The Detroit Red Wings haven't faced many tests this season on their way to the NHL's best record. That could come to an end Thursday night when they face a bitter rival for the first time in 2007-08.
League-leading Detroit travels to the Pepsi Center to take on the surging Avalanche, who are looking to earn at least a point for the seventh straight game, and has won five straight at home.
Detroit twice defeated Colorado in the Western Conference finals en route to winning the Stanley Cup in 1997 and 2002. During the Red Wings' 6-0 win in Game 5 in 1997, they and the Avalanche combined for 236 penalty minutes to forge a heated rivalry.
While Colorado is playing some of its best hockey recently, the Red Wings (27-7-3) have been playing at a higher level all season. They're 12-1-1 in their last 14 games, and have scored at least four goals 10 times over that span. Detroit also has allowed a league-low 82 goals while ranking first with 133 - and that's with two-thirds of their top line missing time recently with injuries.
With forwards Henrik Zetterberg (back) and Tomas Holmstrom (knee) out for a second straight game, the Red Wings got the first two-goal game of Valtteri Filppula's NHL career in a 5-0 rout of St. Louis on Wednesday.
"Injuries give you the opportunity to find out how good some of the other guys are," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "Actually, it helps your team get deeper over time. If your team is a good team, the injuries will make your stronger."
Zetterberg leads the Red Wings 50 points, and Holmstrom is second behind him with 17 goals. Still, Detroit has outscored its opponents 9-1 with them out the lineup.
Chris Osgood made 20 saves for his second shutout of the season, and is 16-2-1 with an NHL-best 1.73 goals-against average, but Dominik Hasek has nearly as good recently, with a 6-0-1 record and 1.68 GAA in his last seven starts and will likely be in goal for this game.
The six-time Vezina Trophy winner has won six straight over Colorado with a 1.32 GAA since January 2002. He also hasn't lost in Denver since 1998, going 6-0-0 with an 0.99 GAA and three shutouts. Hasek also needs one win to tie John Vanbiesbrouck for 11th place on the all-time list with 374.
The Avalanche (21-13-2) have had to deal with injuries as well, as longtime captain Joe Sakic has missed the last 12 games with a groin injury and high-priced free-agent acquisition Ryan Smyth had been out for the last three games with a neck strain, though he may return for this game.
Colorado's success at home continued with a 3-1 win over Vancouver on Sunday that allowed the Avs to move into a tie with the Canucks atop the Northwest Division. Cody McCormick - one of five recent call-ups from Lake Erie of the AHL - scored the go-ahead goal midway through the third period.
"We have a lot of momentum right now," Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. "No matter who is out on the ice, players are contributing."
Colorado's 15-3-0 home record is second only to Detroit's 16-2-1 mark for best in the league.
The Avalanche and Red Wings split the four-game season series in 2006-07 with each team winning once at home and on the road.