ST. PAUL, Minn. – James Wisniewski flicked the puck toward centre ice with Columbus clinging to a one-goal lead and Minnesota’s net emptied in the final minute.
It bounced past the blue-line, kept going and skidded in for the game-sealing score. Finally, in this forgettable season, the Blue Jackets got a break. The Wild would love one of those these days.
R.J. Umberger scored two goals, one on a power play with 21 seconds left in the second period, to send the Blue Jackets to a 3-1 victory over the stumbling Wild on Saturday night.
Wisniewski had an assist to go with his empty-netter, returning from a 17-game absence because of an ankle injury. He said he was just trying clear the puck, hardly attempting to score.
“The way our season has gone, I expected that puck to kind of hit the post and lay in the crease,” Blue Jackets interim coach Todd Richards said.
Devin Setoguchi had a goal for the second straight game for the Wild, who lost twice to the NHL-worst Blue Jackets this week, both by 3-1 margins. Rick Nash assisted on both of Umberger’s goals.
“It’s been hard to get those kinds of bounces this year, but I think you’ve got to create them. You’ve got to keep working hard,” said Umberger, who slipped a slapshot through traffic and past Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom with 56 seconds remaining in the first period to tie the game.
Then he knocked in a rebound over Backstrom’s head to give the Blue Jackets the lead for good with 21 seconds left in the middle frame. That was the first power-play goal scored by the Blue Jackets on Minnesota’s ice in eight matchups. They failed to score on 16 straight man-advantages until Umberger struck late in the second period. Columbus also had two power-play goals on Thursday at Dallas in a 4-2 loss to the Stars.
The Blue Jackets kept their lead thanks to Steve Mason, who made 34 saves and earned his first victory in six starts since Dec. 29, with primary goalie Curtis Sanford scratched because of a back injury. Mason gave up 10 goals over his previous two turns.
“There’s nobody on this team who’s had a rougher season. He’s a guy that can be so good. You want to see his confidence get to where it can be,” said Umberger, who broke a seven-game goal drought.
Mason won despite a 15-2 shots advantage for the Wild in the third period.
“He’s been working hard at his game. It was good to see him get rewarded,” Richards said.
Mason used entirely new equipment since his previous start—from the blocker to the glove to the pads to the pants to the chest protector. He said he felt bigger.
“It’s just been a tough year on every single front, from not winning and not playing a lot and not playing up to my expectations. Obviously the team as a whole, we haven’t been playing up to expectations,” Mason said.
The Wild controlled the flow for most of the night, outshooting the Blue Jackets 35-19 and generating plenty of prime chances near the net. But they struggled to catch passes cleanly, and despite a resurgence of energy after a lifeless effort in a loss to Vancouver on Thursday, the Wild dropped their fourth straight game.
The Wild are 5-15-5 since mid-December, when they had the NHL’s best record at the 30-game mark. Now they can’t even beat the Blue Jackets, who have been buried at the bottom of the Western Conference all season.
“It’s obviously a little disheartening after having a meeting yesterday about coming out and working. I thought our guys did a great job as far as working and work ethic,” Setoguchi said, adding: “If I knew the answer to scoring goals, I’d have 50. It’s a confidence thing for us right now.”
Kyle Brodziak nearly broke the second-period tie at the beginning of a power play by trying to backhand a loose puck past Mason as he fell over in the crease. Mason was able to get his glove on it before it crossed the line, and the call of no-goal was upheld by a replay review.
“Winning is so much more fun. At least tonight we gave ourselves a chance to win. We played a good hockey game. It’s playoff hockey. We have to move on and get ready for the next game,” Backstrom said.
NOTES: Wild RW Cal Clutterbuck took a hard hit from Fedor Tyutin and limped to the locker-room with a lower-body injury inthe second period. He didn’t return. Head coach Mike Yeo said he didn’t know the severity. … Nash has five points in four games. … Wild RW Brad Staubitz cleared waivers and was assigned to Houston of the AHL. He had no goals or assists, while averaging only 6 1/2 minutes over 43 games, this season and was a healthy scratch in five of the previous seven games. The move left the Wild with only 21 players on the active roster. Their only scratch was D Justin Falk. He was replaced by D Mike Lundin, a healthy scratch in 16 of the previous 20 games. … The Blue Jackets won in regulation here for the fifth time in 22 tries.