The Wings officially won the Western Conference race for first place for the sixth time in 13 years tonight with their 3-2 win over the Blue Jackets in Columbus. It wasn’t the most exciting game of the year for most of the time but had a good finish and got the Wings one step closer to their goal of #1 overall. Manny made the start, as expected, and played great for the most part.
The first period was marked by long periods of nothing play, some light chances, and some uneventful power plays by both teams. Nothing that immensely exciting, though Manny came up big on the few chances the Jackets did have and the same went for Marc Denis when the Wings had chances of their own. The Wings looked kinda flat though and didn’t seem to pursue the puck with the same intensity as they have in the last few games.
Kris Draper and Robert Lang made their returns to the lineup and were their usual selves in the first period. Draper came close a couple times to continuing where he left off before going down but couldn’t finish and Lang had a chance or two of his own. There was one in particular where he should have shot but went for a pass to Tomas Holmstrom that, had it worked, would have been a slam dunk goal but the puck was tipped by the defender and didn’t make it through. Shoot it next time, Robert!
Like I said, it wasn’t a very eventful period. Shots were 11-8 Jackets
Things started off well for the two teams as they had great chances at both ends in the first minute. No goals were scored on the chances but they made things exciting and got everyone warmed up for some goals a couple minutes later.
Kirk Maltby made it 1-0 Wings when he tipped in a nice centering pass from Darren McCarty, who was rushing in on the right wing. The play was really made by Chris Chelios, who sent a great tape-to-tape lead pass from his own blue line to Mac who in turn made a great pass to Maltby for the goal. The goal tied his personal best of 14 which was set last year.
The Blue Jackets got a goal a minute and three seconds later when Manny Legace strayed out of the net and lost the puck. He scrambled back and the puck became caught up in his skates before coming out where Robert Lang saw it. He attempted to clear it and ended up sending it right into the back of Manny’s skate, off of which it bounced into the net. Credit for the goal went to Trevor Letowski but Lang’ll be sure to get some ribbing from the guys for his “first” goal as a Wing, Coffey-esque as it was.
After that, the Jackets got a couple good chances and a power play on a weak high sticking call but the Wings didn’t give up any goals even though they were being outplayed. Then the Jackets got their second goal. At 8:28, Don MacLean took a shot of the wrong foot (Mickey Redmond was sure to point that out) and ripped a shot past Manny up high. Not the best goal for Manny to give up and it came off some decent pressure by the Wings in the Jackets zone.
Columbus then had a couple power plays but the Wings killed them off. After taking the puck on a shorthanded chance during the first Jackets power play, they let Rick Nash come the other way with the puck and break in all alone. Not the guy you want to see bearing down on you by himself if you’re a goalie, for sure. Manny stoned him though and stoned another Jackets player on the next power play from right out in front. Besides the MacLean goal, Manny had another stellar game in goal for the Wings.
Kris Draper had a great chance in the final minute of the period but was mauled by the Columbus defense just as he was about to score. He followed that up with another great chance but still couldn’t score. Standard Draper effort.
Shots in the second were 13-12 Jackets
The Wings got a Too Many Men on the Ice penalty 1:38 into the period and had to kill off another penalty. They were successful with the help of some great stops by Manny, one of which was, again, on Rick Nash.
The Wings followed that up with a great shift by the Tomas Holmstrom/Pavel Datsyuk/Henrik Zetterberg line. Homer had a great chance off a pass from Pavel, who dominated the shift with his puck handling, but couldn’t score. Jiri Fischer got in on the play and took a shot which Homer was able to slam in on the rebound. As he raised his arms to celebrate, he was sent flying by the Jackets defenseman. It was a great overall effort by those four players who dominated for a good 45 seconds before finally getting rewarded. The goal made it a 2-2 tie.
Holmstrom was in the middle of things less than five minutes later when he made the play which caused Robert Lang’s real first goal as a Wing at 9:03. Homer took the puck in one-on-one and got off a shot while Lang followed up on the play and used his strength to gain a superior position on the Jackets player before pushing the puck under Denis. Good goal by Lang and I hope to see more of the same from him in the next couple months.
At around 15:00 of the period, Rostislav Klesla was hit by Kirk Maltby in what should have been a routine collision along the bench-side boards. Instead, Maltby ended up sending Klesla straight into the far side of the door which had just been opened by Robert Lang. It’s hard to be sure where exactly he hit the upper corner of the bench but I will say this: I hope Klesla already has kids! He was on the ice in some serious pain and I know at least every male watching had all the sympathy in the world for the guy. If he didn’t hit it “there,” he hit it at his stomach, which isn’t much better. Hopefully he’ll be okay. I know Maltby didn’t mean to do that, it was just a complete freak accident. The Columbus fans were pretty mad about it though.
Henrik Zetterberg made a great play at the blue line when he stepped around the Jackets player and went in alone. He couldn’t finish on the play though because another Columbus player made a great defensive play and tied up him just enough that he couldn’t get a real shot off. Brett Hull followed that chance up a little afterwards by missing a wide open net. Come on, Brett. That should have been a routine shoot-in.
The Blue Jackets finally pulled Denis in the last couple minutes and the Wings immediately had a chance to score. Yzerman took the puck to the blue line and was about to shoot when he was mugged by a Columbus player in an almost knee-on-knee hit. The Captain, needless to say wasn’t too happy about it. Especially because within 30 seconds, Nick Lidstrom was called for hooking Rick Nash, who really should take up a career in acting when he retires. Give him the NHL Oscar, Mr. Bettman. It was a truly great performance by the 6’4″, 204 lb Nash when he fell after the 6’2″ 190 lb Lidstrom gave him a miniscule tug. Give me a break, Rick. I hope that’s not going to be a continuing trend. The Wings ended up killing off the penalty anyway and winning the game but that could have been costly.
Shots were 10-8 Wings for a total of 32-30 Jackets
The Grind Line and Two Kids and an Old Goat Line were both re-united tonight … Every Wings forward was healthy tonight for the first time in a long, long time … Rick Nash has a league-leading 40 goals, one more than Ilya Kovalchuck, and is 19 … The Sharks would have needed a win tonight to still have a chance at 1st place had the Wings not won themselves … Pavel Datsyuk’s five-game goal streak ended but his point streak continued: 6 in 6 … Robert Lang was a perfect 11-for-11 on faceoffs through two and ended up 14-for-16 … He played only 12:27 and Draper was out there for 16:46 … The Wings have 107 points to Tampa Bay’s 104. Both teams have two games left and the Wings just need one more win to lock up the League title
Here’s the box score.
6 on 4PK-Denis pulled-