COLUMBUS -- What do goaltender Curtis McElhinney and the Columbus Blue Jackets' power play have in common? Neither had been doing much lately, but each proved critical in a 4-2 in against the Detroit Red Wings at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday night.
McElhinney watched 2013 Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky start 19 straight games and 26 of the past 27, but he was forced into duty to start the second period because Bobrovsky (nine saves) fell ill. McElhinney stopped 22 of 23 shots, including all 13 in the third period.
McElhinney had a combined 45 minutes in two appearances since Jan. 28, but kept the Blue Jackets in the game.
"Honestly, I thought I was gonna be starting," McElhinney said. "I didn't think Bob would try and fight it out, but he gave it a shot. He felt pretty good in warm-ups, he just didn't feel ready to go for the full 60 [minutes]. There was certainly some heads-up and it was nice to come in there. Just a great feeling for the win."
Bobrovsky said he was fine after the pregame warm-up, but became sick after the first period.
"Watching him play energy-wise, he didn't have his quickness," Columbus coach Todd Richards said.
The Blue Jackets' first win in three games enabled them to tie Detroit (33-25-14) with 80 points apiece. The Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs also have 80 points; Columbus and Detroit hold the Eastern Conference wild-card positions for the Stanley Cup Playoffs because they've played fewer games. The Blue Jackets are in front of the Red Wings because they have four more non-shootout wins.
But the tone in the critical Eastern Conference showdown was set in the first period when the Blue Jackets (37-29-6) got not one, but two power-play goals when Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky scored with the man advantage take a 2-0 lead.
The Blue Jackets had not scored in their previous 36 tries over 10 games but ended the drought 95 seconds into the game with Johansen's goal.
"You know what I'm pleased about?" Richards said. "Hopefully after tonight I won't get any more questions about the power play. That's first and foremost. I know when he score I said, 'Good, now we can stop talking about it.'"
Johansen was low in the right circle when he fired a shot. Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard made the initial save, but Johansen followed his shot and reached the rebound before teammate Boone Jenner was able to take a swipe at it and slip the puck into the net.
"That was nice, especially so early in the game," Johansen said. "It was a good one to get us kick-started."
Dubinsky was fortunate on his 15th goal at 12:46 of the first during a 4-on-3 power play. With more open space, he had time to wait for a backdoor pass to Atkinson at the left post. The puck never reached Atkinson because Detroit defenseman Danny DeKeyser tried to stop the pass, but instead made a perfect redirect with his stick and put the puck in his own net at 12:46.
Nyquist then went to work and continued his torrid scoring pace. He has 25 goals for the season, with 20 of them since Jan. 20, a span of 25 games. He has eight goals and an assist in the past five games.
His first of the night came at 14:55 of the first period and cut the Blue Jackets' lead to 2-1, with Riley Sheahan setting up Nyquist for the goal.
"It doesn't really matter," Nyquist said of his multitple-goal game. "It was an important game for us. We have to forget about it and move on."
Nyquist tied the score at 10:58 of the second. The rebound of a Tomas Tatar shot the puck went off the skate of Nyquist, then hit Johansen before going across the goal line. The goal was upheld after video review.
So was the winner by Atkinson, although the Red Wings saw it differently.
Atkinson was crashing the net for a rebound of a Matt Calvert shot when he poked the puck away from Howard (23 saves). Before the puck slid across the line, the net came of its moorings, but the ruling was that Atkinson was shoved into the net by Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith and the goal stood. Atkinson was credited with his 19th goal of the season and first in nine games.
"I guess it's something to remember here in the back of our minds that if you knock the net off just throw it in there. It should count," Howard said.
Atkinson wasn't sure how the ruling would go.
"I thought the net went off, but the then explanation was that the puck was going in as the net was going off," he said.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock accepted the call.
"It doesn't matter what I think, obviously," he said. "They made a decision. I thought when the net was off the goal didn't count, but they evidently think our guy pushed their guy in. It's a goal. There's no sense disputing. We had to get one more goal."
The Red Wings didn't because they couldn't solve McElhinney on their final 18 shots.
"He's a good goalie as well," Nyquist said. "When you change goalies we said put the pucks on net as much as possible, but their 'D' played well back there."
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