DETROIT -- Now that they own the NHL record for the longest single-season winning streak at home, the Detroit Red Wings are going back to work to extend their mark.
By defeating the Dallas Stars 3-1 on Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena, they became the first team in League history to win 21 straight games on home ice in one season. If they continue to play the way they did against the Stars, their streak could grow a good bit longer.
"We're thrilled this has happened for our team," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "I think it's really good for our logo, it's really good for our ownership, our team. I'm proud of the guys. They've worked hard and now let's get on with it."
Before they do, however, it’s probably best to take a quick look back at just how special this accomplishment is – as evidenced by the crowd staying after the final horn and cheering like they’d just won a playoff series. In response, the Wings decided to salute their fans at center ice after congratulating goalie Joey MacDonald -- who picked up a fourth straight win in place of injured starter Jimmy Howard, who win the first 17 before going down with a broken finger.
High above their heads, the video scoreboard saluted the Wings right back with highlights from all 21 victories – which stretch back to Nov.5, more than three months ago, when the Wings pounded the Anaheim Ducks 5-0 to end a winless six-game skid and begin this remarkable stretch.
"This seemed something that was unattainable, especially now in the League –where every team has a chance to win every night," said defenseman Brad Stuart, whose first-period goal made it 2-0 just 9:15 into the game and stood up as the eventual game-winner. "The home advantage isn’t as prevalent as it used to be. We’ve won some games we probably shouldn’t have, but we found ways to win. Other games, we’ve just been solid. It’s a pretty good accomplishment now that we’ve done it. I think we can reflect on it a little more.”
The Stars agree, bitter as they are about dropping their second game in this building during the streak and being "that team" that lost the game to set the new mark 82 years after it was initially set.
"That's a darn good team over there," said forward Adam Burish, who scored the lone Stars goal with just 32.8 seconds left in regulation, spoiling MacDonald's shutout bid. "They didn't get the record by just showing up and playing. It's an
impressive record. This isn't the ’70s. You can't show up at the rink and say, 'We're going to cruise through this one.' The competition level in this League from top to bottom is pretty good."
Stars forward Steve Ott agreed.
"It's incredible, it truly is," said Ott, who rooted for the Red Wings as a kid and played junior hockey for the Windsor Spitfires just across the Detroit River from Joe Louis Arena. "Twenty-one games in a row at home, let alone five in a row at home, is amazing. It's a tremendous accomplishment for their organization. It completely [stinks] to be on the other end of it watching them do it against our team. It's disappointing [and] disheartening, because we wanted to be the spoilers."
Instead, the Red Wings played that role.
No longer are they tied with the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers, who won 20 straight games in their own barns. The Red Wings (39-17-2) now hold the NHL record for both consecutive road wins (12) and home wins (21) with Central Division rival Nashville coming to town on Friday.
If you listened closely after the noise subsided in Hockeytown you could probably hear an audible groan – collectively – coming from the NHL’s other cities, who often dislike the Wings merely because of their staggering success over the past two decades.
Those still looking to poke holes in Detroit's most recent accomplishment can still take solace in fact that '29-30 Bruins team actually won 22 straight between the end of that season and the start of the next. However, the NHL doesn't carry over wins for record purposes – and nobody in the Motor City cares much about such technicalities.
Their Wings have outscored opponents 84-31, including 31-9 in the first period, during this streak. They've also gotten two points in all 21 home games they've played since losing 4-1 on Nov. 3 to Calgary, two days prior to starting the streak -- which does include one overtime victory and three in shootouts.
The '29-30 Bruins also won two games in OT, which left the '75-76 Flyers as the only team to prevail in 20 straight home games in regulation. The Wings, however, are now alone at 21. Their streak has been able to vote for three games and can now legally celebrate with champagne in the U.S. if it so chooses.
The Wings, however, opted not to crack open any celebratory beverages in the post-game locker room -- in fact, they barely high-fived.
Instead, they did what they always do after games, win or lose – cranking out pull-ups and bench presses, getting themselves prepared for the next one on the schedule. That is how streaks like this are constructed.
"We didn't spend any time thinking about this or talking about it," Babcock said. "We just do what we always do, prepare for the game and try to focus on doing good things. That's what we've done all along. That's what we'll do [on Wednesday]."
It might sound boring, but it’s the exact recipe this team has used to string this many wins together on their own sheet of ice – including their preparation for Dallas. The only difference was that on Tuesday morning, for the first time in the streak, Wings players made their intentions clear: They were gunning all-out for this record.
Their actions spoke even louder to start of the game, as they hounded Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen (34 saves) and eventually found the back of the net on goals by Zetterberg and Stuart not even 10 minutes into the first. They didn’t score again until Jiri Hudler polished it off with his 18th goal late in the third, but in between the Wings played defensively like it was the deciding game of a playoff series.
They made sure that MacDonald (20 saves) didn’t have to play like Patrick Roy and he returned the favor by being solid all night– and similar to Roy on a great save late in the second to thwart a mini-break by Stars center Mike Ribeiro.
Detroit continued its stellar defense to start the third, until Hudler made it 3-0 with just 4:49 left and sent Hockeytown into a celebration not often seen for a regular-season victory. The chant going through the crowd with less than two minutes left: "Twenty-one! Twenty-one! Twenty-one!"
Lehtonen took the loss for the Stars (28-25-3), while Burish spoiled MacDonald's shutout bid – but nothing could ruin the evening for the Red Wings or their fans. Afterward, amid a locker room crowded with people, Stuart was asked what his plans were for the puck from the game-winning goal.
Sell it? Keep it?
"I might," he said, smiling. "Or maybe sell it to the highest bidder, if anybody asks me for it. Eventually, the story of the goal will get better and better. One day, it will be in overtime."
And the record it helped set may well still be untouched.