COLUMBUS, Ohio — With 15,103 raucous fans filling the friendly confines, the Blue Jackets dispatched the visiting Detroit Red Wings 4-2. With fans split roughly 50/50 between union blue and red, the Blue Jackets looked to re-establish their game and recapture their identity after a two-game skid. The game turned on a Cam Atkinson goal that went to review in Toronto.
Coming into the tilt with the Red Wings, Columbus had an anemic power play, going 0-for-36. It wasn’t good. They changed their special teams fortunes 1:35 into the first period, after Detroit’s Todd Bertuzzi was sent off for high sticking. Although they are still looking for the pretty pass leading to a perfect shot on goal at times, Ryan Johansen took a shot and crashed the net. He collected his own rebound and got it past goalie Jimmy Howard to give Columbus the early lead.
"You know what I’m pleased about," said Columbus head coach Todd Richards, "is that hopefully, after tonight, I won’t get any more questions about the power play. I know when we scored it, I said ‘good.’ Now we can stop talking about it. I think it was good for getting the lead. There were lots of reasons why that goal was important."
The power play rolled along and netted another goal, this time from Brandon Dubinsky. Initially, it looked as though Cam Atkinson got a piece of the puck. After seeing replays, Dubinsky was awarded the goal. At this point, Columbus was 2-for-3 with the man advantage. Their penalty kill was perfect, killing off all three Detroit power plays.
Goalie Curtis McElhinney came on in relief of Sergei Bobrovsky to start the second period. Bobrovsky didn’t take part in the morning skate due to illness, although he started the game.
"He wasn’t feeling good this morning when he woke up," said Richards. "He went and saw the doctor and got a couple of IVs, a couple of bags. He wasn’t feeling good. We had called up (Mike) McKenna this afternoon, just as a precaution."
"He came off after the first and Mike Vogt came back and said ‘He’s in the bathroom and he can’t go anymore.’ So that was the decision for Curtis."
McElhinney made 22 saves in relief of the sick Bobrovsky. This marked the first win of his career against Detroit.
"It was a really gritty win for us," McElhinney said, "especially after dropping the last two. It was nice to come out and get the power play going and then get a big goal in the third period, as well."
After being a healthy scratch in recent games, Atkinson has found a renewed sense of purpose while on the ice. At 6:58 of the third period, Matt Calvert shot the puck as Atkinson was crashing the net for a rebound. As he directed the rebounding puck to the net, he was hit by Detroit’s Brendan Smith, dislodging the net.
The call on the ice was "good goal," yet it almost immediately went to review. After about a minute, the explanation came back that it was a good goal because the defensive player (Smith) had caused the net to be dislodged by shoving Atkinson into it. NHL Rule 63.6 pertains to this call.
"In order to award a goal in this situation, the goal post must have been displaced by the actions a defending player or goalkeeper, the puck must have been shot (or the player must be in the act of shooting) at the goal prior to the goal post being displaced, and it must be determined that the puck would have entered the net between the normal position of the goal posts."
This was the game-winner, and brought a boisterous cheer from the assembled throng of fans in attendance. Ryan Johansen added the insurance goal with an empty-netter at 19:54 of the third.
Although not showing up on the score sheet, RJ Umberger has also "upped" his game since being a healthy scratch for two games last week. With the depth of the club, healthy scratches are a motivational tool that Todd Richards is able to use, to good effect.
"I was just trying to help the team," Umberger said. "Richie (Todd Richards) asked me ‘What kind of impact are you going to have in the game?’ I try to bring energy, try to be a player who is tough to play against out there and just tried to skate as hard as I could."
"I would have maybe liked to have done more with the puck, but I was just trying to provide momentum for our team."
With ten games remaining in the regular season, have they turned a corner and shown what type of team they can be with their backs against the wall?
"Yes, this is the type of team we need to be," said Umberger. "I think the power play set the tone (of the game) when they scored early. It really fueled and energized our team."
With the win, and the Washington Capitals losing in a shootout to the Los Angeles Kings, Columbus moves into seventh place in the Eastern Conference (wild-card spot). They now sit just three points behind the third place Philadelphia Flyers in the Metro division and four points behind the second place New York Rangers.
Plain and simple, this is pure excitement right down the stretch. This is what Blue Jackets fans have been waiting for.