Joe Louis Arena looked, well, normal Monday night as the Detroit Red Wings put on a performance their fans had been accustomed to seeing.
A 3-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins conjured memories of the last two Stanley Cup Finals as the two clubs battled like the Cup again was on the line.
Thanks to a rash of injuries and slumps this season, that hasn't always been the case for the Wings. Now, however, with the bulk of the lineup healthier than any other time this season and players like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk again looking like All-Stars, the Wings are on the upswing.
Zetterberg scored twice and did yeoman's work shutting down a frustrated Sidney Crosby to pace the win. Goalie Jimmy Howard stepped in and applied the old face wash when Crosby went after Zetterberg at the end of the game. And the crowd loved it all.
"This was the way we like it," Zetterberg told reporters. "It was loud and every time you go onto the ice the crowd is with you. It was like a playoff game."
As for Howard, he is the latest in line, following Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood, of goaltenders who ride to the rescue when a teammate is in trouble.
"Just helping a teammate, that's all," Howard aw-shucks-ed later. "It's become quite a rivalry and we have to stick together out there."
As for Crosby's crosscheck to Zetterberg, Howard said, "He does that all the time and somehow he gets away with it."
"Just a lot of feeling and a lot of emotion after a game, nothing more," Zetterberg said. "If it was reversed, I probably would have done the same thing."
In the standings, the win was important for the Wings, who are 9-2-1 in their last dozen and moved four points ahead of Calgary for eighth in the West and within four points of the fifth spot.
"This is the best run we've been on all year," coach Mike Babcock said. "We're desperate to try to get into the playoffs. We've got proud players who've done a lot of winning over a long time here and we'd all like to be in the tournament, and we think we'll have a shot if we get in.
"We had a real good team effort here tonight, and I thought the goaltending was strong. All in all, a good game and a good win for us."
"You've got to give credit to the Red Wings for the way they played tonight," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma acknowledged. "They battled. They were a desperate team. I think our level, as far as desperation, needs to go up."
Seabrook may return -- Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook could be in the lineup Tuesday when the Hawks host the Phoenix Coyotes with the top spot in the Western Conference at stake.
Seabrook suffered a concussion last Wednesday when he was rammed into the boards by Anaheim's James Wisniewski, who was suspended eight games for the illegal hit.
"Coming from a guy you know pretty good, that's got to be one of the most difficult things to go through," Seabrook told Jack McCarthy of the Chicago Tribune of his former teammate and friend. "He's tried to get in touch, but I haven't talked to him. It's going to take some time. He says he's sorry, but I'm going to take my time."
Marian the mentor -- As impressive as Patrick Kane has been in his NHL career, the fact remains he is just 21, so there is a lot to learn about NHL life. And that's were signing Marian Hossa, 31, has paid dividends.
In addition to being an upper-echelon talent, Hossa has been mentoring Kane about the intricacies of on-ice success.
"He's been in the League 12 years," Kane told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune. "He obviously knows what to do in this League and what works. He's definitely a guy I learn from. When he's going, he always has the puck and really makes some good moves."
"I know when I was a younger player if I liked something about some older players and what they do I tried to watch their games a little bit more and try to pick up something from their play," Hossa said. "Patrick is a really good offensive player and he's got the ability -- he's still so young -- to be an even better defensive player. He seems to make a few backchecks in games and it kind of shows he's willing to learn and play defensively. If you want to learn, you learn."
Well said -- "It's irrelevant who we play, pretty much. We've got to take care of business because we need every point we can get. But we (Wings and Penguins) are two teams that have been to the Stanley Cup Finals the last two years in a row, and pretty much whenever we meet, it's a great game." -- Wings goalie Jimmy Howard
Predators claiming victims -- The streak is now six straight heading into Tuesday night's home game against Dallas. Yes, the Nashville Predators are living up to their nickname at precisely the right time of the season.
A 3-2 win against St. Louis on Sunday was the Preds' latest triumph, with Pekka Rinne earning his sixth straight win.
"We showed a lot of character. We showed a lot of poise at the end," Rinne said. "We didn't panic."
And as a result, the Predators are a team that must be taken very seriously.
"We've been (saying) let's not look behind us, let's look forward, keep pushing forward and see what happens at the end of the day," coach Barry Trotz told David Boclair of the Nashville City Paper. "If you keep looking forward and something comes your way in terms of someone faltering and not getting their job done, you move up a little bit."
The win streak includes back-to-back shutouts (three overall) by Rinne, who ran his streak without a goal allowed to 149:04, the second-longest in franchise history.
More home woes for Blues -- A brief sojourn to New York and New Jersey yielded four points for the Blues last week, but a return home produced more anguish for a team desperate for points.
Nashville rallied late Sunday for a 3-2 win at Scottrade Center that cost the Blues two important points and continued a season-long debacle on home ice, where the Blues are just 12-18-5 (with one win coming in Sweden). A road game in Detroit looms Wednesday night.
"It's disgusting," Blues goaltender Chris Mason told Dan O'Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We didn't play. It's unacceptable. The bottom line is one team played to win and the other team didn't play."
As a result the Blues remained in 10th place in the West, six points behind Detroit, and Calgary also stands between St. Louis and the postseason.
"One-goal games," forward David Backes muttered of the 16 games the Blues have dropped by a single goal this season. There have been "eight to 10 this year, games like this, where we either have a lead or a tie game in the third and end up not getting anything out of it. Look at how tight the standings are -- that's the difference."
Around the Central -- A struggle to hold on to leads has seen the Chicago Blackhawks drop four of five games. "No team can go 82 games perfect," center Dave Bolland said. "There's always going to be a time with ups and downs and I think this is our down right now." ... Blues defenseman Roman Polak didn't play Sunday against the Predators. He has a sore shoulder, suffered at New Jersey on Saturday. He is listed as day to day. ... The 1-0 win against New Jersey allowed the Blues to post a sweep of the NHL's New York-area teams for the first time in franchise history. The Blues were 5-0 this season against the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and the Devils. ... Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason is 4-4-2 with a 2.51 goals-against average and .926 save percentage under coach Claude Noel. On the day of Ken Hitchcock's firing, Feb. 3, Mason was 13-18-6 with a 3.27 GAA and .890 save percentage.