ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Missing for the better part of five games, the Minnesota Wild's secondary scoring showed up just in the nick of time.
Playing on their heels after blowing a 2-0 first period lead against the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center, Minnesota's Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored his 100th career goal with 5:19 to play in regulation, propelling the Wild to a 3-2 victory -- snapping a three-game losing streak for the home team.
Bouchard's game-winner was a thing of beauty which started way back in the defensive zone, when he passed to defenseman Justin Falk standing near the Wild bench. Falk send a cross-ice pass to Torrey Mitchell at the offensive blue line, who dished back to a charging Bouchard entering the zone. He sent a wrister over a sprawling Steve Mason for his second of the season.
"Mikko's line has been playing some solid hockey since the beginning of the season," Bouchard said. "We need to support them and the other lines need to play better."
For Bouchard, scoring his 100th goal has been a long time coming. The 28-year old scored 77 goals over his first six seasons in the National Hockey League. But concussions have limited the slick-skating winger to just 97 games over the last three seasons. Sitting just 23 goals shy of 100 following the 2008-09 season, it's taken almost four years to finally reach the milestone.
Bouchard's return to health is also a harbinger of good things for Minnesota, which improved to 66-19-6 all-time in games Bouchard has scored a goal, including 2-0 this season.
"It's fun. The last few years have been pretty tough," Bouchard said. "It's good to be back, to play in these kinds of games and to win again."
After a back-and-forth first few minutes, Minnesota grabbed control of the game. Koivu scored his second goal in as many games by gathering in a rebound of a Jonas Brodin shot, wheeling around the right circle and backhanding a shot from behind the goal line off Mason's leg pad and in at 9:23.
That goal seemed to break Columbus, as the Jackets struggled to create any offense for the next period and a half.
Nine minutes later, Minnesota went ahead 2-0 after a Koivu shot from the slot deflected off James Wisniewski's skate right to a crashing Tom Gilbert at the right circle. His wrister beat Mason for his second goal of the season and fifth point in six games.
After that, Mason was brilliant, stoning several other Grade-A chances the rest of the way to keep the Jackets alive.
Columbus made it pay off. A goal late in the second by Mark Letestu made it 2-1 before a power-play tally by Jack Johnson early in the third knotted the game at 2-2.
"He was great," said Columbus coach Todd Richards. "He kept it [2-0], then we got a great shift by Mark Letestu and [Derek Mackenzie]. Then we came out and played hard in the third."
Richards was frustrated with his team's effort, saying the final result was what the team probably deserved.
"We played 30 minutes -- the first 10 and the final 20," Richards said. "If guys are waiting for me to motivate them, we're going to have a tough time because I can't go in every game. It's gotta come from within, they gotta be ready to go, they gotta be ready to do the right things."
On the other bench, Minnesota coach was please with his team's first 40 minutes. But a parade to the box in the third -- reminiscent of the team's performance Sunday in St. Louis, which allowed the Blues to come from behind in a 5-4 loss -- was a little disturbing.
"The one thing we have to get better at, particularly in the third, is not coming back and being on your heels," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "We have to be more aggressive, as far as getting into our game and not being so reactive."
Bouchard noted the team may have been too cautious with the lead, but called the temporary letdown a learning experience.
"We came out a little soft and played too careful," he said. "We have to play better when we have the lead."
Backstrom made 17 saves to earn his second win of the season. Mason made 23 saves in the loss.
Minnesota will return to home ice Wednesday against the Chicago Blackhawks -- undefeated this season and well rested, having not played since Sunday.
The Blue Jackets begin a crucial six-game homestand Thursday against St. Louis.
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