DETROIT – Evidently, all it took to snap the Detroit Red Wings back into top gear was a good thrashing.
The Wings were dealt a humbling 5-1 blowout loss to the Atlanta Thrashers last week and took it personally. So, after taking Thanksgiving off, they made up for it with a pair of wins this weekend against hot Central Division rival Columbus -- including Sunday's 4-2 victory at Joe Louis Arena.
Despite the Blue Jackets (14-8-0) having a franchise-record start to the season and just one road loss before Sunday, the Wings (15-4-2) took out their frustrations on the visitors from Ohio before leaving on a three-game West Coast trip of their own.
Detroit, which also improved to 10-1-2 at home, separated itself from the pack in the Central. The Wings took all four points from the Blue Jackets this weekend, after coming into the home-and-home series tied with Columbus at 28 points.
"It was good to send ourselves a message," said Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, who improved to 13-2-2 and made his 12th straight start. "We got a taste of our own medicine in Atlanta and it was one of those things where it woke us up. It got us back to playing defense fast and taking away second and third opportunities. It's a lot of fun playing that way."
It's not nearly as fun for opponents.
The Wings outshot the Blue Jackets 42-29 on Sunday and 74-64 combined in both games. They also kept Columbus from scoring during a key 5-on-3 power play midway through the third period while leading 3-1.
Howard made 27 saves, while Niklas Kronwall, Darren Helm, Valtteri Filppula and Danny Cleary each scored for the Wings. Derick Brassard and Antoine Vermette scored for the Blue Jackets, with Vermette's power-play goal cutting Detroit’s lead to 3-2 with 1:31 left in the third.
Cleary's empty-netter, his 10th of the season, then sealed the game with 59 seconds left.
Filppula's sixth goal of the season just 52 seconds into the third was the eventual game-winner, while Kronwall and Helm gave the Wings a 2-1 lead midway through the second with goals just 14 seconds apart.
"We embarrassed ourselves in Atlanta," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We never touched the puck. They were better technically. They worked harder and executed better than we did. Every once in a while, you get away from things and you need to be reminded. We were able to get back on track and win these two games, and it was an important two games for us."
The losses might also be a wake-up call for Columbus, which was feeling pretty good about its play before the short series started.
"We're a good team, but that was a good indication that we still need to get better," Brassard said. "There's a lot of room to keep improving. They're playing good hockey right now. They're a team that's on top of their game and on top of the conference."
After both teams had scoring chances stopped in the first 19 minutes of the first, Brassard finally got one past Howard with 43 seconds left to give Columbus a 1-0 lead. Just 26 seconds after Henrik Zetterberg went to the penalty box for a holding minor that negated a Wings power play, Brassard deflected Anton Stralman's shot from the point over Howard’s shoulder into the goal.
It was Brassard's sixth goal of the season and a great capper to a solid opening period by the Blue Jackets – who got some nifty goaltending by Steve Mason (38 saves).
The second period was a different story.
Detroit controlled the bulk of the period and outshot Columbus 17-8. The Wings also took a 2-1 lead into the third after the quick goals by Kronwall and Helm.
Kronwall put a rebound of his own shot through Mason’s pads to make it 1-1 at 10:12 and Helm – Detroit's fourth-line center – beat Mason at 10:26 for the lead.
"Helmer works every night for us," Babcock said. "He did a real good job. He put it in behind the D and went in and got it. The D turned it over and he buried it. That was a big swing in the game -- two goals in a very short period of time."
It was also Detroit's first game without center Mike Modano, who needed surgery on Saturday to repair a severed tendon and nerve damage in his right wrist. Modano was cut by a skate blade at Columbus on Friday and is out indefinitely. With 12 forwards on the roster, the Wings didn’t call up anybody from their system to replace him.
Instead, forwards Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves both flanked Helm on the fourth line after alternating games in a rotation that Babcock used before Modano's injury. That will likely be the way things stay until veteran center Kris Draper is able to return from a sports hernia that has kept him out all season.
Draper is thought to be close to returning, but Detroit didn't seem to miss a beat on Sunday. The Wings put an impressive 32 shots on Mason through the first two periods alone, forcing him to make key saves to keep it a one-goal game.
It didn't take long in the third for Filppula to give the Wings a two-goal cushion by putting a rebound past Mason, who had just made a great save to stop a one-timer by Johan Franzen from point-blank range. But Filppula was in perfect position for the put-back.
Franzen's attempt was set up by a pass from Todd Bertuzzi, whom Babcock singled out for his defensive work while matched up with Columbus star Rick Nash.
Nash didn't have a point -- or shot -- in 19:18 on Sunday after not scoring and finishing with a minus-1 rating in 18:44 on Friday. Nash also got just four shots on goal in the two-game set.
"In my opinion, Todd Bertuzzi is one of these guys that everyone says wasn't great defensively, but he's very good defensively," Babcock said. "He played head-to-head against Nash for two games and I thought did an unbelievable job. There's lots of guys playing, but that’s one example of commitment to play away from the puck."