First off, I'll own up - I forgot I was supposed to write this last night, so instead it's going up this morning, a little rushed, but still heartfelt, right?
Anyway - when last we left our boys in Union Blue, they'd snapped a four game losing streak thanks to a strong effort in Boston. With two games left before the All Star Game break, it was a chance to repair a bit more of the damage, and to maybe take a little positive momentum with them in the second half of the season.
The biggest news going into the Xcel Energy Center was that Jack Skille had been activated off injured reserve, and would draw in for Jared Boll as a result - the first game the pugilist has missed this season.
With the lines otherwise unchanged, Sergei Bobrovsky had the call in net, and the Jackets went in to face a Wild team that's been suffering their own crisis of confidence lately, having dropped six in a row before finding a spark against the Sabres and Coyotes after trading for goalie Devan Dubnyk.
"Doobs" was in the pipes for the home team tonight as well, but after some initial tentative probes from either side, it would be a "Dubi" getting things going.
Reversing a Wild clearing attempt at the top of his own zone, Kevin Connauton flipped the puck over to James Wisniewski, who fired a perfect tape to tape pass through the neutral zone, hitting Dubi in stride as he charged right down the middle of the ice, then fired a beauty past Dubnyk.
1-0 Jackets (Dubinsky (3) from Wisniewski (16), Connauton(7)) @ 07:57
Neither team was getting much on net thanks to a combination of good defenses and bad puck luck all around, but things had started to tip in favor of the Wild late in the first period, capped off by Nino Niederreiter drawing a hooking call on Dalton Prout.
Minnesota's power play went to work, and it didn't take long to cash in. Cycling the puck through the back of the Jackets' zone, Jason Pominville sent it back up to Mikko Koivu at the half wall, who drifted back along the blue line before firing a shot into the mess of players around Bob, where Zach Parise would tip it home.
1-1 (Parise (17) from Koivu (19), Pominville (23)) @ 18:43 - PPG
Unsurprisingly, that late goal gave the Wild a good boost for the remainder of the period and well into the second, which wasn't helped by another visit to the box early in the second by Scott Hartnell, but the Columbus PK tightened up, and even though they weren't generating much traction outside of their zone, the team was at least keeping the ice clear in front of Bobrovsky, which allowed Bob to do BOB things on several Minnesota attempts.
Things got even crazier when Zach Parise drew a penalty shot call. The All Star forward had been loosed for a breakaway when David Savard basically hugged the stuffing out of him to prevent a goal. With the ref's arm up for the penalty, Bob made the save on the initial shot, but Parise took a second whack at it after the whistle which went into the net.
That goal was reviewed and waved off because of the referee's whistle, but that still meant that Bob had to face off with Parise 1 on 1. (Which, if I'm honest, was a bit surprising? Most games I suspect that would have just been called as a regular interference call - but that's just me.)
Parise looked like he was going to just go straight up the gut, but broke left at the last possible moment, looking to tuck the shot past Bobrovsky's legs. Bob figured it out, though, and kicked back to make the save, sending the puck harmlessly into the far corner.
Thanks to that big stop, the Blue Jackets finally seemed to get a little steam, even drawing their own power play thanks to some good hustling by Hartnell. The Wild shut that one down, but the momentum seemed to be building...until David Savard caught Jason Zucker in the chops with his stick.
Suddenly facing a double minor to nearly the end of the period, the PK was tested again, but thanks to more hard work and a couple more big saves, they managed to get into the second intermission still tied up at 1, which gave the team as a whole an opportunity to breathe.
The clubs hit the ice for the final frame, and the game arguably turned thanks to some great hustle by Alexander Wennberg. The rookie's been looking more and more confident in his second NHL stint, and even though he wasn't on the score sheet tonight, he's been making a lot of good plays. He's clearly seeing the ice at another level, and tonight he was there for several good defensive moves.
In this case, he drew a tripping call that would send the Jackets to the power play, and this time they made the most of the opportunity. The power play unit was moving things around early, though I'm not sure I'd call it a cycle - it seemed a bit too chaotic for that - but in that chaos came opportunity. With Nick Foligno carrying the puck down below the goal line, the Wild moved in to try and box him out, which gave James Wisniewski the opportunity to pinch down to the side of the net - putting him in exactly the right place to bang in a quick shot.
2-1 Jackets (Wisniewski (5) from Foligno (24), Hartnell (18)) @ 05:35 - PPG
Things kept on with that thin lead, but Bob was Bob, and the Jackets were generally riding the knife edge lead, then slowly turning up the pressure, which culminated in Wiz blocking a Wild clearing attempt to keep the puck in the offensive zone, then firing a quick shot that would bank into the net off of Hartnell's legs.
3-1 Jackets (Hartnell (10) from Wisniewski (17)) @ 16:57
The Wild didn't go away in the final minutes - in fact, Bob made one more insane sliding stop save on Vanek that had fans going house on Twitter, but the Jackets did a good job of staying with it, and the only negative note I can bring up is Matt Calvert missing his open shot at the empty net after a nice setup by Ryan Johansen, which would bring the Johan's point streak to an end at "only" 13 games.
Final Score: Jackets 3 - Wild 1
- James Wisniewski - Dude was, dare I say it, en fuego.
- Sergei Bobrovsky - Bob had some rough outings last week, but as the play in front of him has improved, he's been able to get his own game back to where he wants it to be. That penalty shot save gave the team exactly what they needed to win.
- Alexander Wennberg - He didn't score, but he was making good contributions all night. He keeps this up, the points will follow.
Bottom of the Barrel:
- David Savard - Rough day at the office. I think the move on Parise was understandable (if badly executed), but the other penalty was 80% bad luck, 20% getting outworked. I like what he brings, normally, but hopefully he can recharge his batteries a bit during the break.
- Faceoffs - Outside of Dubinsky, the team's centers got beat up pretty badly at the dot. That's an area the club has been struggling in quite a bit lately. Might be time for some refresher drills.
- Calvert's Open Net - C'mon, man!
All things considered? A nice win for the good guys, a couple badly needed points, and it's good to have the opportunity to go into Winnipeg on a roll. The Jets are flying pretty high right now, but if the Jackets can shoot them down, sweeping the road trip would be a nice sign that they're moving in the right direction again.