A player coming back into a team’s lineup after missing quite a few games usually hopes to get through the game without making any glaring mistakes in timing. If he can make a positive impact, then that’s a bonus. Jason Williams and Curtis Joseph both provided the Red Wings with excellent bonuses tonight. Williams scored two goals in his first game since January 16, and Joseph made 31 saves in his first game since February 11, propelling the Red Wings to a 4-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
As always, the Blue Jackets were eager to play the Red Wings, and they got the game off to a good start. Trevor Letowski opened the scoring with 6:36 gone in the second period. Joseph made a save against Nikolai Zherdev, and his left side was still tight to the goalpost when he lost sight of the puck. The puck bounced off the back boards, and Letowski was able to get to it and slide it in to Joseph’s right before the goalie could get back across. Williams tied the game a little while later. Joseph settled the puck behind his own net and sent it along to Jiri Fischer. Fischer made a good pass to Brendan Shanahan to clear the defensive zone, and Shanahan sent it to Williams flying through center ice. Williams carried across the blue line, danced around defenseman Anders Eriksson, and backhanded a high shot past goaltender Marc Denis.
Detroit thought they had moved into the lead just a moment later when Tomas Holmstrom deflected a shot into the net, but the officials ruled that he had knocked the puck in with his stick higher than crossbar level.
The Blue Jackets had a very good chance to regain the lead early in the second period; they were awarded back to back 5-on-3 power plays. First Boyd Devereaux was sent out for hooking, and Darren McCarty followed with a tripping call. Chris Chelios, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Steve Yzerman did an excellent job of getting in the Blue Jackets’ way and sending the puck down the ice, and Joseph made a surprising kick save against Zherdev, who thought he had a wide open net.
Just as Devereaux jumped back onto the ice, the referees assessed a high-sticking penalty to Chelios. This time Derian Hatcher, Mathieu Schneider, and Kirk Maltby weathered the power play storm.
The Red Wings took advantage of a bad line change by Columbus to move into the lead shortly after returning to even strength. Lidstrom forced a turnover at Detroit’s blue line and passed the puck across to Schneider. Schneider sent the puck ahead to Ray Whitney, and Whitney got it to Williams just as he was crossing the Columbus blue line. Williams faked a forehand shot, then switched to his backhand and lifted the puck over Denis.
Zherdev tied the game up with just 3:11 left in the second with a shot that beat Joseph low to the glove side.
However, Joseph made an excellent poke check against Rick Nash midway through the third, which not only denied the young forward an excellent scoring chance, but also set up Brett Hull’s game winning goal. Yzerman picked up the puck from Joseph and headed up the right wing side on a three on two rush. He passed to Lidstrom coming up the middle, and Lidstrom made a neat pass left to Hull. Hull one-timed a hard wrist shot which went right through Denis. Henrik Zetterberg finished up the game with an empty net goal with 5 seconds left to play. Detroit outshot Columbus by a slight margin: shots were 35 to 33. The Red Wings will return home to face their next opponent, the Dallas Stars, Saturday afternoon at the Joe.