It's been a strange season for Allen York, full of unanticipated developments. Expecting to play most of his first full pro season in the AHL with the Springfield Falcons, the laundry list of goaltending injuries in the Columbus Blue Jackets system has caused him to pack his bags and rack up frequent-flier miles between Chicago, Springfield and Columbus. After playing in the AHL and ECHL, York has seen light relief duty for the big club, and was expected to watch Wednesday evening's matchup against the Detroit Red Wings from the bench.
One shot, however, can change everything.
When Blue Jackets starter Steve Mason was injured by a shot off the mask during Wednesday's morning skate, York found himself thrust into the starter's position on the national stage, while the Jackets had to make an emergency signing of NCAA free agent Shawn Hunwick to serve as his backup.
Given that the Jackets had been humbled, 7-2, in their game on Monday, the team hoped for a fair degree of payback. However, the Red Wings were focused on expanding their cushion over the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks in the race for the Western Conference's fourth seed.
Despite having home-ice advantage on the line, the Red Wings were slow to get started after an early opportunity for Pavel Datsyuk, allowing the Jackets to push back and challenge goaltender Ty Conklin. Taking a page out of the Detroit playbook with quick passes and keeping solid offensive zone possession, the hard work paid off when Rick Nash intercepted a pass at center ice and sent Vinny Prospal in on the attack. Prospal's first shot was kicked to the boards, but the winger followed his shot and tried again, sending the puck off the skates of Niklas Kronwall and into the back of the net.
The teams exchanged power-play opportunities after the goal, but the score remained 1-0 until the 14-minute mark, when rookie Ryan Johansen forced two turnovers before chasing down the loose puck and firing it to Derek Dorsett for a clean breakaway. The agitator buried his opportunity just beneath the crossbar for his career-high 11th goal of the season.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock called a timeout to express his displeasure with his veteran club in a unique way. He held the Wings at the bench for the full 30 seconds but did not speak until the end of the break, when he called out the assignments for players to go back on to the ice.
The silent treatment paid some dividends after Todd Bertuzzi drew a hooking penalty on a charge to the net, as Henrik Zetterberg collected his 22nd goal on a shot that caromed off the leg of Jack Johnson to beat York.
Despite their lead being cut in half, the Jackets held the advantage into the second period. They continued to hold off the Red Wings until the final minutes of the period, when Derick Brassard took a long lead pass from Nikita Nikitin behind Detroit's defense and went one-on-one with Ty Conklin, beating him through the five hole.
Almost as soon as play resumed, Conklin must have felt a major case of deja vu, as another lead pass from Nikitin sent Cam Atkinson and R.J. Umberger in on an undefended rush. Umberger looked off Atkinson for a pass until Conklin had committed, then fired the puck into an open corner to open a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes.
Kronwall cut the Columbus lead to two, camping at the top of the crease and redirecting a shot from Nicklas Lidstrom, but the story was York, who stopped 17 shots in the third period to secure his first NHL victory.
The win is worth little but pride for the Blue Jackets, but the loss has major implications for a Red Wings squad that has struggled on the road this season. With a game in hand over both Nashville and Chicago now gone, Detroit finds itself holding on to fourth place in the Western Conference by a single point and in danger of potentially slipping down to fifth or even sixth place depending on the results of the weekend -- including a now-pivotal final meeting of the regular season against Nashville on Friday evening.