ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Kirill Kaprizov might not like the spotlight. But if he keeps playing like he has been, he’d better get used to being the center of attention.
Kaprizov scored with 20 seconds left in overtime, completing a natural hat trick and lifting the Minnesota Wild past the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 on Sunday.
“I work hard. So does the rest of the team,” Kaprizov said through an interpreter. “At the end of the day, we all come out, we play 60 minutes and do our best. I don’t like to be singled out. I don’t like to be compared, but I just go out there and do my job. Sometimes it goes in and sometimes I get a couple goals but ultimately I just kind of play my game.”
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 22 shots for the Wild, who trailed 2-0 heading into the third period before Kaprizov took over.
Minnesota’s 25-year-old All-Star set a team record with 47 goals last season. He’s now ahead of that pace this year after his third career hat trick gave him 37 goals with another six weeks yet to play in the regular season.
“He might be the hardest working superstar ever,” said defenseman Calen Addison, who set up the winning goal. “I mean, this guy goes to the corners like no one else, and he’s not losing a battle ever. I mean, he does everything for us.”
Mathieu Olivier and Liam Foudy scored for Columbus, while Elvis Merzlikins made 41 saves.
The Wild have earned points in eight of their last nine games (6-1-2), but their offense has been sputtering, averaging just 1.7 goals over their previous 10 contests.
Those struggles continued for two periods against Columbus, which has allowed more goals than all but three teams in the NHL this season. Merzlikins blanked them through the first 40 minutes before Kaprizov scored twice in the first six minutes of the third to tie the game.
First, Kaprizov tipped home a shot directly in front of the net to get Minnesota on the board at 1:15 of the third. Then, with Minnesota on its first power-play of the game, Foudy was sent off for high sticking Addison in the face.
Just as the 5-on-3 was about to expire, Kaprizov scooped up a loose puck in the slot and wired a wrist shot past Merzlikins.
Kaprizov nearly completed his hat trick in regulation with a breakaway later in the period, but after making a nifty spin move to shake a defender, his shot beat Merzlikins but hit the post.
On the final shift of overtime, Addison feathered a pass across the crease and Kaprizov slammed it into the open net for the game winner.
“I literally could have kept them on the ice the whole … game, probably, but certainly the third period and overtime,” Minnesota coach Dean Evason said of Kaprizov’s line. As it was, Kaprizov had a team-high 25 minutes and 36 seconds of ice time.
The Blue Jackets, despite being buried in last place in the Metropolitan Division, have made strides recently. They are 3-1-2 in their last six games, with the only loss a 2-0 defeat by the Wild in Columbus on Thursday. But coach Brad Larsen sensed his team was fighting the effects of a second straight day game, after they beat Edmonton 6-5 on Saturday.
“I thought the first half of the game we were real sharp,” Larsen said. “We needed more guys tonight to be on their game – we had a few guys who just weren’t locked in and it cost us tonight. … We just ran out of gas and got a little bit sloppy and it cost us.”
Minnesota outshot Columbus 13-7 in the first period but wasn’t able to solve Merzlikins. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets took a 1-0 lead late in the period when Olivier scored his fifth of the year off a Wild turnover in their own zone.
Foudy doubled Columbus’ lead just three minutes into the second when he redirected a centering pass from Erik Gudbranson past Fleury.
That merely set the stage for Kaprizov’s star turn. And, as great as his superstar played, Evason said he can’t be surprised by it.
“It’s hard to tell, because he rarely doesn’t have it,” Evason said. “He plays like that all the time. … His drive and his desire and his willingness to compete is always at that level.”
Fleury, who spent 13 seasons and won three Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh, said Kaprizov’s play reminds him of a former teammate with a great track record of his own.
“Reminds of me of (Sidney Crosby) a bit,” Fleury said. “The way he’s built: big legs, big butt. Short, fast, plays, goes to the corner, battles, big hits. Finishes his checks. Defense, comes back in the zone. Helps out in our d-zone, too. It’s all similar to Sid. Obviously he’s got a great finish, too.”
Blue Jackets: At Buffalo on Tuesday night.
Wild: Host Islanders on Tuesday night.
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