The Blue Jackets came out of the gates strong tonight and held a 4-1 lead until about halfway through the third period.
Two points seemed an inevitability, but when the Red Wings scored two goals just 46 seconds apart to make it a one goal game at 16:30 of the frame, it was a brand new hockey game with plenty of time left.
But despite a late push from Detroit, Columbus kept its lead and Cam Atkinson scored his second goal of the night (and 23rd of the year) into an empty net in the final seconds of regulation to secure a 5-3 victory at Nationwide Arena.
“I don’t think there was the panic that we might have had earlier on (in the season),” Brandon Dubinsky said after the game. “Obviously, you don’t want to give up those two goals, and especially in crunch time there, but we found a way to get the job done, so I’m happy with the way that the boys battled and the way that it ended.”
The Blue Jackets are now 10-2-2 in their last 14 meetings with the Red Wings, and improved their home record to 15-12-6 in 2015-16 season. For all of their early struggles on home ice, they're 7-1-2 in their last 10 in the friendly confines.
“Our start was really good,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “We battled back there and scoring that second goal was important before we went into the third. I thought they turned it up on us, they had a majority of play in the middle of that second period, but we end up leading 2-1 going into the third.”
The start that Tortorella spoke of consisted of the Jackets out-shooting the Red Wings 16-4 in the first 20 minutes. Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard made some key saves for the visitors to keep it a scoreless first period.
David Savard opened the scoring for the Blue Jackets just 35 seconds into the second period on a 5-on-3 power play. Alexander Wennberg teed Savard up for a wicked one-timer that Howard never saw, giving him his third goal in as many games.
Later in the second, Justin Abdelkader leveled the score for the Red Wings by beating Joonas Korpisalo on a give-and-go, tying the game 1-1 at 10:24.
And 6:12 later, David Clarkson scored his second of the season at 16:36 after a Matt Calvert shot turned into a rebound and a between-the-legs turnaround goal for Clarkson, his 200th career NHL point.
The productive line of Atkinson, Dubinsky and Boone Jenner put the Blue Jackets ahead 3-1 just 26 seconds into the third period. The goal marked Jenner’s career-high 24th goal, which ties him with Brandon Saad for the team lead.
Jenner was one of the more noticeable players in the game and his coach made a point to single him out.
“I think we have found ourselves at home from the beginning of the year and the physical part of the game is part of us,” Tortorella said. “I look at Jenner tonight — that’s probably one of the strongest games, most tenacious game, I’ve seen him play. You watch him play and that’s what we’re trying to be consistently as a team. I just loved the way he played.”
Atkinson added on to the lead with another 5-on-3 goal at 9:14 of the third, getting a stick on a half-speeder from Seth Jones. At that point, it was 4-1 Columbus and it looked like a comfortable cushion.
But the Red Wings got two quick goals to make it a one-goal game and instill some nervousness in the building. Tomas Tatar scored a power play goal at 15:44 of the third, and then Andreas Athanasiou added on at 16:30 of the frame, but the Blue Jackets corralled themselves to put the game away.
“I liked the way we re-grouped tonight,” Dubinsky said. “We were able to find a way to get the job done and Cam buries the empty-netter and seals it.”