"I guess it's something to remember here and keep in the back of our minds -- if you knock the net off, just throw (the puck) in there," he said. "It should count."
Cam Atkinson scored a goal confirmed by video replay in the third period, and Ryan Johansen added an empty-netter for his second of the game to lead the Blue Jackets to a win that further tightens the already close Eastern Conference playoff race.
On an odd-man rush, Matt Calvert's shot from the left wing was stopped by Howard, although the puck popped loose behind the goalie. Atkinson, racing down the right wing, was hit by Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith. Atkinson's leg knocked the net off its moorings as he backhanded the loose puck into the cage as it was sliding away from the goal line.
The goal, at 6:58 of the third, was ruled good because Smith's hit on Atkinson had knocked the net loose -- bringing a loud cheer from the crowd of 15,103.
"I wasn't really sure," Atkinson said about the goal. "The net went off, but their explanation was the puck was going in as the net was coming off. Matty just made a good play. The puck kind of snuck out between his legs, and I was at the right place at the right time."
Columbus, Detroit, Washington and Toronto are all tied with 80 points for places 7-10 in the East. The Blue Jackets win any tiebreaker, and Detroit and Columbus also have more games left (10) than the Capitals (9) and Maple Leafs (8).
Columbus had lost three of four.
"We got some fortunate bounces," Johansen said after goals 28 and 29. "That's what we needed."
Brandon Dubinsky and Johansen had power-play goals in the first period after the Blue Jackets had failed to score on their previous 36 opportunities with a man advantage over a 10-game span. James Wisniewski assisted on both and added another helper.
"You know what I'm pleased about? Hopefully after tonight I won't get any more questions about the power play," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "When we scored the first one I said, `Good. Now we can stop talking about it."
McElhinney made Atkinson's goal stand with big stops on Darren Helm with 8 minutes left, making a sprawling pad save, and again a minute later on Johan Franzen's wraparound. With 1:44 left, he deflected Kyle Quincey's wicked blast from the high slot with his right shoulder.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock refused to blame the call on the Atkinson goal for the loss.
"It doesn't matter what I think, obviously," he said. "They made a decision. I thought when the net was off, the goal didn't count but they evidently thought our guy pushed their guy in. So it's a goal. There's no sense disputing that. We had to get one more goal."
Gustav Nyquist, last week's No. 1 star in the NHL, maintained his hot hand with two goals for the Red Wings, who were 3-0-1 in their previous four. He has 20 goals in his last 24 games.
"It doesn't really matter," he said of his two goals. "It was an important game. We'll forget about this one and move on."
With a TV camera just a couple of feet away on the other side of the glass during a break, Johansen grinned and tore off a piece of athletic tape and playfully stuck it on the glass to shield the camera's view. ... Howard stopped 23 of 26 shots. ... Last week, Nyquist had six goals and seven points in four games; the Blue Jackets had six goals as a team in their previous five games. ... RW Mitch Callahan, recalled on Monday from AHL Grand Rapids, made his NHL debut for the Red Wings, skating on the fourth line.