DETROIT -- It's been 102 days and counting, more than three months, since the Detroit Red Wings have lost a game here at Joe Louis Arena.
In fact, the last time they lost here was a lackluster defeat on Nov.3 against the Calgary Flames that made their winless streak at the time an unthinkable six games. It felt like the Wings might never win another game this season, let alone rattle off 20 straight wins at home and tie an NHL record that hadn't been done in 36 years and only two other teams have accomplished.
That's exactly what happened on Sunday night, though, after Detroit downed the visiting Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 at "The Joe" to join the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and 1975-76 Flyers as the only NHL clubs to ever string together this many victories on home ice in one season.
Now it's starting to feel like the Wings might never lose again now, at least not here.
"It's a little weird," said Johan Franzen, who scored the game-winning goal just 52 seconds into the third period and added an assist for a two-point game. "We've been playing good and bad, but we've been lucky enough to come out with wins. We've been helped by our great shootout shooters a few nights, as well. We've been lucky and played pretty good."
To be exact, the Red Wings have won three games in this home winning stretch via the shootout – including Friday night's 2-1 defeat of the Anaheim Ducks – and prevailed once in overtime against the rival Chicago Blackhawks. Purists like to point out the Flyers in 1976 won 20 straight contests on home ice without benefit of overtime or shootout, while the 1930 Bruins triumphed just twice in overtime -- which was played as a 10-minute non sudden-death period at the time.
However, Detroit's opponents in the shootouts and OT had the same chance to put a halt to this home streak as the Wings had to extend it. Taken into context, it's still a huge accomplishment -- no matter how much the Wings themselves try to downplay it publicly.
"It's hard to get in the record books," Detroit general manager Ken Holland said. "The biggest thing is St. Louis won tonight and we got two points. We're in a real dog fight for the [Central Division] and [Western Conference], so it's a huge two points. You look back more in the summertime. Right now, we're just focused in and we needed to win a game – but the guys have done a tremendous job not to lose at home for three months."
Next up will be a chance to set themselves apart as the only team to win 21 straight home games when the Dallas Stars come to "Hockeytown" on Tuesday night. Somebody will probably hurl an octopus onto the ice before that game, too, as they did before this one – for good luck.
It should also be noted that the old Bruins team actually won 22 straight home games if you count the two in a row they started the 1930-31 season with, but the NHL's records don't carry over. Regardless, the accomplishment by this Red Wings team is impressive any way you slice it.
They continue to find ways to come out on top in their own barn, even winning the last three games with a journeyman backup goalie, Joey MacDonald, starting for injured starter Jimmy Howard. MacDonald (26 saves) wasn't great all game, but made plenty of big stops and helped the Wings hold off a furious late rally in the third by Philadelphia to prevent the tying goal.
Offensively, Niklas Kronwall, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Franzen each scored goals, with Zetterberg adding two assists and Franzen tacking on a helper for multi-point games. Legendary Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom also had a special night by playing his 1,550th career game -- becoming the NHL's all-time leader in games played for one team in the process – and providing the primary assist on Franzen's game-winner early in the third.
"It's special when you can chip in and help out on the winning goal," Lidstrom said of the beautiful tic-tac-toe tally started by a crisp cross-ice feed from Zetterberg. "Just doing it with the guys and hitting 1,550, but also getting the 20th win, it means a lot."
The Wings also hold the League record for consecutive road wins (12), and now have a shot to get the home record all by themselves.
"I think it's more of a thing where we don't want to talk about it," Lidstrom said. "We just want to keep it going. Just go out there and play and win games. That's the approach we've had."
Sergei Bobrovsky (21 saves) took the loss for Philly (31-18-7) -- which lost back-to-back games this weekend – while Brayden Schenn scored twice and Maxime Talbot scored his 14th of the season. The Flyers gave the Wings a good fight, taking a pair of one-goal leads in the second, but weren't able to hold off Detroit's quick responses to each.
"Them winning 20 in a row, it gets in teams' heads," said Flyers forward Scott Hartnell, who assisted on Talbot's goal late in the second that gave Philly a brief 3-2 lead. "We didn't want them to tie a Flyers record, so we're obviously disappointed about that, but they play a puck-control game where … when they have the puck it's good for them and it's hard to get it off them. They're a tough team to play against. That's why they're one of the best in the League every year."
Unlike the past two games, the Wings came out skating well from the start and got that puck-possession game going early. Bobrovsky made a couple of good saves to keep them off the board, but an early Detroit power play caused by Schenn's trip led to the game's first goal – scored by Kronwall off a blast from the blue line 7:08 into the game with a blast from the blue line.
The Flyers knotted it up 1-1 almost 10 minutes later on Schenn's seventh goal of the season when MacDonald misplayed a puck on a clearing attempt and Danny Briere pounced on it to slip a pass to Schenn for the tap-in.
Detroit again came out strong in the second and controlled most of the action early. Bobrovsky was again up to the task by making a couple of nifty stops and getting good fortune on a failed wrap-around by Darren Helm that somehow went parallel to the goal line through the crease.
Not long afterward, Schenn potted his second of the game off a juicy rebound to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead. MacDonald made the initial save, but batted the puck with his goalie stick right to Schenn in the left circle -- who roofed a wrist shot home. That lead lasted just 3:05 thanks to another Red Wings power play – which Datsyuk capped with his 15th goal to make it 2-2 off a snapshot from the left circle set up by Franzen.
Talbot and Zetterberg then traded goals within 2:02 of each other in the last five minutes of the second to make it 3-3 heading into the third. Detroit quickly recaptured the lead 4-3 less than a minute into the third on Franzen's tap-in and the Wings' defense plus MacDonald's goaltending made it stand up.
"When you're on a streak like this, you're tied 3-3 going into the [third] period and you look around the room," said MacDonald, who spent all season in Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League until Howard broke his index finger on Feb. 2 in Vancouver. "You look around, 'Who's going to score?' There's so many great hockey players on this team and Franzen … it was a great goal, great play by Nick to pass it over. It's just determination."