The battle for last place in the Central Division will go down to the last game.
The Detroit Red Wings moved one point ahead of Columbus on Friday with a 5-2 victory over the Blue Jackets. Those teams will meet again in the season finale at Columbus on Saturday night.
The game will have implications for the draft lottery, so the matchup is far from meaningless. Detroit (19-27-9, 47 points) could have “clinched” last place with a loss on Friday, but coach Jeff Blashill and his players didn’t wave the white flag, even when the Wings trailed by two goals.
They had a three-goal flurry in the second period and tacked on two empty-netters in the third.
“We’ve got a good character group and we stayed with it,” Blashill said. “I don’t think we were good enough in the first period. Our defensive coverage wasn’t very good. We had gone four or five days without playing. The practices were really good, but we didn’t seem to have our game going early at all. We got better as the game went along.”
Joe Veleno had a memorable night, as the Red Wings rookie center scored his first goal. He one-timed a shot from the left circle during a power play.
“Just got it on and off my stick really quick and got myself a goal,” Veleno said in a postgame TV interview. “I’m always going to remember this place, where it started and where I scored my first goal.”
Veleno was selected in the first round, 30th overall, by Detroit in the 2018 NHL Draft. The Wings hope he’ll become a fixture on their front line. They look at him as a two-way player and want him to hone his faceoff skills.
“He’s got to get back to winning every battle,” Blashill said. “He won some battles tonight and lost some battles tonight. He’s got to keep finding ways to win those battles. … (But) it is a real goal. You catch it across your body, and you find a way to top shelf. I thought it was a big goal for him.”
Veleno, who didn’t collect a point in his first four career games, knows he needs to develop some consistency to stick in the NHL.
“Every time I step on the ice, I’ve got to create something in order to stay here and start with the team next year,” he said.
For Columbus (17-26-12, 46 points), coach John Tortorella saw a momentum shift after Veleno’s goal.
“After they score a power-play goal, they got some juice and then they started checking,” Tortorella said. “Their legs were better. We turned one over on the wall and it ends up in our net. We turn another one over on a breakout and it ends up in our net. Then they checked us. That’s the story of the game.”
Goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks started for the first time this season and was credited with 31 saves.
“He’s earned his opportunity,” Tortorella said. “He’s going to play tomorrow. I thought he made some really big saves.”
Blashill and Tortorella could be coaching their last game with their respective teams. Both coaches have been on the hot seat this season.
–Field Level Media