COLUMBUS, Ohio – After three easy victories, the Detroit Red Wings found themselves in a dogfight in Game 4 of their first-round playoff matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Luckily, the defending Stanley Cup champions saved up one last bit of magic – and got some help from a controversial call.
Johan Franzen scored on a power play with 46.6 seconds left, giving the Red Wings a 6-5 victory and a series sweep over the Blue Jackets on Thursday night.
The call that led to the man advantage was hotly disputed by the Blue Jackets, who were assessed a bench minor for having too many men on the ice. Replays showed that Fredrik Modin came on the ice and handled the puck while Jake Voracek was still a few feet from the bench.
Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said it was a picky call that decided the game.
“By the rulebook, it’s probably the right call. By the circumstances of the game, I didn’t like the call. … Unless it’s obvious, let’s play,” said Hitchcock, who said the third period had been loosely called to that point.
Marian Hossa had two goals, Nicklas Lidstrom and Holmstrom each had a goal and an assist, and Daniel Cleary also scored for the reigning Stanley Cup champions, who will await their conference semifinal opponent.
“It definitely was the hardest (game of the series),” said Hossa, who signed on with the Red Wings for one year solely to win a Cup. “We got lucky at the end when they had six on the ice.”
Franzen scored on a rebound after Jiri Hudler skated along the goal line and had his shot blocked by goalie Steve Mason.
“It was a good move by Huds,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “Anytime the pressures on at the end of a game, all you’ve got to do is take it to the net. That’s what he did.”
Rick Nash, Kristian Huselius and Kris Russell each had a goal and an assist, and R.J. Umberger and Modin also scored for Columbus, making its first foray into the playoffs in the franchise’s eight seasons.
“We were great. Our fans were great tonight,” Nash said. “That was our best game by far. We proved to ourselves, we proved to the whole city, that we can keep up with them.”
Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall each had two assists for the Red Wings, who won a series on the road for the eighth straight time. Their last series-ending win in Detroit was in the 2002 Stanley Cup finals against Carolina.
The Red Wings had pounded the Blue Jackets by a combined 12-2 in the first three games.
With a rowdy crowd of 18,889 roaring on every Columbus hit, shot and save, the Blue Jackets finally gave their fans a taste of playoff intensity. The crowd stood for the entire third period.
“We had a hard time putting them away,” Franzen said. “This was their first playoff, so they wanted to play hard for the crowd.”
Detroit led 3-1 after a period, but things got interesting as Columbus scored twice to tie it and then later came back from another two-goal deficit to head into the third period tied at 5.
“We had the game in a good situation there, but we made some mistakes,” Babcock said. “Give them credit, they played with a lot of heart. And their fans were fantastic.”
Rostislav Klesla’s seeing-eye backdoor pass led to Nash’s goal to cut it to 3-2.
Columbus, last in the NHL all season on the power play, then converted its second man-advantage in two tries when Umberger skated in unimpeded from the left wing and slid a backhander past goalie Chris Osgood.
Mason assisted with a long stretch pass to initiate the rush.
The arena shook.
Hossa netted the next two goals – his first of this postseason – for a 5-3 lead. But the Blue Jackets didn’t fold.
On a 2-on-1, Russell whistled a wrister past Osgood. Then defenseman Aaron Rome, inserted into the lineup because Jan Hejda was out after blocking a shot with his ankle, flipped two shots from the left point.
The second led to a juicy rebound for Modin for an easy backhander.
“We got caught up in that emotional roller-coaster,” Babcock said.
The last time Columbus scored four goals in a period? That was on March 7, when the Blue Jackets piled on the Red Wings 8-2 in Detroit in one of the benchmark games in franchise history.
Osgood’s regular-season save percentage (.887) ranked 44th of the 47 goalies with enough starts to qualify statistically. His goals-against average (3.09) was 40th of 46.
But he had been money in the first three games, stopping 76 of the 78 shots he had seen. But by the end of Game 4, the crowd was taunting him with chants of “Oz-zie! Oz-zie!”
“We showed character all year,” Hitchcock said. “It’s never been a question for us.”
Notes: Osgood finished with 27 saves, Mason with 35. … The Red Wings were 3-for-6 on the power play, Columbus finished 2-for-2. … Detroit is the first defending Stanley Cup champion to simply win a playoff series of any kind since the Colorado Avalanche did seven years ago. One Cup winner didn’t make the postseason the next year and the others all lost in the first round.