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Wings top Jackets 1-0 in shootout

by John Kreiser

The Detroit Red Wings are going into the playoffs on a roll. The Columbus Blue Jackets ended their season with one last disappointment.

Todd Bertuzzi scored on a backhand in the fourth round of the shootout to lift Detroit to a 1-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, giving the Red Wings at least 100 points for the 10th year in a row. Detroit, which ends its season at Chicago on Sunday, is 12-1-2 in its last 15 games and is one of the NHL's hottest teams entering the postseason.

"We got what we needed (and) got some exercise," said coach Mike Babcock, who's fine-tuning his team for the playoffs, which start next week. "The team played really well and everyone's doing good."

At the top of that list is rookie goaltender Jimmy Howard, who stopped 22 shots through 65 minutes and three more in the shootout for his third shutout. The Calder Trophy candidate as NHL rookie of the year is going into the playoffs at the top of his game.

"The shootout, it does feel good," he said. "(I'm) just being patient out there and having fun."

Howard said he was inspired by the play of last year's Calder winner, Columbus' Steve Mason, who had a season-best 45 saves. However, Mason went home with a shutout but without a victory when he was beaten by Bertuzzi in the shootout.

"He seems to always have good games against us, so you know it's fun," said Howard, who improved to 36-15-10. "I have to take a look down there once in a while because I never knew if we were going to get any past him."

The Blue Jackets' Rick Nash scored in the first round of the shootout and Pavel Datsyuk followed him with a matching goal before the goaltenders stopped the next two shooters for each team. After Howard turned aside Columbus' R.J. Umberger, Bertuzzi, 4-for-8 in shootouts this season, slowly skated in before faking the forehand and netting the backhander for the decisive goal.

"I missed a couple of penalty shots with a couple other moves I had, so I thought I had to work on it and try to come up with something new," Bertuzzi said. "It's something I worked on a bit, and it seems to be working. If (Mason) was on top of it he would be poke-checking me because I get in pretty tight there."

Mason rebounded into form the past month or two after a horrendous start. He said he wanted to build on the finish in his third season.

"It obviously would have been nice to win but all that aside, I'm very happy with the way I played tonight and played the last couple of months," he said. "Losing (hurts) but I'm going into the offseason with my game where I want it to be. It'll be nice to get away from the daily life of practicing and playing and all that to recharge the batteries and make sure that come next year we can start off and keep going."

A year after making the playoffs for the first time, the Blue Jackets closed with their fifth straight loss to finish at 32-35-15, 14th in the West.

The game could be the finale for interim head coach Claude Noel, who was 10-9-5 after taking over for the fired Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 3.

"Of course I'd like to keep going," Noel said of his candidacy for the job next season. "I'd like to take this thing from the start."

The game meant a lot to both teams, but for vastly different reasons. The Wings, already assured of a spot in the playoffs for the 19th season in a row -- the longest active streak of any major pro sports franchise -- needed a win to improve their seeding in the West and maintain their momentum heading into next week's playoffs.

The Blue Jackets, with the postseason all but off the table three months ago, still had a shot at a top-five draft pick this summer -- if they lost.

The Red Wings had the best chance to score with 12:34 left in regulation when Darren Helm raced in on a breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot when Grant Clitsome draped himself on his back as he zeroed in on Mason. Helm skated but Mason poked the puck away before he could shoot.

Material from team media and wire services was used in this report

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