When he explained his decision to remain with the Wild and not pursue a trade elsewhere, captain Mikko Koivu spoke about how right it felt to be here — with the only franchise he’s ever represented in the NHL.
That unique bond with one organization was important to him, and Koivu wanted to preserve that instead of waiving a no-movement clause in the final months of his contract and on the brink of his 37th birthday to potentially go to a different team — perhaps one considered a favorite to hoist this year’s Stanley Cup.
But what also factored into the resolution he related to team brass Saturday was the fact the Wild was still fighting for its playoff life, and he could help that pursuit.
And that’s exactly what happened Tuesday, as Koivu’s two-goal performance helped spark a 5-4 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in front of 17,057 at Xcel Energy Center that moved the team three points shy of a playoff berth.
“If I can help the team get the win, for sure, it’s a good feeling,” Koivu said. “But that’s about it, and now we move on to the next one.”
Koivu doubled his entire goal output this season with his two-goal showing, the standout performance on a fourth line that was impressive. He combined with wingers Ryan Donato and Ryan Hartman for six points.
“For us it’s creating that momentum and making sure we make the right plays and the hard plays when needed,” Koivu said. “But for sure if we can get on the board, obviously that helps the team and we try to do that.”
This was the Wild’s first chance to respond to General Manager Bill Guerin’s idleness leading up to Monday’s trade deadline, and the players looked like a rejuvenated bunch that no longer had the threat of change looming over their heads based on the way they started.
Only 1 minute, 34 seconds into the game, center Eric Staal snapped out of his 11-game goalless funk on a wraparound that took a fortuitous bounce off a Columbus defender.
“I count on myself to contribute offensively, especially in the goal department,” Staal said. “It’s obviously been a while. Hopefully that can get me on a roll here.”
The Blue Jackets pulled even at 13:33 when captain Nick Foligno put back a rebound, but the Wild retook the lead at 19:13 on a Donato backhander.
That cushion grew to three in the second period after back-to-back goals by Koivu. At 12:08, he wired in a loose puck for his first goal since Nov. 9 — a 30-game lull.
And with 10 seconds left in the second, Koivu used his backhand to register his fourth of the season — the 18th two-goal effort of Koivu’s career and first since Jan. 5, 2017.
Those Koivu tallies became even more vital in the third when the Blue Jackets started to eat into their deficit.
Columbus’ Devin Shore poked the puck around an aggressive Alex Stalock and Emil Bemstrom finished the play at 1:55. By 3:16, the Blue Jackets were within a goal after Pierre-Luc Dubois deposited a puck behind Stalock that was knocked down in front by defenseman Matt Dumba.
“I honestly don’t think we sat back,” interim coach Dean Evason said. “I think they just kept coming and kept coming.”
A shot by winger Kevin Fiala set up by Staal at 9:57 gave the Wild some breathing room, but the goal morphed into the game-winner once Zach Werenski scored off the rush with 3:06 to go.
Stalock ended up with 24 saves, while Matiss Kivlenieks had 35.
“We need points,” Staal said. “We need wins and however we get them, that’s what we’re after.”
That’s one way to look at the Wild’s effort. Another is how instrumental Koivu was to it.
“We’re going to need him the rest of the way,” Stalock said.