COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Detroit Red Wings didn’t want anyone to get hurt, wanted to remain on a roll and really wanted the two points.
Coach Mike Babcock got to check off all three objectives. 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.
“We got what we needed (and) got some exercise,” said Babcock, fine-tuning his team for the impending playoffs. “The team played really well and everyone’s doing good.”
No one is doing any better than goaltender Jimmy Howard, who stopped 22 shots while getting his third shutout of his brief career. A top Calder Trophy candidate as NHL rookie of the year, Howard is rounding into form at just the right time.
“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.
“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, then Bertuzzi, 4 of 8 in shootouts this season, slowly skated in on net 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 off-season with my game where I want it to be. It’ll be nice to get away from the daily life of practising and playing and all that to recharge the batteries and make sure that come next year we can start off and keep going.”
Detroit, 12-1-2 in its last 15 games, outshot the Blue Jackets 34-15 in the last two periods and overtime. The Red Wings play their final regular-season game on Sunday at Chicago.
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.
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 to remove the interim tag. “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 year in a row (best 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 post-season all but off the table three months ago, still had a shot at a top-five draft pick this summer – if they lost.
Other teams had something at stake in the game as well, including those who don’t want to meet the playoff-hardened Red Wings right away, along with the clubs battling the Blue Jackets for the worst record in the league and better draft position.
The Red Wings had an ideal chance to score with 12:34 left in regulation when Darren Helm carried the puck with speed and was given a penalty shot when Grant Clitsome draped himself on his back as he zeroed in on Mason. On Detroit’s second penalty shot of the season, Helm skated in slowly but Mason poked the puck away.
NOTES: Columbus RW Derek Dorsett blocked a shot by Jonathan Ericsson late in the second period and had to be helped off the ice. He did not return. … The Red Wings are now 0-for-2 on penalty shots this season; the Blue Jackets gave up one and stopped one. … Some fans in the capacity crowd of 18,512 won the opportunity to travel to Sweden for the Blue Jackets’ opening series next season. … The Red Wings improved to 6-9 in shootouts while the Blue Jackets fell to 2-10.