It didn't come easy, and it didn't come without the loss of a solid player - in fact, it very nearly was given away.
But the Jackets found a little luck, and a couple of key bounces, and they walked out of the Xcel Energy Center with the win, and the season series over the Wild after Antoine Vermette's OT winner with just 34 seconds left in the period.
To be fair, the Blue Jackets started things off on the right foot, withstanding early pressure from the Minnesota Wild before finally taking the lead when Sammy Pahlsson and Derek Dorsett pushed the puck deep into the Wild's zone just before the midway point of the period, then worked the puck around to Rick Nash as he jumped off the bench and charged in, undefended. Derek Dorsett passed the puck cleanly to Nash in the high slot, and he slid cleanly through the defenders before snapping a quick wrister past Niklas Backstrom on the glove side to give Columbus a 1-0 lead.
The Wild would answer back relatively quickly, however, in what would be a very back and forth game as they attempted to keep their hopes for the postseason alive. After a turnover by Jakub Voracek, the Wild's fourth line would break down a three on two rush the other way. Marc Methot and Fedor Tyutin would both attempt to isolate John Madden with the puck, giving him the chance to fire a pass to Brad Staubitz before Mathieu Garon could adjust, and Staubitz basically had an empty net to shoot at for his first goal of the year.
The teams would take a 1-1 tie into the second period, but it would be the Wild who took the next lead of the game, with Cal Clutterbuck catching his own rebound after Garon stopped the first shot, and putting it back up top shelf to give the Wild a lead for much of the second period.
Derek Dorsett would attempt to put some life back into the team when he challenged Brad Staubitz following a nasty hit on Sami Lepisto, but the fight mostly served as an instruction for why you shouldn't fight a guy with six inches and forty pounds on you. Staubitz can-openered Dorsett's helmet off him, and though the Blue Jackets' agitator got a few licks in, it was pretty clear that Staubitz had controlled the fight. Worse, though Staubitz was boxed for fighting and a charge for his hit on Lepisto, the Jackets would lose Dorsett for much of the remaining game, as he was given five for fighting, two for instigating, and a ten minute misconduct.
The news would get worse when Grant Clitsome was clipped near center ice by Mikko Koivu, and the defenseman struggled to get up. Dragging himself on hands and knees to the trainer as he rushed onto the ice, Clitsome eventually made his way back to the bench and refused to go to the locker room before the end of the period. He would not return for the third, and though he was able to leave the building under his own power, all we know for now is that he will be evaluated after the team returns to Columbus, likely meaning he will be out of action for Sunday's game against the Devils.
Following the return to the ice, Scottie Upshall and Martin Havlat got into a frank exchange of views that sent both wingers to the box for roughing, and the Jackets would take advantage of the more open ice as they ended the period 4 on 4.
Rick Nash would attempt a shot on the doorstep after getting free of the defense, but missed on the one timer. Sami Lepisto was unable to take a shot after grabbing the puck, but tossed it to his defense partner, Kris Russell, who fired a bullet from the blue line high glove side for the tying goal.
R.J. Umberger and Fedor Tyutin nearly combined immediately afterwards to give the Jackets a go ahead goal, but they would end up tied once again at the end of two, with both teams looking for the lead.
The Jackets finally retook the lead a little over four minutes into the third period after a small swarm of shots, with Jan Hejda taking the puck off of a cycle that started with Sami Lepisto pinching in on D, over to Rick Nash behind the wall, then passing up to Hejda at the top of the zone who fired a bullet that ripped past the defense and into the net - though Backstrom would argue that he'd been interfered with, the refs disagreed, and Columbus had a 3-2 lead.
The Jackets continued to press, and finally got another breakthrough when Rick Nash scored his second of the night, this time after Sami Lepisto sprung Derick Brassard on a nice outlet pass before Brass dropped the pass off to Nash as he trailed into the zone, then grabbed the puck and ripped a nasty wrist shot for his second goal of the night.
With a 4-2 lead and under 5 minutes to go, it seemed like the Jackets just needed to clamp down and hold on, but unfortunately they did exactly the opposite, with the Wild pushing into the zone on the ensuing faceoff, and Antti Miettinen getting around Antoine Vermette and Craig Rivet to drive to the net and fire from the top of the paint past Garon, bringing it to 4-3.
The Jackets tried to settle things back down, but with just over two minutes left, Martin Havlat would pass the puck up to Matt Cullen before tying up Derek Dorsett, keeping him from being able to get back on his defensive assignment before Cullen sent a pass to Jared Spurgeon, who then fed a wide open Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who fired into an open net to tie the game.
A borderline play by Havlat that probably should have gotten a holding call, but a worse play by Garon, who was caught totally unprepared for the Minnesota pass.
It looked like another case of snatching defeat from the Jaws of victory as the Jackets and Wild went into Overtime, but Mathieu Garon found a second gear, making a couple of jaw dropping stops on Mikko Koivu and Brent Burns, and keeping the Jackets alive despite being outmuscled for much of the overtime frame before Brent Burns turned the puck over in front of his own net with just over 30 seconds to go, fanning on an attempt to feed the puck up ice and sending it directly to Vermette, who tucked it upstairs for the game winning goal.
Final Score: Jackets 5 - Wild 4 (OT)
- Rick Nash - Nash was pushing hard the entire game, and the coaches gave him all the ice time he wanted as he pretty much willed the team to win today. He ended the night with over 20 minutes of ice time, two goals, two assists, 7 shots, and a +3. Talk about a superstar effort. This also marks the 7th season that Nash has had over 30 goals, and ties him with Jarome Iginla as the only two players to have 30+ goal seasons every year since the lockout.
- Sami Lepisto - Speaking of setting records, Lepisto had three assists today, tying him for the single game record with former Jackets Adam Foote, Rostislav Klesla, and Jaroslav Spacek. Lepisto also played a solid defensive game, and has really been making a case for getting a qualifying offer from the Blue Jackets in the offseason. He credits his success to his new lucky Voracek bobblehead.
- Antoine Vermette - Though he was a bit culpable on the tying goal, he more than made up for it with the OT winner, and had the most ice time of all forwards with 22:15.
- Road Record - The Jackets set a franchise record with 17 road wins this season.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Finish - The Jackets let off the pedals five minutes too early, and very nearly paid for it. Even if the chance of making the postseason is very unlikely at this point, there's no excuse for letting a two goal lead slip away like that.
- Offciating - Both teams were let to run a bit too freely - only one penalty was called the entire game without an offsetting call to the other team, and the players continually escalated the degree of hits as a result, perhaps leading to the Clitsome injury. Calling this game a few degrees tighter might have prevented that hit.
- Derek Dorsett - While his assist to Nash early was a great pass, I think we needed Dorsett on the ice as a forward much more than we needed him in the box for 17 minutes.
Thanks to getting a few lucky bounces, the Jackets put this one in the win column, but there's no rest for the weary - they'll be back in Columbus tonight, and preparing to face New Jersey tomorrow afternoon at Nationwide Arena.