COLUMBUS, Ohio – It was two points that the Red Wings desperately wanted and one goal they could have done without.
A controversial third-period goal helpedt the Columbus Blue Jackets defeat the Red Wings, 4-2, at Nationwide Arena Tuesday night.
“They knocked the net off and they still score,” an agitated Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. “I guess it’s something to remember in the back of our minds, you knock the net off it, just throw (the puck) in there. It should count.”
With the loss, the Red Wings, Blue Jackets, Washington and Toronto all have 80 points as the foursome battles for the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Detroit and Columbus have one and two games at hand over the Capitals and Maple Leafs, respectively.
The Blue Jackets are 7-1-1 in their past nine games against the Red Wings, and haven’t lost in regulation at home to Detroit in the past seven matchups at Nationwide Arena.
The disputed goal came 6:58 of the third period when Cam Atkinson crashed the Red Wings’ net. As Brendan Smith back-checked, the two players went into the right post behind Howard, their momentum lifting the net from its moorings. Still, the referees determined that the puck crossed the goal line and that Smith pushed Atkinson into the net causing the goal post to be dislodged.
The Situation Room in Toronto affirmed the original call on the ice, giving the Blue Jackets a 3-2 lead.
“They didn’t tell us,” said coach Mike Babcock, when asked if he received an explanation from the officials. “They don’t explain that stuff to us.”
The matchup was certainly a favorable one for the Red Wings, who had picked up points in four straight, while the Jackets entered the game with losses in three of the last four, including a 2-0 loss to the lowly New York Islanders two days ago. Making matters worse for the home team was their abysmal power play, which was non-productive in nine straight games, going 0-for-36 attempts.
Man, statistics sure can be misleading at times.
Things didn’t start too well for the Red Wings, who surrendered a pair of power-play goals to the Jackets as they built a 2-0 lead in the first period. The goals by Ryan Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky were the Jackets’ first power-play tallies in their past 10 games.
“The first one we can’t give up,” Babcock said. “But they got multiple shots on the power play, we have to hold the ground there. The second one is a tough one. But bottom line is you have to find ways to kill penalties. When you take a penalty you have to find a way to kill it.”
However, the Red Wings tied things up in the middle frame, getting a pair of goals by – you guessed it – Gustav Nyquist. The 24-year-old Swede now has a team-leading 25 goals, including 20 in his past 25 games.
Nyquist is on quite the roll, registering goals now in six straight games, including three games where he’s scored twice. He is three games shy of tying the team record for goals in consecutive games, which is held by former captain Steve Yzerman, who had a pair of nine-game streaks, in 1988-89 and 1991-92.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Nyquist said. “It was an important game. Tough loss. We’ll forget about this one and move on.”
The Red Wings had chances to tie the score late, but none better than the opportunity that Darren Helm had when with 7:59 left in regulation, Jackets backup goalie Curtis McElhinney made perhaps his most poignant save of the game.
McElhinney entered the game at the start of the second period, relieving starter Sergei Bobrovsky, who became ill during the first intermission. The veteran McElhinney stop Helm by kicking out his right leg in time to make a pad save as the Red Wings’ center turned and fired a shot from just outside the crease.
“I thought we had opportunities tonight, we didn’t score. We had it behind him three times and never got it in the net. I thought at times we spent some time in our zone but we did a pretty good job of keeping them to the outside. The bottom line is we needed a goal in the third and we didn’t get one and they did.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose