Facing a Minnesota team desperate for a win before heading off to Finland for their matches against the Hurricanes in Helsinki, the Jackets brought a veteran lineup loaded with offensive firepower.
Yet it would be the Jackets' third line that really sparked a great deal of the offense tonight as the Jackets drop the Wild, 4-2, for their first win at the Xcel Energy Center since 2007.
Coming out with heavy pressure to start the game, the Jackets got a jump on the Wild and drew an early penalty after Brent Burns attempted to hook Rick Nash about the head and shoulders as a way to stop a rush. The power play had a little trouble getting started, but Fedor Tyutin would drift down from the left point, take a good feed from Anton Stralman, and rifle a shot past Nicklas Backstrom to open the scoring at just past the five minute mark.
Almost before George and Bob could get done describing the play, the Jackets were rushing back up the ice after a Wild turnover to Sammy Pahlsson, and the big Swede would unload a nice pass to Ethan Moreau, who buried his chance to give the Blue Jackets a 2-0 lead.
Despite taking two late penalties, the Jackets would hang on to keep that lead at the end of the first, outshooting the Wild by 9-4, but they'd surrender an early goal at the tail end of the penalty they'd carried over into the second, with Brent Burns setting up Antti Miettinen on a cross-crease feed that Mason had no chance to stop.
The Jackets wouldn't take it lying down, though. After putting the pressure back onto the Wild, Pahlsson and Moreau would bang around the Wild crease, and David Savard fired into the traffic, giving Moreau a rebound which Pahlsson would redirect to restore the two goal lead.
Then, less than a minute later, Jake Voracek would carry the puck up out of the Jackets zone following a big save on Mikku Koivu by Steve Mason. Jake would go one on one with Backstrom, blowing past the Wild defense, and slammed the goal top-shelf, blasting the water bottle off the back of the net for the 4-1 lead.
Unfortunately, the Jackets most have decided that it would be worth making things "Interesting", and started a seemingly endless parade to the box, with Clitsome taking interference and Cross-checking penalties, Vermette going to the box for a hook, and Jan Hejda for a trip. The wild would take advantage on a Matt Cullen slapper from the low circles on the power play for a 4-2 score, but the Jackets would hang on through the end of the period despite Anton Stralman going into the box for hooking to end the second frame.
In the third, the Jackets seemed to settle back down, killing the Stralman penalty and earning an equalizing penalty on Koivu. Though Minnesota would push back a bit, registering 11 shots in the period to the Jackets' 5, the Jackets did a good job of adjusting to the pressure and counter-attacking, finally forcing the Wild to pull Backstrom for the extra attacker with about 1 minute left. The Jackets broke out of the zone and seemed clear to put the nail in the coffin, but Rick Nash decided to pass off to Antoine Vermette....who whiffed on the empty net.
Good decision as a captain. Not so great move for just putting the damn game to bed. Oh, well.
The Wild scrambled down ice to try to take advantage of the whif, but Cal Clutterbuck would cross-check Derick Brassard, forcing the Wild back into their own zone with less than 30 seconds left, and that was it for the Wild's pre-season.
The Jackets go to 3-3 on the pre-season, while the Wild went 0-4-2. Ouch.
Jake Voracek: Though he only had one goal, Jake was a beast tonight, involved on several scoring chances and tying Nash for the lead in shots tonight with 3. I actually set the game up to tape on my DVR just to see his "water bottle" goal.
Ethan Moreau: A goal, an assist, +2, helped shut down Minnesota's top line, and he killed penalties? Yeah, I'd say Moreau on the third line is working out.
Sammy Pahlsson: To quote Fight Club -
His name is Sammy Pahlsson.
His name is Sammy Pahlsson!
HIS NAME IS SAMMY PAHLSSON!
It seemed like Pahlsson was breaking up a lot of Wild passes and creating several turnovers tonight, in addition to helping kick-start offense. His goal in the second period was clutch - restoring that two goal lead seemed to knock the Wild back on their heels and give the Jackets more confidence.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
Grant Clitsome: In a game where several guys might have their last opportunity to impress before final cuts, Clitsome didn't help his cause. Taking two bad penalties, one of which lead to a goal, and otherwise being unremarkable on the score sheet, I think Mr. Clitsome has pretty much packed his bags for Syracuse.
Mike Blunden: Not bad, per se, but again - this was a night for him to make an impression, and I can't even remember if the radio guys mentioned his name. Maybe watching the game will lead me somewhere different, but I could have easily been convinced that he didn't actually play tonight.
Derick Brassard: Brass actually sounded like he had a pretty good game in terms of creating offense and moving the puck around the ice, but he struggled in the faceoff circle again. Wasn't he supposed to be working on that?
Antoine Vermette: C'mon man. You missed an empty net! The 'Twan actually had a pretty well rounded game tonight, but I had to bust his chops for that one.
Something else interesting as I read through the box score - this may have been a preview of how ice time would be balanced for the 3 skill, 1 checking line idea. A lot of the forwards averaged between 10 and 14 minutes tonight - only the top line of Juice, Nash, and Vermette went over 16.
Imagine if we'd replaced Blunden with, say, Filatov getting 11 minutes tonight, or Kubalik instead of Chris Clark for 12 minutes. I can't help but wonder if the offense might have been even more effective.
The Jackets take on Washington tomorrow night at the Verizon Center, are expected to make cuts following Friday's game, then take on the Thrashers at home before flying to Sweden Saturday night.