April 24, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Wings wear out 'Jackets

Derek Dorsett celebrates a goal in the face of goalie Chris Osgood, who allowed three more goals in Game 4 than the first three games combined. (David Guralnick/The Detroit News)

Columbus, Ohio -- On the last night of this first-round series, the Red Wings weathered every last thing the Blue Jackets and their fans threw at them -- even the water bottles and beer cans. It got harried, it got ugly, it got wildly entertaining and needlessly nasty, and in the end, the Wings didn't duck.

This wasn't exactly what they wanted, a 6-5 no-defense thriller against a desperate, outmanned opponent, but it was pretty much what the Wings needed. They finished off a sweep of Columbus Thursday night and did it with third-period calm and yet another classic playoff goal, the kind they'd scored all series.

This time, it was Johan Franzen standing right where he needed to be, in front of Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason, as Jiri Hudler raced to the net. Franzen stuffed the puck in with 47 seconds left, eliciting ugly frustration from the fans.

The Jackets had protested vehemently a too-many-men-on the ice penalty, which set up the winning power-play goal. But the call was correct -- Columbus' Fredrik Modin played the puck before the sixth skater left the ice.

The fans had been tremendous but the closing display was ridiculous, and a few Wings said they narrowly dodged flying debris. Coach Mike Babcock was miffed, saying he got hit in the shoulder by something. It was a stupid show by the fans -- hmm, maybe a few card-carrying Buckeyes in the stands? -- but perhaps an accurate reflection of how annoying the Wings were to play against.

'A good measuring stick'

Every time Columbus gathered a little burst, the Wings responded, and it turned out to be a solid test in a noisy environment. Oh, no one in the Detroit dressing room was happy with blowing a pair of two-goal leads, but everyone was pleased this thing was over. And no one was surprised how it ended, with Franzen in Mason's face, where Wings constantly camped.

"We've found out over the years how to score playoff goals," Franzen said. "We were not too happy with the way we played, but we've been through it before, it happens. They wanted to show the home crowd what they're made of and they fought hard. After 4-1, 4-0 games, it was about time we got a good measuring stick."

Yes, the Wings finally were tested, and Chris Osgood finally was human. It was a strange one, especially after Marian Hossa scored his first two goals of the playoffs to give the Wings a 5-3 lead.

But there's a reason first-round sweeps are so rare for the Wings, who hadn't recorded one since blasting Los Angeles in 2000. The feisty underdog usually has the energy to avoid a complete humbling, and the Blue Jackets summoned fumes from somewhere.

Maybe after spending so much time teaching the green Jackets about poise, the Wings received an important lesson right back. It was easy to forget while dominating the first three games by a cumulative score of 12-2, but here it was: Don't ever let up.

The Wings' defense let up a bit. Osgood let up a bit. And the Jackets kept coming because they had nowhere else to go. They tied it at 5 late in the second period when Modin scored, and the crowd sent them to the dressing room with a thundering ovation.

"When they tied it up, we didn't really get rattled," Osgood said. "I thought it was a great test for us, especially the last five minutes (of the game). They were pressuring us pretty good. It was different from the regular season -- we stayed real composed."

'A significant step'

For most of this series, the Wings looked like an absolute machine. So it was a bit startling to see them spring a defensive leak, especially after they came out looking sharp again, and the Jackets looked discombobulated again.

The notion that the Wings wouldn't get physical or tread in all the dirty places was silly, as they kept crashing the net. Rookie defenseman Jonathan Ericsson was challenged by Columbus' Derek Dorsett early, and Ericsson went ahead and dropped the gloves. No fists were exchanged but the Jackets were assessed an extra roughing penalty. The Wings made 'em pay when Nicklas Lidstrom scored on the power-play less than three minutes in.

"Detroit plays the game the right way," Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. "For a skill team, they get their noses dirty. They were going for the throat."

That's what the Wings did at the end, when they scored again from their favorite place.

"This was a good series for our team," Babcock said. "We engaged physically early, took control of the series right off the hop, and we didn't give them much room to breathe. I don't know what happened (Thursday night), maybe our fans in Detroit expect more, but to me, we took a significant step."

Actually, a significant stomp. The Wings dodged everything in the clincher, more than they wanted to, but enough to remind them how tough the road can be.


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