More than 40 years ago, Hall of Famer Emile Francis said of hockey: "This game is slippery. It's played on ice." The Columbus Blue Jackets' 4-2 victory against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night was proof that Francis' axiom is still true.
If any team looked like a lock to win, it was the Wings. Not only have they locked up their 21st straight playoff berth and were playing a last-place team they clobbered 7-2 two nights earlier, but they would be facing rookie goaltender Allen York, who had never won an NHL game.
Starter Steve Mason was injured when he took a shot in the mask by Colton Gillies during the morning skate. With Curtis Sanford already out with a leg injury, the Blue Jackets turned to York, who spent time this season in ECHL and American Hockey League and had started just one NHL game. His backup was Shawn Hunwick, who was signed to an amateur tryout contract Wednesday morning, less than a week after completing his college career at Michigan.
"We were midway through the pregame skates and I was having a pretty good practice so I tried to keep it going," York said of getting the start. "But honestly, I couldn't sleep -- couldn't nap today at all. Other than that, I felt great."
Instead of rolling over, the Jackets cost the Wings two big points in the race for fourth place in the Western Conference -- and the home-ice edge that goes with it.
"As bad as the feeling was after Monday's game, this was a great response by the players," a smiling Columbus coach Todd Richards said.
There were no smiles from Wings coach Mike Babcock.
"That was a poor effort," Babcock said. "We weren't good throughout our lineup. Give them credit. They got embarrassed the other night in our rink and showed they're professionals and came out and competed hard. Our effort was ... I was surprised, to say the least."
Rick Nash intercepted a bad pass by Niklas Kronwall, leading Vinny Prospal's game-opening goal at 6:26 of the first period. Columbus made it 2-0 at 14:17 when Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart whiffed on the puck, enabling Ryan Johansen to grab it and send in Derek Dorsett for a breakaway goal.
It was a huge change from Monday's game, in which the Jackets trailed 4-0 halfway through the first period, and prompted Babcock to call his timeout.
"We obviously weren't prepared to play today," Babcock said, "so as a coaching staff we didn't do a very good job, for whatever reason."
The Wings regrouped and made it 2-1 at 16:23 when Henrik Zetterberg's deflection ticked off a defender and went past York. But instead of folding, the Jackets scored twice more against Ty Conklin late in the second period, capitalizing on a pair of defensive mistakes by the Wings. Derek Brassard took Nikita Nikitin's long pass, got behind Ian White and Kyle Quincey and scored on another breakaway at 14:30. R.J. Umberger made it 4-1 at 15:57 by converting a 2-on-1 with Nicklas Lidstrom caught up ice.
"We weren't happy with our performance," Lidstrom said. "We knew they were going to be better. We as a team didn't respond well to that. We made some mistakes early and that they capitalized on and that gave them a lot of momentum."
The Wings, who had just 13 shots through two periods, came out firing in the third but beat York just once -- Kronwall's power-play slapper went through a screen and into the net at 9:34 for a power-play goal. York stopped the other 17 shots he faced to earn his first NHL win.
"It was awesome," said York, who signed with the Jackets a year ago after playing three seasons at RPI. "The boys played great. We didn't give them much."
Said Richards: "Detroit made a push in the third, and he stood his ground. Pucks hit him that he wasn't seeing, but it was a credit to him that he was in position. It's one of those moments as a player that they'll always remember."
Added Umberger: "Obviously we wanted to play well for him. Our commitment on defense was excellent by our whole group. We did an outstanding job of keeping them on the outside, cutting off plays behind the net and not letting them get their cycle going. We blocked a ton of shots today. We frustrated them. We allowed Yorkie to see the puck the whole game."
The Red Wings had a two-game winning streak snapped. Detroit has 97 points, fifth-place Nashville is one point behind and sixth-place Chicago trails by four points. All three teams have five games remaining -- the Wings host the Predators on Friday.
They'll need a better effort than the one they produced against the Jackets.
"We didn't play. We didn't compete," Babcock said. "The team that plays the hardest and works the hardest wins 99 percent of the games. They had a young kid in net that had never played in the League before that we could have put some pressure on, and we never put any pressure on him at all -- we got five shots in the first period.
"I was shocked. I really was shocked."
Material from team media was used in this report.