COLUMBUS, OHIO – Everybody can breathe easier.
With the Wild trending the wrong direction the past two weeks and gradually sliding into a playoff bubble spot, the bleeding was stopped Sunday night against one of the NHL’s toughest home-ice teams.
The Wild ended the Columbus Blue Jackets’ 12-game home point streak by handing them their first regulation loss at Nationwide Arena since Feb. 10 with a well-earned 3-0 victory.
“It was one of those games where everybody’s mentally right in there,” said Cal Clutterbuck, who had a strong game with linemates Kyle Brodziak and Charlie Coyle. “You could just feel the intensity, almost like a telepathic focus going through the bench. You can just tell everybody was zeroed in.”
Ryan Suter and Coyle scored second-period power-play goals, recently acquired Jason Pominville had a goal and assist, and Niklas Backstrom responded from being pulled Thursday in Los Angeles with a 24-save shutout, the 28th shutout of his career.
Backstrom set the tone early with a clutch save on Cam Atkinson’s attempted stuff and cruised from there. The NHL’s leader with 20 victories improved to 21-2-4 all-time in his first start after being pulled and 17-0-2 since March 26, 2008.
“What a great response by [Backstrom]. That’s what he does,” coach Mike Yeo said. “Just a solid game all around. We had everyone going. … What you saw tonight is what our game is supposed to look like.”
The Wild ended a three-game losing streak and avoided being shut out on its three-game road trip. It now returns home for an important three-game homestand with 10 games left in the regular season. The Wild moved back into sixth place in the Western Conference but more importantly moved six points ahead of the surging ninth-place Phoenix Coyotes.
The loss was a big blow to Todd Richards’ Blue Jackets, who got no spark in Marian Gaborik’s home debut. They’re now five points behind eighth-place Detroit.
The Wild got pucks deep, forechecked hard, exuded effort all over the ice, especially on four spotless penalty kills, and executed impressively from the back end.
“Nice to get back on the winning side of things,” said Pominville, who was surprised 45 minutes before warmups by his wife and two children, who drove in from Buffalo, N.Y. “Big surprise,” he said.
After a scoreless first period, the Wild dominated the second, outshooting Columbus 11-4 and drawing three power plays by using pure hustle. First, Torrey Mitchell stole a puck from Blake Comeau, who reacted by hooking Mitchell. Then Zach Parise beat out an icing en route to Mikko Koivu being tripped. Finally, Coyle skated through Vaclav Prospal’s check until the referee’s arm went up.
Suter, who topped 30 minutes of ice time for the fifth time this season, got things started by whistling a shot through traffic that beat red-hot goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
Later in the period, Coyle had a masterpiece shift. The 21-year-old rookie, who plays a mature game and is so good along the wall, kept possession in the offensive zone with a single-man forecheck to allow a wholesale line change after Koivu dumped the puck.
Moments later, Jared Spurgeon saved the zone after a Suter shot. Devin Setoguchi found the puck and fed it across for rookie Mikael Granlund, who set up a seeing-eye, one-time tap-in by Coyle. It was Coyle’s third goal in five games and first career power-play goal.
“Granny has eyes in the back of his head,” Coyle said.
For Backstrom, the veteran was just happy the Wild got back to playing the right way and didn’t get overwhelmed by the pressure suddenly surrounding the team.
“We have to realize, we haven’t been a playoff team for [four years],” he said. “We want to be in. There’s going to be some growing pains. We have to learn from the good teams, but it’s still a process. It’s something we work on every day.”