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Wings battle to gritty win over Jackets

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Red Wings rookie forward Damien Brunner battles Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky for the puck in the first period Monday night. (Photo by Getty Images)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Every team needs ones. That pesky third- or fourth-line antagonistic, who adds energy to his team’s efforts while being a disruptive force for the opposition.

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland often refers to it by different names, including grit and sandpaper. Whatever it’s called, it was an element that was missing from the Red Wings’ lineup last season. However, traces of the physical component were evident in the Red Wings’ 4-3 shootout victory over the Blue Jackets before a regular-season record crowd of 19,202 fans at Nationwide Arena.

During the offseason, the Wings acquired veteran Jordin Tootoo, a bottom six-forward who is cut from a similar mold as former Red Wings Dallas Drake and Aaron Downey. On Monday, the Red Wings dispatched that sandpaper, when coach Mike Babcock penciled Tootoo’s name on his starting lineup with third-liners Justin Abdelkader and Daniel Cleary.

“I thought Toots did a heck of a job for us,” Babcock said. “Those guys didn’t get to play as much in the third because of all the specialty teams, but I thought he did a great job.”

Blue Jackets’ first-year coach Todd Richards countered Babcock’s move by starting tough guy Jared Boll on Columbus’s top line with center Derick Brassard and winger R.J. Umberger.

With Tootoo and Boll lined up across the red line from one another, it didn’t take long for both coaches to get their desired results. Three-seconds in and the two combatants dropped the gloves at center ice and engaged in a spirited battle with both pugilists landed good shots.

After Saturday’s demoralizing loss at St. Louis, Babcock wanted to inject energy early. Whether or not Tootoo’s fight did that, who knows, but the Red Wings did begin the game on time and dominated the first 20-minutes, out-shooting the Blue Jackets 13-5.

The Red Wings had several very good chances to grab an early lead, but came up empty on three first-period power plays. The clear difference was Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was brilliant early, stopping Valtteri Filppula with an amazing pad save on the Wings’ second power play.

Puck-possession was key for the Red Wings’ first power play unit, which continued its pressure in the offense end but couldn’t get a puck past the 6-foot-2 netminder. Detroit had other good scoring chances on the same power play, but Damien Brunner ripped a shot wide, Niklas Kronwall hit the right post, and Johan Franzen missed on a chance from outside of the crease. Later in the period, Bobrovsky made a sprawling stop on Brunner who was camped at the side of the net.

The Wings finally solved Bobrovsky and by the unlikeliest of suspects. Rookie defenseman Brian Lashoff, who has played in parts of five minor-league seasons with the Grand Rapids Griffins, scored the Wings’ first goal of the season 70-seconds into the second period.

“It was a nice play by (Mikael Samuelsson) to settle it down, it was a bouncing puck, he made a nice play to get it back to me,” Lashoff said. “We had a good net-front presence and I just tried to get it on net and I was lucky it went in.”

For Lashoff, he became the first Griffins alumnus to score for the Red Wings in his NHL debut since Cory Emmerton did so on Jan. 22, 2011 against Chicago. Now Lashoff has scored as many NHL goals as his younger brother, Matt, of Maple Leafs’ prospect, who has logged 74 games with the Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto.

Defenseman Ian White put the Red Wings up 2-0 at 14:06 of the second period. But the Blue Jackets stormed back, taking a 3-2 lead on goals by Cam Atkinson, James Wisniewski and Vinny Prospal.

Detroit tied the game when Pavel Datsyuk converted on a pass from Kronwall at 13:56 of the third. And Brunner scored the only goal in the shootout, lifting the Red Wings to their first win of the season.

“I tried a couple of shootouts back in Switzerland,” Brunner said. “I tried to stay cool and just make a move and it went in.”

THREE STARS: 3. James Wisniewski, CBJ (1 goal); 2, Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ (39 saves); 1, Pavel Datsyuk, DET (1 goal, 1 assist).

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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