COLUMBUS, Ohio – “Mass confusion on the bench … everyone playing with everyone … kind of a cluster.”
That’s the way Wild players and coach Mike Yeo described what was created when the team lost leading scorer Mikko Koivu 73 seconds into Tuesday’s game.
“Amazing we didn’t take any too many men on the ice penalties … or not enough men on the ice penalties,” Yeo quipped after Zach Parise’s second hat trick of the season lifted the Wild to a 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. “Given the circumstances, pretty gutsy win by our guys.”
While alternate captains Parise and Ryan Suter stepped up gigantically for the fallen captain, the hope now is Koivu is not sidelined long. He was taken to a Columbus-area hospital after crashing violently into the end boards two shifts into his night. His upper back, base of the neck and back of the right shoulder took the brunt of the sliding impact after being checked by defenseman David Savard.
He got up under his own power and skated slowly to the bench slumped over. While he initially sat on the bench, Koivu ultimately left for good because of an undisclosed injury. Koivu flew back to Minnesota with the team and Yeo was “very hopeful” he won’t be out long-term.
It’ll be a major blow if the injury is long-term. Koivu is Yeo’s No. 1 center option in all situations, has won 55.9 percent of his faceoffs and entered Tuesday with 10 goals and a team-high 32 points in 38 games (a 69-point pace).
Centermen Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula and Jarret Stoll stepped up with 58 ½ minutes of no Koivu and “will have to keep doing that,” Parise said.
Coyle had three shots and three hits. Granlund not only assisted on two Parise goals (Parise joked that Granlund sent him an awesome “7-foot-high saucer pass” on his second goal), Granlund scored an empty-net goal off a center-ice faceoff 1.7 seconds after Boone Jenner made it 3-2 with 15.3 seconds left.
No fractions of seconds are in the NHL record book, so the two goals tie the NHL record for fastest two goals (:02, Bruins and Blues, Dec. 19, 1987). Haula won 10 of 15 faceoffs, and Stoll had three of the Wild’s 23 blocked shots. Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves as the Wild finished its road trip 2-1-1.
“We lose this game, it feels like a bad road trip. We win, we feel good heading back home,” Coyle said.
Parise, who hadn’t scored since Dec. 19 and missed the first game of the road trip in St. Louis, notched his fourth career hat trick. His last goal made it 3-1 with 57 seconds left and came on a backhanded empty-netter after he stripped the puck from Brandon Dubinsky.
Parise is playing despite an aggravated right knee injury. He complained earlier Tuesday that the brace he was wearing was restricting him. “But it’s at the point: Wear the brace and deal with it or keep reinjuring it,” Parise said. “That’s the dilemma. I don’t want to make the excuse that it’s slowing me down or I can’t crossover, but I don’t like wearing it.”
Parise hardly looked slow against the Blue Jackets. He, Suter and Jared Spurgeon were each plus-4. Suter assisted on two Parise goals and was rock-solid defensively.
With both the Blue Jackets’ goalies hurt, Anton Forsberg, 23, played his seventh NHL game. Earlier Tuesday, Parise recalled how the Wild recently didn’t take advantage of Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray playing his third NHL game.
“I think the last time we faced a young guy, we had five shots halfway through the game. So whatever we did that game, do something different,” Parise joked.
Parise did. A hat trick.