DETROIT – This one deserved the "trap" game label for the Detroit Red Wings, no matter which way you broke it down.
Detroit entered Saturday night's game at Joe Louis Arena riding a franchise-record 15-game winning streak in their own building and a six-game winning streak overall. The Columbus Blue Jackets, meanwhile, had dropped six of their previous 10 games and sat at the bottom of every standings list.
The Red Wings were supposed to cruise past the Jackets -- who are not only one of the worst teams in the NHL, but also injury-riddled. Instead, Detroit came out on cruise control for much of the first two periods and wound up going to yet another game that took more than 60 minutes to decide.
Valtteri Filppula scored the lone goal of a four-round shootout, as the Wings edged the Jackets in a 3-2 victory -- their third in a row decided by a shootout.
"I don't mind it," Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard said of competing in so many shootouts. "It's fun. It's fun for the fans. It's intense. You can just see by the reaction of the fans how much they enjoy it."
Howard made 17 saves through overtime and denied all four Columbus shooters in the breakaway competition, as he slammed the door on Ryan Johansen with a blocker save to secure the second point in the standings.
"It's just about being patient as a goalie," said Howard, who picked up his League-high 29th win. "Let them run out of room and have to make a move and just push the puck. It's working on it in practice. It's also having fun out there."
Prior to Filppula's goal, Blue Jackets goalie Curtis Sanford also had some "fun" in the third period, overtime and the shootout. In the waning moments of regulation, he made a stop with his mask on a hard wrister by Filppula and then made a big pad save on another wrister by Johan Franzen in overtime.
Sanford made 29 saves in total and stopped all 15 shots that he saw in the third – which was by far Detroit’s most active 20 minutes.
"He was great," Columbus interim coach Todd Richards said. "I like the way our guys played in front of him. They had the initial shots. I think we did a good job collapsing. I thought we did a good job as a unit. The other thing is we had some big blocks out there, too. Guys are putting their bodies in those shooting lanes and it's helping us out."
Actually, both teams did a good job of sacrificing their bodies. Detroit blocked 18 attempts and the Jackets got in front of 17, which helped keep the shot totals pretty low for the first 40 minutes. Each team scored once in each of the first two periods, but the goals were all scored relatively close together.
Columbus forward Ryan Russell and Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall exchanged goals in the first, while Nikita Nikitin and Nicklas Lidstrom each potted goals in the second to knot the game 2-2 heading into the third. Russell gave the Blue Jackets a 1-0 lead by scoring off a rebound of Derek Dorsett's shot at 8:51, but Kronwall tied it about two minutes later -- wristing home his 10th goal of the season from the slot through traffic.
It was a particularly sloppy start for the Wings, who gave the puck away seven times in the first, got outshot 7-5 and were also outhit by a 12-9 count. The malaise continued into the second and eventually bit them after Tomas Holmstrom's holding penalty 7:05 into the period -- his second minor of the game.
Nikitin put Columbus back on top 2-1 with just 22 seconds left in the ensuing Blue Jackets power play by wristing a shot from above the right circle that beat the screened Howard high blocker side. Antoine Vermette, who won 65 percent of his draws, picked up the primary assist by winning a faceoff straight to Nikitin and then drifting to the low slot – taking a Wings defender with him to provide a screen.
"It was a great shot," Vermette said. "I was just trying to get the puck to my partner and he made a really good play -- very accurate, nice shot. It was a big goal for us."
Once again, however, the Red Wings responded quickly.
Grant Clitsome was called for hooking two minutes after Nikitin's goal and Lidstrom capped the power play just 22 seconds into it by playing a little bank-shot pool with a point blast out top. He rifled a shot wide of the net and the puck kicked off the end boards hard -- ricocheting back toward the goal, hitting the back of Sanford's right pad and going into the net.
To that point, those end boards might've been the most lively thing about the home team -- yet the Wings still found themselves even with the Jackets.
Lidstrom's goal, his 10th of the season, was also big because it broke a string of 13 straight goal-less power plays for the Red Wings – who'd been struggling mightily despite being ranked 14th in the League on the man advantage. The game went to the third all tied up, which favored Detroit.
The Wings were 8-2-0 in games that were even after two periods, while the Jackets were just 2-6-2 in eight such instances. Yet, despite dominating the first half of the third, the game stayed tied midway through when Henrik Zetterberg got a major boarding penalty for putting his hand on the back of Nikitin as the Jackets defenseman crashed hard into the end boards.
Nikitin appeared to injure his leg and didn't return, while Zetterberg was given a game misconduct. It also negated a Detroit power play and forced the Wings to kill off a 3:29 Columbus power play – which they did to help force the OT.
Yet again, that scenario favored the Wings – who'd won five of their previous seven games in either overtime or a shootout. Playing at home, where they've now won 16 straight and counting, also helped.
"We think we're going to win, which is a real nice thing to have," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "But we can play better than we have, no question about it. We can skate better, play at a higher tempo, get more out of guys and make better decisions. In saying all that, it's a hard League to win in. All you got to do is look around. So, we're always thankful for any win. I never met a bad win.''