Pierre-Marc Bouchard felt some small sense of personal satisfaction Tuesday night. With the Wild staggering through the third period, the winger took a perfect pass from Torrey Mitchell and darted between two Columbus defenders, then shot over the glove of goalie Steve Mason.
That gave Bouchard his 100th career goal, a particularly meaningful milestone for a player whose livelihood was nearly derailed by concussions over the past three seasons. He was more proud that it also secured a 3-2 victory that ended his team's three-game winless streak. After showing marked improvement through the first two periods, the Wild (3-2-1) was almost undone by the shaky third until Bouchard bailed it out in front of an announced crowd of 17,584 at Xcel Energy Center.
During the first 40 minutes, the Wild did a much better job of getting pucks deep, controlling play and bottling up the Blue Jackets (2-4-1), who lost for the fourth time in five games. In the third, it grew tentative, losing its grip on a 2-0 lead. Jack Johnson's power-play goal at seven minutes, 32 seconds of the third tied the score as Columbus outshot the Wild 11-1 through the first 11 minutes.
Bouchard netted his second goal of the season at 14:41, and the Wild killed two penalties in the final nine minutes to preserve the victory. While it wasn't perfect, coach Mike Yeo said the game represented a step forward for a team still trying to solidify its identity.
"We need wins,'' Yeo said. "But as much as anything else, how quickly can we get to our game? Our guys were determined. They were focused on playing a certain way, and they saw the results of that.
"We're building our identity. We're creating a style of Wild hockey we have to play every night. This is a game we can use as a positive step, as long as we come back and do it again [Wednesday against Chicago].''
Yeo had addressed questions this week about the Wild's reliance on its top line -- which had scored 10 of its 13 goals entering Tuesday's game -- and lapses in its performance that had cost it in recent games. Mikko Koivu's line scored the Wild's first goal, while defenseman Tom Gilbert provided the second.
But Bouchard, who had played only 97 games in the past three seasons as he recovered from concussions, got the one that prevented a collapse. The Wild got solid performances from all four lines through the first two periods and gave reliable support to Niklas Backstrom, who faced only eight shots on goal in those opening 40 minutes. Columbus did not get a power-play opportunity until early in the third.
Koivu banged a centering pass off Mason's pad for the Wild's first goal at 9:23 of the first. His line's outstanding forecheck set up the second, finished off when Gilbert drilled a shot from the right circle at 18:21 of the first. The Wild outshot Columbus 15-3 in the second, but the Blue Jackets cut the lead when Mark Letestu tucked in a rebound at 14:59.
Then came the third period, and the tying goal scored by Johnson only seven seconds into a power play.
"We came out maybe a little too soft, playing too careful with the lead,'' Bouchard said. "That's a learning process. We have to be better when we have the lead.''
Bouchard ensured they got it back. He said he was happy to be back in position to score such an important goal after three challenging seasons. Yeo said he would have been happy with Bouchard's play if he had not scored, but he wasn't complaining.
"We have to continue to look at the times when we do the right things, play the right way,'' he said. "If we do the right things as individuals, we're going to get rewarded.''