COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Robert Lang's first goal as a Red Wing was the
game-winner in a 3-2 victory over Columbus on Wednesday, giving Detroit the
best record in the West heading into the playoffs.
But all of that got lost after the game, when the Blue Jackets lashed out
over what they considered a cheap shot by the Red Wings' Kirk Maltby.
Columbus general manager Doug MacLean called the hit on defenseman Rostislav
Klesla with 4:52 remaining ``gutless.''
Klesla was checked by Maltby into the open Detroit bench door jamb. Klesla
was down on the ice for several minutes before he was helped to the dressing
room. Preliminary reports said Klesla had a badly bruised thigh.
``You can't say he didn't see the door open because it was open for four
seconds _ we watched it on video,'' Columbus interim coach Gerard Gallant said.
``He just drove him into the door. Not smart at all by him.''
Maltby was aware that the Blue Jackets were infuriated.
``I'm really not going to get into an argument about it,'' he said. ``I'm
backchecking. I can't see who's coming on, who's coming off, if the door's
closed or not. I'm not trying to hurt the guy. It was a foot race.''
Teammate Darren McCarty said it was his fault the door was open.
``I tried to close it and right before I could, Maltby hit him,'' McCarty
said. ``It's unfortunate. Hopefully he's OK. Guys don't do that, it's a respect
No penalty was called on the play. Columbus fans jeered the Red Wings with
an obscene chant in the closing minutes of the game. At almost the same time,
Detroit fans ran down to the glass and tossed two octopi on the ice, a Red
Wings tradition, in celebration during the final minute.
The Red Wings' fourth straight win gave them 107 points, clinching the top
seed in the Western Conference playoffs. They also have a three-point lead over
Tampa Bay in the race for the NHL's best record.
``We're really thrilled to win the West,'' Detroit coach Dave Lewis said.
``It's one of the goals we talked about right around the All-Star break. To go
through some of the trials and tribulations we've gone through, I think it's a
real reward for our guys.''
Lang played his first game after missing 11 with a rib injury. His previous
goal was scored Feb. 25, two days before he was traded from Washington to the
Lang's 30th goal came with 10:57 left when he got past Andrew Cassels and
tapped a loose puck by goaltender Marc Denis. Brendan Shanahan had cleared out
defenseman Luke Richardson just before Lang got to the puck.
``Shanny got it in his skates. He just held the defenseman,'' Lang said. ``I
had myself a little mini-breakaway. It was nice to get my first goal as a Red
The Red Wings, down 2-1 heading into the final period, improved to 2-14-5-1
when trailing through two periods. Columbus dropped to 18-3-2-1 when leading
Tomas Holmstrom had a goal and an assist in the third period, and Maltby
also scored for Detroit.
``It was nice to clinch it. Now we have two more games to get ready for the
playoffs,'' Holmstrom said.
Manny Legace finished with 30 saves, weathering heavy pressure during seven
Columbus power plays. The Blue Jackets were 0-for-7 with a man advantage.
``It was a big third period,'' Legace said. ``There are going to be some
situations like that in the playoffs.''
Legace stopped Rick Nash, the NHL goal-scoring leader, on a breakaway midway
through the second period.
Trevor Letowski and Donald MacLean had the Columbus goals. MacLean had not
scored an NHL goal since Nov. 13, 1997, while with Los Angeles.
``What did we do at the end? We played the game. We wanted to win the
game,'' Gallant said of his team's reaction to the hit on Klesla. ``Detroit's a
good hockey team. One guy did something stupid.''