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  • Recap: Minnesota beats Columbus 3-2 in overtime


    Returning home from a short road trip, the Minnesota Wild secured an overtime comeback win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Call it a statement game not in the name of dominance but instead for how it speaks to this club's identity, for better or worse.

    The first period started with the ice tilted in favor of Minnesota. The Wild held the puck away from the Blue Jackets, giving nothing away while methodically getting shots on Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins. While Merzlikins had a trying season in 2022-23, he's been a positive force throughout his career. This side of Merzlikins was on full display throughout the first period, and he stopped the quality chances that Minnesota's forwards sent his way.

    After Minnesota failed to finish, a problem which has plagued the club all year, Columbus took advantage of a bad turnover from defenseman Alex Goligoski.

    On what seemed to be an attempted no-look pass to defense partner Matt Dumba, Goligoski simultaneously took himself behind the net. Dumba was already transitioning north and found himself boxed out by Mathieu Olivier. Ryan Hartman had collapsed to help down low, but Goligoski's pass forced Dumba out of position and left Hartman alone two-on-one. It's a frustrating play from the veteran leftie, who initially returned to the lineup hoping to stabilize the defense corps. While the Jonas Brodin injury would've forced Goligoski into the lineup either way, fans of rookie Calen Addison will no doubt be chagrined to see plays like that from the player who replaced him in the lineup last week due to Addison's soft defense.

    Despite a few more solid Wild shifts to close out the first period, Columbus closed it out 1-0.

    After the first intermission, the Wild hoped for a productive start to the second period. Off the opening faceoff, Kirill Kaprizov carried the puck in alone and was robbed twice by Merzlikins. Failing to score early in the second, Minnesota Instead allowed another goal.

    While forwards Mason Shaw and Connor Dewar did an excellent job keeping the puck outside and on the backhand, even as the Blue Jackets forced them to switch defensive assignments, this one still found the back of the net. If you're looking for somebody to blame, you'll have to go back in the play to the initial turnover from Jon Merrill. While it was a quick play to the dangerous part of the rink, you could also place some blame on Wild goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Had he secured the short side of the net, it would've allowed his defensemen to lock down the front of the net and clear any rebounds down low or on the backdoor.

    With that goal, it felt like an unlucky first period was turning into a deflating first half. The Wild continued to maintain possession and generate steady chances, including a golden opportunity from Kaprizov to Zuccarello to Goligoski, which the defender failed to finish. After 31 minutes of futility, Minnesota took a penalty. Mason Shaw found himself on the breakaway while killing the penalty but missed the net with a baffling slapshot.

    On the next shift of the kill, Eriksson Ek slipped on what should've turned into a shorthanded two-on-one. The Kaprizov line stacked two straight shifts of offensive zone time, culminating in a chance for Zuccarello, which the term "grade-A" doesn't seem to do justice.

    Sources indicate that Mats Zuccarello (existential dread) is questionable for Tuesday's game in Saint Paul and that he's still staring at the rafters in confusion. The period ended 2-0.

    The Wild's top line started the first period with a spitfire of a shift. After a full minute of sustained pressure, Merzlikins ended up outside of his net with the puck at the point. Merrill rotated it to Callen Addison, who unleashed a nuclear bomb into Kirill Kaprizov's shin pads. Failing to score with the goalie out of position, head coach Dean Evason called his secret play: it's named is, "The Ugliest Goal of Kirill Kaprizov's Career."

    I don't know if this touched any part of Kaprizov besides his shoulder on the way in. For Columbus, the puck luck giveth, and the puck luck tooketh away.

    Three minutes after the goal, the same five skaters found themselves on the ice. Kaprizov drew a penalty doing more dirty work at the front of the net and then lined up for the power play. After a minute of power play time, Addison drew another minor.

    Much has been made of the Minnesota Wild's ability to win faceoffs over the seasons since Mikko Koivu left town for Columbus. I believe that the universe gave us one back today to atone for that weird time the number nine wore any color besides forest green on this goal:

    This one is an impossible task for Merzlikins: moving from post to post against a top-ten offensive talent in the world. Kaprizov knew the same and beat the goalie before he could move post-to-post. His weapon of choice: a blink-and-you-miss-it wrist shot. If his last goal led anybody to forget Kirill's skill, he reminded you just minutes later.

    Several shifts later, Matt Dumba took a penalty which could've been a momentum-killer; instead, the Wild killed it handily, even generating two quality shorthanded rushes by Dewar. The penalty ended with ten more minutes in regulation, and suddenly the Wild seemed inevitable.

    While Minnesota mounted sustained pressure for the rest of the period, they didn't give up anything the other way. It was a perfect ten minutes of hockey, yet they couldn't break through for a third goal. The game headed to OT.

    The team skill disparity showed itself in OT, with Minnesota holding the puck for the first two minutes. Kaprizov wheeled the zone for a minute before changing; next, Boldy out-skated the Blue Jackets before physically dominating two opponents in separate board battles. Nothing materialized from this possession, but possession is the name of the game in three-on-three.

    The first shot of the extra frame came from Patrik Laine over two minutes in — Fleury gloved the shot and tried to play the puck for a counter-attack which the referee whistled down as a frozen puck. On the next possession, Zuccarello nearly sprung Kaprizov for a two-on-one rush.

    With time dwindling in the final frame, Columbus skated in on a half-breakaway and nearly knocked Fleury into his net. Headily, Fleury stood his ground as Addison had already gathered the rebound, leading to a fast break with Zuccarello and Kaprizov.

    All three players found themselves open, touched the puck within a full second of each other, and generated a third shot that the goaltender honestly had no chance to stop. Credit to Merzlikins — all three Wild goals were impossible to save. That's what it took to beat him tonight.

    Burning Questions

    Can Addison stay in the lineup?

    It's hard to watch that game and come away feeling like the Wild were adequate offensively to take Addison's talents off the blue line. Furthermore, it's hard to argue that adding Merrill or Goligoski to the lineup shored up Minnesota's defense after what we witnessed against one of the worst offensive teams in the NHL.

    It's hard to see this and feel like Addison's spot in the lineup is up for debate; on the other hand, I don't think Dean Evason has Twitter. Perhaps at this point, Evason feels his message has been delivered, and Addison's attitude is right. If I had to guess, I would assume that Addison's defensive game still holds the keys to his way out of the press box, and I don't think future healthy scratches are out of the question.

    Can the Wild dominate an inferior opponent?

    I certainly wouldn't call this game a domination, but by the end of the game, the Wild indeed asserted their dominance. After a sleepy Sunday start, Minnesota took the ice for a hell-bent third period. Through the third period, Minnesota pulled away from Columbus — unlucky to score only two goals, the Wild gave up nothing in return.

    The adjustments were encouraging, implying that the Blue Jackets came in with an effective counter-punch to Minnesota's victory in Columbus on Thursday. Minnesota's third-period answer was basically, "they can't stop Kaprizov," and against teams at the bottom of the league standings, that's often all it takes. It's a familiar refrain to Minnesota's 2022-23 season: they're good enough for the playoffs in this Western Conference and yet very far from a championship contender.

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