Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio --
Like any good champion, the Detroit Red Wings
don't like to lose -- not even once.
The defending Stanley Cup champions couldn't hold 3-1 and 5-3 leads against the Columbus Blue Jackets
on Thursday night in Game 4 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series. But after the sellout crowd of 18,889 at Nationwide Arena spent the third period standing and roaring, Johan Franzen
's power-play goal with 46.6 seconds left in regulation quieted the Jackets and their fans while giving the Wings a series-clinching 6-5 win.
A loss wouldn't have hurt the Wings much -- they'd likely have won Game 5 back in Detroit on Saturday. But this win sent a message to their playoff challengers -- the Wings aren't going to give up the Cup easily.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock traditionally talks with great pride about the poise and composure within his group. This was one more example.
"I can't remember when we've played like that, quite honestly," Babcock said after the Wings became the first defending Cup champion since 2002 to win its first-round series the following spring. "We had the game in a good situation twice and you have to give them a lot of credit, they showed a ton of heart tonight and their fans were fantastic."
It looked like the Wings would cruise after Marian Hossa scored a pair of goals in the second period to give Detroit a 5-3 lead. Instead, the Blue Jackets found an intensity level they hadn't shown previously and tied the game before intermission on goals by Kris Russell
and Fredrik Modin.
So what did Babcock tell his guys during intermission following that uncharacteristic meltdown?
"He told us to keep our composure and stay poised with the puck and that's something that's contagious because if one guy does it, then the rest of the guys follow," Franzen said.
With 20 minutes standing between them and a trip to the second round, the Wings drew on the same composure they exhibited last spring, when they won the 11th Stanley Cup in team history and their fourth in 11 seasons. They were cool, calm and efficient.
"I said to the team after the second period that if I would have told you it was 0-0 going into the third, you would probably say 'OK, now we just have to find a way," Babcock said. "That's the attitude we took."
The Red Wings held advantages in shots (15-11) and hits (19-16) in the final period and when presented with a golden opportunity to close out the series when given a power-play with just 1:34 remaining, they did just that.
Detroit, which led the League in power-play percentage during the regular season, received its sixth advantage of the night when the Blue Jackets were called for having too many men on the ice after one of their players coming off the bench on a line change touched the puck before the man he was replacing hit the bench.
Given the chance to put the game away, Franzen stuffed a loose puck into the net after Steve Mason
stopped a shot by Jiri Hudler
for the game-winner -- his eighth in less than four full playoff years. Three of the eight have been series-winners.
Franzen was one of five Wings who scored in Game 4. For the series, 11 players scored at least once.
Championship depth? You bet.
"They play the game the right way and, for a skill team, they get their noses dirty," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They were going for the throat and when you're a championship team, you got to close. They're not just good players; they are good players who are well-coached. They are going to have their troubles, but if it isn't one line, it's another. That's what happens when you are a deep hockey club and you're competing."
In contrast, though the playoff-novice Blue Jackets proved their mettle in Game 4 and provided their fans with a memory to take home for the summer, they paid the price for a sloppy change -- the kind of mistake the Wings almost never make.
"After the second, we knew we had to keep our composure; we got a little rattled with the way they scored two quick goals to tie the game up twice," Wings captain and Norris Trophy nominee Nicklas Lidstrom
said. "We settled down again as a group and kept our composure going out into the third period and just waited for our opportunities. Luckily, we got that power play late in the game."
Hossa, who scored his first two goals of the series, is realizing just how special a group this team has become. The 11-year NHL veteran signed a one-year deal with Detroit last July after skating against Wings in the Stanley Cup Final last spring as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"Whenever things get hot on the bench or on the ice, this team never panics," he said. "Maybe some other teams would be running around on the ice after allowing a team to come back from two goals down two times, but this team plays a good positioning game and it showed again tonight."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.
It has to be Columbus wing Rick Nash
, who brought the capacity crowd at Nationwide Arena to their feet in Game 4 with a second-period sweep from the right circle off a picturesque feed from Rostislav Klesla to pull his team within 3-2 at the 1:44 mark. The goal was the first of six combined in a period that ended 5-5.
After being whistled for an unnecessary roughing penalty in the early stages of the first period that would lead to a Detroit goal, Columbus left wing Raffi Torres was a player possessed. The 6-foot, 223-pound Ontario native rebounded with two assists and three hits in the second to play a huge role in his team's impressive comeback.
The Red Wings are now 8-2 in their last 10 road playoff games dating back to last season and have outscored their opponents, 35-19, over that stretch. That includes an 18-7 advantage over the Blue Jackets in their four-game sweep.
Red Wings forward Dan Cleary has already equaled his playoff total of a season ago with 2 goals in 18 fewer games.
Columbus entered Game 4 having connected just once on 11 power-play opportunities but certainly found its groove on Thursday when they finished 2-for-2 on goals by Kristian Huselius
and R.J. Umberger