COLUMBUS, Ohio – Jason Pominville got a surprise shortly before taking the ice for his new team, the Minnesota Wild, on Sunday night.
His wife, kids and father-in-law drove down from Buffalo, N.Y., to see Pominville in action against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
It was a good night for the former Buffalo Sabres captain—he scored a goal and had an assist for his first points for the Wild since his trade last week—in supporting Niklas Backstrom’s 24 saves in a 3-0 Minnesota victory.
“I didn’t really expect them to come down,” said Pominville, acquired with a fourth-round selection in 2014 from Buffalo for goalie Matt Hackett, forward Johan Larsson, a first-rounder in 2013 and a second-rounder in 2014. “I talked to my wife on the phone and everything seemed normal. It was a nice surprise to see her and the kids before the game.”
The win was a big one for the Wild, who snapped a three-game losing streak that included their first shutout loss of the season in their last game.
“You can’t avoid it: Everyone is talking about (the playoffs),” Backstrom said after his second shutout of the season and 28th of his career. “But for us it’s still one day at a time, one game at a time.”
Ryan Suter’s wrist shot in traffic started the scoring, and Charlie Coyle benefited from a perfect pass from Mikael Granlund as the Wild netted two power-play goals in the second period.
Backstrom and his staunch defence did the rest until Pominville scored late off a tape-to-tape pass from Zach Parise.
“What you saw tonight is what our game is supposed to look like,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “I really liked a lot of players tonight. I thought everybody was on top of their game.”
It was a turnaround win for Minnesota, which had also lost four of five since a seven-game winning streak. The Wild scored only three goals in the three-game skid.
“Our last couple of games weren’t what we wanted and it’s nice to kind of get back on track, regroup and get things going again,” Coyle said.
The Wild came in ranked eighth in the NHL in road power plays. After a scoreless first period, the Wild made the most of a hooking penalty on Blake Comeau, who was playing his first home game for the Blue Jackets after being acquired from Calgary for a fifth-round pick.
Suter took a drop pass from Pominville, and Suter tucked a hard wrister from the high slot inside the far post through heavy congestion. It was the fourth goal of the season for Suter, a big-ticket free agent last summer.
Columbus’ Vinny Prospal was called for hooking later in the period, and the Wild cycled the puck while the Blue Jackets tried in vain to clear it.
Granlund slid a backdoor pass from the right wing to Coyle, who had slipped to the left doorstep for a jam shot that made it 2-0 at 15:03.
This defeat was extremely costly to Columbus, which is four points behind eighth-place Detroit in the West.
Now the Blue Jackets have little wiggle room with just nine games remaining in the regular season—including six on the road.
“This one definitely hurts,” said defenceman Jack Johnson, who said Columbus might have to win out to make the post-season.
The Blue Jackets came in having earned points in 16 of 19 games (11-3-5) and riding a four-game winning streak at home. Since their previous regulation home loss on March 7, they had gone 9-0-3 at Nationwide Arena.
“It’s a blow,” coach Todd Richards said of the loss that opened a three-game homestand. “We know what’s ahead of us. The players have talked, we have talked, about the importance of these home games. We lacked energy in the second period. We picked it up in the third, but we still didn’t do enough.”
Marian Gaborik, acquired by the Blue Jackets in a multiplayer deal with the New York Rangers at Wednesday’s trade deadline, was greeted by several signs in the crowd as he made his debut at home.
“We have to stay positive,” Gaborik said. “We have nine games left. We’ll do everything we can to be in the hunt.”
Backstrom was solid when needed. The Wild killed off four penalties, although Backstrom was at his best on even-strength threats. He gloved a hard one-timer by Jack Johnson midway through the first, stymied R.J. Umberger on a rush in the third, and turned aside Cam Atkinson’s blast in transition in the final minutes.
“What can you say about Backie?” Yeo said. “That was a good response by him. That’s what he does.”
NOTES: Columbus D James Wisniewski caught a skate to the leg in the second period and made it to the bench with some difficulty. He returned in the third. … Minnesota, which solidified its playoff spot heading into the final three weeks, ended a streak of five games in which it had allowed the first goal. … Sergei Bobrovsky had 21 saves for the Blue Jackets. … The Wild have 10 games remaining, including six at home.
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap