ST. PAUL, Minn. - Maybe Marian Gaborik isn't Minnesota's most important free-agent-to-be. Niklas Backstrom's contract is up after the season, too, and the way he has been guarding the goal he'll be in line for big raise.
Marek Zidlicky and Antti Miettinen scored in the shootout and Backstrom made two saves to lift the Wild past the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-2 on Saturday night.
Backstrom, who shut out Phoenix on Thursday night, improved to 5-0-1 at home this season. Since last March, he's 11-0-3 at home with a 1.54 goals against average. Backstrom also won twice in shootouts after going 4-10 over his first two seasons.
"He looks better," coach Jacques Lemaire said.
Backstrom stopped 24 of the 26 shots he faced and though a bit shaky in the middle of the game, he didn't budge when it really counted. He denied a breakaway by Kristian Huselius in overtime and turned away Columbus twice more with his pads in the shootout.
"I didn't have that much to do before that. I think we played very good, solid defence the whole night," said Backstrom, who gave up goals to Huselius and Rick Nash in regulation. "So I'm happy that I could be there when the team needed it, because they played so awesome the whole night."
Zidlicky slid his shot under Steve Mason's glove and Miettinen sent the puck between the goalie's legs to seal the victory. Benoit Pouliot and Erik Reitz scored for the Wild in the first and third periods. Pouliot's came on a power play.
"I was happy," Mason said. "Obviously, I would have liked to cap it off with a win. But overall I was happy with the way I played."
After beating up on Buffalo the night before by scoring a season-high six goals, the Blue Jackets stumbled through the first period and managed only six shots on the net.
But with 30.2 seconds left in the opening frame, Backstrom dropped to the ice as he stopped a shot by Derick Brassard during a rush started by Nash. Backstrom was helpless as an uncovered Huselius poked in a rebound on the other side to tie it.
Nash, whose tying goal with 11.5 seconds left was waved off because of a high stick in Minnesota on Oct. 25, evened the game at 2 with 12:40 left in the third. He took the puck away from James Sheppard deep in the Wild zone and deftly sliced across the slot to sneak a backhander past Backstrom.
"Sooner or later they're going to go in," Nash said. "This time we finally tried something new. It seemed to work. He's a good goalie, one of the top goalies in the league. He's tough to score on, and he definitely kept them in the game."
Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock was pleased.
"We've had one poor hockey game in the last 12," he said. "It's hard to fault our effort right now. Our players are competing, and guys are really pulling together."
Centre R.J. Umberger echoed that.
"We felt a little robbed last time, and at least we're coming away with a point here," Umberger said.
Less than two minutes into the third period, Brent Burns - playing forward for the second straight game - helped screen in the slot while a slap shot by Reitz glanced off a defender's skate to give the Wild the lead. Burns was originally credited with scoring, but Reitz was later given his first NHL goal when it was ruled Burns never touched the puck.
With the other blue-liners playing well and Gaborik still missing because of an unspecified lower-body injury, Lemaire wanted some more punch up front. Burns, who skated on the wing for a few stretches earlier in his career, joined a high-paid, high-profile line with Andrew Brunette and Mikko Koivu.
Minnesota had only one penalty, a tripping call on Koivu that negated a power play in the final minute of the second period. But Lemaire was just relieved to escape an especially tedious game filled with inconsistency with a win.
"The legs were there. No brain," Lemaire said, adding: "I tried to get different brains together. Didn't work."
Backstrom's was working, at least.
Notes: Reitz gave the Wild their first even-strength goal in 191 minutes 52 seconds, a drought that dated three games back to Nov. 6. Brunette had the last one. They scored five times on the power play during that stretch. ... The Wild began Thursday a stretch where they play 10 out of 12 at home. In the first four of those games at Xcel Energy Center, their opponent will be playing on back-to-back nights. ... Nash scored for the third straight game after going nine consecutive games without a goal. ... Blue Jackets D Rostislav Klesla, who missed four games to a wrist injury earlier this month, was scratched because of an ankle injury.