Detroit Red Wings again overwhelmed the St. Louis Blues with back-to-back goals to win a game at Joe Louis Arena for the second time in a span of five days.
On Tuesday, the Wings scored twice in 56 seconds to start the third period and earn a tight 3-2 victory. On Saturday night, they did it again by scoring a pair midway through the second separated by just 1:17 that broke a scoreless tie and sparked Detroit's 3-0 win to ring in the New Year.
Johan Franzen and Justin Abdelkader scored the back-to-back markers, while Jiri Hudler added a third goal late in the second for the three-goal lead that goalie Jimmy Howard and his defense held up for the final margin.
"It was a good bounce back," Howard said, referring to a tough 3-2 road loss on Friday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. "I thought I was OK in Chicago, but I felt I could have been better for the guys. It feels good. We played a good complete game."
It was the Red Wings’ 12th straight win on home ice and second in a row here against the Blues (21-12-5). It was also Howard’s fourth shutout and League-leading 23rd win, including a 12-0-0 record with a 1.34 goals-against average and .946 save percentage during the home winning streak.
"Jimmy's been great," said forward Drew Miller, whose steal deep in the St. Louis zone led directly to Abdelkader's goal. "He's definitely been one of our best players if not our best player night in and night out. That's a good thing when your goalie is playing like that, making those saves and giving you a chance to win night after night.''
The last two games, Abdelkader's come up big, too. He's filling in for injured third-line center Darren Helm and now has goals in back-to-back games in that role. In this game, he also came back from a punishing blow to the head 9:11 into the game by Ian Cole that knocked him out of the game until the start of the second period.
"Maybe the hockey gods were looking down on me," Abdelkader said. "(The hit) is just one of those plays we want to take out of the game. I don't know if he intentionally went after my head. It's one of those bang-bang plays. I’m just glad I could come back and help the team out.''
Cole was assessed a minor for an illegal hit to the head, but the Wings were unable to capitalize on the resulting power play – going 0-for-2 on the man advantage in the first and 0-for-4 for the game.
"I don't like the hit," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "The hit should be a suspension, for sure, but I thought Abby did a real good job and he played well the last two periods – more ice time. He played against good players and played well."
Cole said it wasn't an intentional targeting of Abdelkader's head.
"I just stepped up," he said. "I think he saw me coming at the last second and tried to cut back inside real quick. I had him lined up. I wasn't going to go high. I wasn't going to go for the head. I was just going right for his shoulder. He tried to cut back and avoid, and he put his head right into my shoulder."
Abdelkader was dazed by the hit, which was a shoulder shot to the jaw that knocked his helmet off and caused him to fall down once after trying to get to his feet. However, he was monitored in the "quiet room" to assess a potential concussion and came out clean.
Not long after he returned, Franzen scored his team-high 15th goal at 7:28 of the second to make it 1-0 -- stickhandling through several Blues defenders, avoiding traffic in front of the crease and firing a wrister into an open left side of the net.
Just 77 seconds later, Abdelkader roofed a shot after a turnover by Kevin Shattenkirk was deflected by Miller and wound up on Abdelkader's stick alone in the slot. Hudler put a rebound of his own shot past Brian Elliott late in the third for the game's final goal.
Detroit (24-13-1) evened the season series with the Blues to two wins a piece with one game left in each team's arena. Elliott (28 saves) took his second straight loss for St. Louis – both to the Wings and both here in the Motor City.
The loss also gives the Blues their first three-game winless skid of the season and drops their record to 4-1-0 in games following two straight winless outings. After the game, they held a lengthy team meeting to discuss their response after falling down by two goals so quickly again.
"You need one of those (meetings) once in a while just to remember why we're here," Blues center Scott Nichol said. "We just had a couple of breakdowns after they scored a real good goal. When we do give up a goal, we've got to come back and have a real good shift. We've got to learn how to battle back. You're going to be behind a goal or two."
Howard, meanwhile, continued his great play at home all game. He made a number of memorable stops, but his most impressive might've come in the first against Matt D'Agostini – who didn't lift the puck over Howard while on the doorstep and watched it settle into the catching glove for a remarkable save.
"I had an open net and didn't capitalize on it," D'Agostini said. "It came back to haunt us. I just thought I had him … that I was just going to slide it in. But he came across."
Howard also came up with a pair of rapid-fire stops in the third to keep it 3-0, when he made a stop on a redirection of a shot by Jason Arnott and quickly got into position to stop a close-range whack at the rebound taken by Cole.
"It was just not giving up on the play and staying with it and sticking with it ... trying to get a body part on it," Howard said of his save against D'Agostini, which kept the game scoreless. "It definitely gives you a boost of adrenaline and you just build off of it."