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After taking a big step in their drive toward first place in the Western Conference, the Detroit Red Wings hope Chris Osgood can make one of his own against a struggling opponent.
The veteran goaltender is expected to make his first start in nearly two weeks Friday night at home against the Los Angeles Kings, who are looking to avoid their 20th loss in 22 meetings with Detroit.
With a career-worst 3.29 goals-against average and .879 save percentage, Osgood has endured his most trying campaign in 15 seasons. After allowing three goals in each of his last 10 starts and failing to hold on to three one-goal leads in a 6-5 shootout defeat Feb. 15 to visiting Colorado, the Red Wings (40-13-8) gave Osgood a break to recharge mentally.
Osgood, however, has rarely struggled against the Kings (26-25-9) over the past five seasons, allowing 18 goals in 10 starts and winning eight times - including 4-3 in a shootout Oct. 27 in Los Angeles. Another win would give Detroit its first season sweep of the Kings since 2005-06.
Getting Osgood back on track might be what the Red Wings need to overtake San Jose in the West.
A six-game win streak to start this month put Detroit in position to move into first, but it lost three of the next five to enter Wednesday night's matchup with the Sharks five points behind.
Scoring three times in the first 24:08, the Red Wings earned a much-needed 4-1 win in their final meeting with San Jose. Henrik Zetterberg scored a short-handed goal in the second period to put Detroit ahead 3-0 then added a power-play score in the third.
"For sure, we want the first seed," said Zetterberg, who has four goals in four games. "But it's going to be tough because they're ahead of us with 21 games left."
The Red Wings could be without top goal scorer Marian Hossa, who did not play in the third period Wednesday due to concussion-like symptoms. Although limited to 10-plus minutes, Hossa scored the game's opening goal - his 34th - in the first.
The Red Wings, though, have considerable offensive depth, which has helped them score a league-leading 226 goals. Detroit has five players with at least 20 goals and 12 with 30 or more points, led by Pavel Datsyuk's 75.
In losing 19 of the last 21 meetings with Detroit, the Kings have allowed an average of 4.20 goals, and Los Angeles has given up 47 in dropping nine of the past 10 at Joe Louis Arena.
Since winning seven of eight, inconsistency on both ends of the ice has led to a 2-4-2 stretch for Los Angeles.
The Kings scored twice in consecutive losses to start that stretch, and although they responded with 15 goals over the next four, they gave up 19. While Los Angeles has allowed three goals in the last two games, it has scored once in regulation and was shut out for the ninth time this season in a 2-0 loss Wednesday night in Philadelphia.
"We had our looks. We had our opportunities," coach Terry Murray said. "It was a demanding game, and I was proud of our guys because we're such a young team. We have to find a way."