Columbus Blue Jackets' Cam Atkinson (13) scores past Detroit Red Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson (50) of Swedenm and Niklas Kronwall (55) in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, March 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock had a lot of questions. Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky seemed to have all the answers.
Bobrovsky had 29 saves in his first career shutout, and Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno took advantage of Detroit giveaways to score goals in leading the suddenly hot Blue Jackets to a 3-0 victory over the Red Wings on Saturday.
"Was that mental prep? Maybe the coach wasn't getting his message across? Did we practice too hard yesterday?" Babcock said. "I don't know a lot of the answers. But the bottom line is we weren't mentally prepared to play hard enough and long enough to have success."
His Wings will get a redo at home on Sunday when they host Columbus, whose fans are actually looking at the playoff standings for the first time in years.
The Blue Jackets have 10 points in their last six games after getting 12 in their first 19.
Last in the league by a wide margin not so long ago, the Blue Jackets are—incredibly—within reach of the final post-season spot in the West after winning four in a row and earning points in their last six. They've clawed their way back by playing blue-collar, scrambling, gritty hockey—short on talent but off the charts in hard work.
On top of that, Columbus is 3-0-1 against the Red Wings this season.
"We just play the game that they don't want to play," said Derick Brassard, who set up Jack Johnson's power-play goal that made it 2-0.
For a change, they didn't have to work overtime. They had gone to extra time in their previous five games.
"It's nice to play 60 minutes instead of 65," Foligno said with a laugh, after scoring the final goal off Kyle Quincey's turnover.
Bobrovsky, acquired in a trade with Philadelphia last summer for second- and fourth-round picks, earned his first career shutout in his 99th NHL game and 16th with Columbus. He was at his best in the third period, stopping difficult shots by Niklas Kronwall, Drew Miller and Pavel Datsyuk.
"I didn't know that," Bobrovsky said when told the shutout had come just before his 100th game. "I never watch statistics."
He didn't have much to say. Others did.
"He looked really in control," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "There weren't too many loose pucks. Pucks were hitting him and sticking to him. When that happens, you know the goalie is really on top of his game."
In his last 230:43 played, Bobrovsky has a 0.52 goals-against average and a .981 save percentage. He's 5-1-1 in his last seven starts.
The Red Wings had a hand in all three of the Blue Jackets' goals, including two in a span of 83 seconds in the second period.
After Datsyuk was penalized for delay of game, R.J. Umberger dug the puck off the wall to get it to Derick Brassard, who skated to the high slot and left a drop pass for Johnson. The University of Michigan grad's hard one-timer from the top of the right circle almost burned a hole in the net.
"I don't get many chances to walk in like that," he said. "I was champing at the bit when that puck was lying there."
Before the crowd of 17,957—with a liberal sprinkling of Red Wings fans—really settled down, it was 3-0.
In a scene similar to what took place in the first period, Detroit defenceman Kyle Quincey mishandled a puck along the back boards, with a pass glancing off his right skate. Ryan Johansen collected it and whipped a quick pass to Foligno at the right doorstep, who jammed it in to become the third Blue Jackets player to score his third goal on the day.
"It just took a funny bounce off of the boards and hit the ice and took an even weirder bounce," Quincey said.
In the first period, Kronwall had given the puck away to Matt Calvert, who quickly fed Atkinson for a goal.
"All their three goals were kind of gifts," Datsyuk said. "They really capitalized on it. Sometimes you make mistakes but today we did a little too many."
Jonas Gustavsson got a rare start in place of Jimmy Howard for the Red Wings. Gustavsson, who made 21 saves, was playing in only his fourth game this season.
"I don't know if it's mistakes or it's something else," Gustavsson said. "I just try to worry about my own game. Mistakes can happen. I'm one of the guys who's supposed to help the guys when that happens."
The Red Wings' problems with the power play away from home continued. They were 0 for 3 with a man advantage, making them 0 for 36 on the season on the road with a man advantage.
According to STATS, the Red Wings' streak of futility on the road power play is the fourth-worst to start a season since 1987-88. The Minnesota Wild, in their inaugural season in 2000-2001, failed to score on their first 47 power plays. The Atlanta Thrashers were 0 for 42 in 2001-2 and the New York Rangers in 1999-2000 were 0 for 39.
"I don't know what to say anymore," Datsyuk said when asked about the drought.
NOTES: The Red Wings opened the second half of their schedule. They have only nine home games and 15 on the road. ... Detroit was without C Valterri Filppula (shoulder) for the sixth game in a row. ... Columbus hadn't won four in a row since March 1-8, 2012. ... The Blue Jackets are perfect on the kill over eight games, stopping all 21 power plays they've faced.
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