COLUMBUS, OHIO - After the game, before the dressing room door opened, you could hear cheers. Loud cheers. Raucous, even.
The Wild was dealing with a few things Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was the final installment of Minnesota's five-game road trip. The team had crossed a few time zones to get here Monday, and had taken a day off from the ice. Early in the first period the Wild lost two of its top forwards to 10-minute misconduct penalties and, a few moments later, defenseman Marek Zidlicky for the game because of a hit to the head.
But the team found a way. Down two goals while Cal Clutterbuck and Pierre-Marc Bouchard sat and stewed for half of the first period, the Wild came back for a 4-2 victory, with Bouchard feeding Clutterbuck for the winner at 7:38 of the third.
The Wild finished the five-game trip with a 3-2 mark, maintained first place in the Northwest Division and is coming home for a season-long six-game home stretch.
The Wild has 23 points, which is tied with Philadelphia and the New York Rangers for second most in the NHL.
"I didn't see it go in," Clutterbuck said of his game-winner. "I heard it. I saw the light. That's a good feeling."
Everyone on the team was feeling pretty good. Goalie Niklas Backstrom stopped 43 of 45 shots against a Columbus team that started the game on fire and ended it the same way. The Wild got goals from Matt Cullen and Nick Johnson 20 seconds apart in the second period to tie the score. And then, fittingly, it was Bouchard and Clutterbuck who combined for the winner. Devin Setoguchi got an empty-net goal with 7 seconds left.
On the winning play, Bouchard took a pass from Justin Falk, skated into the offensive zone on the right wing, then dropped a pass to Clutterbuck, whose wrist shot beat Steve Mason.
"I called for it quickly," Clutterbuck said. "I had a feeling he knew where I was. He has all the talent in the world to make those plays. I just had to be ready."
The Wild didn't look ready at the start. Columbus started strong, the Wild started on its heels. It only got worse when the officials, trying to set a tone, sent four players off for misconducts at 4:59 after Clutterbuck came to the aid of Bouchard, who was being asked to fight. The trade-off didn't favor the Wild, which lost two high-minute, multi-situational players while the Blue Jackets lost a couple of fourth-liners.
And it showed. Antoine Vermette scored a short-handed goal at 6:51, and Mark Letestu made it 2-0 with a power play goal at 10:42, both scored with Clutterbuck and Bouchard watching from the box.
But the Wild found a way.
Coach Mike Yeo knew it wouldn't be perfect for his team. What impressed him was the way it responded.
"It would have been easy to just say, 'OK, it wasn't our night,'" Yeo said. "But our guys didn't do that. They brought everything they had."
And the Wild came back. Cullen's backhand power-play goal made it 2-1 at 10:32 of the second. Only 20 seconds later, Johnson's goal tied it.
After Clutterbuck scored the go-ahead goal, the Blue Jackets pressed. Rick Nash had two great chances, including a shot from the doorstep with 9 minutes left that defenseman Jared Spurgeon managed to deflect off the pipe at the last minute.
When it was over, the players allowed themselves a little celebration.
"We're enjoying it," said Cullen, who leads the Wild with eight goals. "You enjoy it more when you play hard and play together. Go out and get three of five on the road trip? We're showing good signs."