol Powe tilt didn't really seem to get either bench going.
Unfortunately, things would slip just a bit more into the Wild's favor when Mikko Koivu set up another goal late in the first period, attempting a centering pass from the boards that took a funny deflection off James Wisniewski's stick and ending up in front of Tom Gilbert and a bunch of open ice, and Steve Mason couldn't get into position in time to make the save.
Down 2-0 after the first period, things didn't improve much at all in the second, with the team unable to get pucks to the net. The team was seriously feeling the absence of Cam Atkinson and Matt Calvert, unable to break through the Wild D with speed or to exploit the rebounds given up by Nicklas Backstrom on the few good shots they did create.
Things finally started to turn in the final minutes of the period when John Moore worked to start a cycle around the Wild net, including two big keep-ins, finally working the puck around for a blast from James Wisniewski that rattled around the crease until Mark Letestu could bang it into the net.
As quick as the cheers rose from fans around town at the various game watching parties, they faded into groans when Zach Parise appeared to put the Wild back on top with a goal, but video review would determine that the puck was punched in off of his glove rather than deflected by a stick, and the war room in Toronto would wave it off, giving Columbus a reprieve.
Within a goal and presented with a winnable game, it seemed like an entirely different team stormed out onto the ice for the third period. Pressuring the Wild and earning their first power play opportunity of the evening when Powe hammered Nikita Nikitin along the boards, they were unable to get much going, but set the table for another power play a few minutes later after Jack Johnson was hauled down by Mikael Granlund.
Setting up in the zone, Brandon Dubinsky would win the faceoff and force the puck clear of the PK for Jack Johnson, and JMFJ would load up and blast the puck past an R.J. Umberger screen to tie up the game.
Pushing hard following the tying goal, the Jackets had several good opportunities but either hit iron or failed to capitalize on rebounds, allowing the Wild to hang around despite having almost no offensive presence. It seemed like Columbus was close to punishing the Wild for their third blown lead in as many games, but unfortunately the hockey gods were not with the Jackets.
A combination of loose coverage by John Moore and a rather offside play that was missed by the shorthanded officiating crew would allow Pierre-Marc Bouchard to burn in and snipe Steve Mason for the go ahead goal, and unfortunately Toronto would not call this one back despite clear video evidence that Zenon Konopka was over the blue line before the puck.
The Jackets would try hard to nail the equalizer, but several more offensive blunders would stymie their efforts, including a Bouchard breakway that ended in Tyutin hooking the Wild winger and setting up a penalty shot which Mason was fortunately able to stop, and a crucial late period power play that could not find any real presence due to some sloppy passing and too much waiting for the "good" shot from guys like Dubinsky and Derick Brassard.
In the end, what seemed to be a very winnable game despite the frustrating conditions and negative factors would slip away, and another solid comeback effort squandered without a result.
Final Score: Wild 3 - Jackets 2
- Mark Letestu - Test Tube is playing like a man afire, and Coach Richards rewarded him with more ice time tonight. I'd like to see that pay off in a few more goals.
- Jack Johnson - A big goal (finally, a PP goal!) and drew a key penalty.
- Brandon Dubinsky - An assist on one goal and some exceptionally strong PK work, including a near shorthanded breakaway. The only Jackets centre to win more than 50% of his draws tonight, Dubi had several near misses on goals. I want this guy to get his first as a Jacket soon, because I feel like he's going to break out when he does it.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- R. J. Umberger - This kills me. We love Umby. He's an awesome human being, but he isn't looking like much of a hockey player lately. Passes to nowhere, bad defensive turnovers, a total inability to handle the puck around the net...the only positive thing he did tonight was screen Backstrom on the power play. Even after being demoted to the fourth line for much of the second period, he still got 18 minutes tonight. I think he expects more from himself, and the fans damn sure deserve better.
- Net Presence - Letestu scores because he went to the net and made sure to get rebounds. Somehow this plan did not get communicated to the rest of the team, even though Backstrom was putting out more rebounds than a superball factory. If Vinny's goal on Monday was the textbook example for shooting the puck, this should have been the game that demonstrated going to the net will create scoring.
- Fedor Tyutin - A lot of people will expect me to go after Steve Mason. Not buying into that. One goal was pretty much his fault, offsides or not, but the other two were not. Tyutin, on the other hand, was on ice for all three Wild goals, and had one of his worst performances that I can remember. Bad passes and turnovers are one thing, but it seemed like Tyutin spent the entire game out of position and unable to make a solid defensive play. If Bouchard had scored on the penalty shot that he caused, it would have been a painful, but fitting, result.
The Jackets will fly back to Columbus tonight, get in a day of practice, then get a visit from Hitch, Kris Russell, and the rest of the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. This could lead to excellence, or serious injury.