One of the strangest NHL seasons ever came to a close Saturday for the Red Wings.
And of course the Red Wings and Columbus went to overtime, and dragged it even a little further, before the Blue Jackets’ Max Domi scored with 20.4 seconds left to defeat the Wings 5-4.
The victory gives both teams 48 points this season, but the Wings (19-27-10) finish ahead of Columbus (18-26-12), and out of the Central Division basement, by virtue of having more regulation wins.
After a dreadful 2019-20 season, the Wings showed progress and cause for optimism for the future.
“Not really comparable,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said, comparing this season to last. “We were a much improved hockey team from a season ago, both in how we play the game and our habits and structure. Especially down the stretch, with a number of young players being thrust into significant roles, it’s not even comparable (to last season).
“In terms of the arc of the organization, it’s starting to head in the right direction. Last year was a bad year for sure, and this year, again for me, it was totally different.”
Blashill will learn his fate, whether he’ll return for a seventh season or not, after talking with general manager Steve Yzerman within the next few days.
Blashill has a lifetime record of 172-221-62, and the Wings have missed the playoffs the last five seasons under Blashill (they lost in the first round in Blashill’s first season).
“I’ll sit down with Steve and we’ll discuss things,” Blashill said. “I’ve been a Red Wing for a long time and certainly I’ve enjoyed every second I’ve been part of this organization and we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
Columbus forward Jack Roslovic broke a 3-3 tie with his 12th goal, after taking a pass from Seth Jones off a rush, and beating goaltender Calvin Pickard with a shot from the dot.
But Valtteri Filppula tied it 4-4 with his sixth goal, and fourth point in this two-game series, tapping a loose puck in the crease at 16:18.
Twice in the third period the Wings rallied from one-goal deficits to tie the score, showing an admirable competitiveness in a rather meaningless game.
“It was not an easy game to get up for, but you never know how many games you get in this league and you have to cherish every one and not take any one of those for granted,” Danny DeKeyser said. “For me, I just try to go out and play hard and a lot of guys did as well.”
Columbus took a 3-2 lead in the third period when Eric Robinson scored a shorthanded goal at 6:43. Nathan Gerbe (Oxford) raced down the ice, gathered the puck, and backhanded a pass to Robinson, who knuckleballed a shot past Pickard.
But the Wings got it back on the same power play when Sam Gagner scored his seventh goal, snapping a shot from the slot, at 8:04.
Jakub Vrana and DeKeyser had other Wings goals, while Pickard, getting the rare start, stopped 31 shots.
Cam Atkinson and Oliver Bjorkstrand added Columbus goals.
After a difficult first month when COVID-19 ravaged the Wings’ lineup, the Wings had a competitive second half of the season.
The Wings were 15-15-7 over their last 37 games (they started 4-12-3), and were 6-4-4 over their last 14 games.
“I was pretty proud after some of those games (bad losses), the Nashville games, the Tampa game earlier in the year we got whacked pretty good, we never really let it snowball too much, which was good,” DeKeyser said. “After those games, we were able to come back and get wins or compete hard and have a chance to win instead of just laying down and going into long losing streaks.
“That was a positive for us.”