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Cup champs from past two seasons square off

by Brian Hunter
RED WINGS (26-19-9) at PENGUINS (33-21-1)

Last 10: Detroit 3-4-3; Pittsburgh 6-4-0

Season Series:
First of two meetings this season between teams that have battled to decide the Stanley Cup each of the past two seasons. The defending champion Penguins, who won Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena last June, will make a trip back there on March 22 for a game that will be nationally televised by Versus in the U.S. and TSN in Canada.

Big Story: Sunday's matchup, the NBC Game of the Week, means a lot more to the Red Wings in terms of the standings. It's hard to believe, but if there is any possibility of these teams meeting in the Stanley Cup Final for a third straight spring, Detroit has to pick up the pace. While the Penguins are challenging the Devils for the Atlantic Division lead, the Wings have all but given up the battle for the Central crown that has customarily been theirs over the past decade-plus, turning their attention to grabbing one of the final Western Conference playoff berths.

Team Scope:

Red Wings:
Jimmy Howard gave Detroit the goaltending performance it desperately needed Friday night, stopping 46 shots in a 4-2 win over Nashville to at least temporarily halt a 1-3-3 skid that was plaguing the Red Wings. The two points pulled them into a tie with the Predators in the standings.

"I do think it was huge, especially playing a team in our division that was two points ahead of us for the last spot in the race," said captain Nicklas Lidstrom, whose power-play goal in the second period put Detroit ahead to stay. "We know we have to play with a sense of urgency."

There hasn't been a team in the League able to solve Ottawa over the latter half of January, and Pittsburgh was no exception on Friday. Despite getting a goal from Evgeni Malkin just 1:34 into the game, the Senators erased the Penguins' early lead with a pair of first-period goals and went on to deal them a 4-1 loss. Ottawa won its ninth straight Saturday in overtime against Montreal and now trails Pittsburgh by just a single point for fourth place in the Eastern Conference and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"We didn't execute enough, and I don't think we were really too tough to play against," said captain Sidney Crosby, who was held scoreless after putting up 10 points in his previous four games. "We didn't play a tough enough game."

Who's Hot:
Lidstrom has five goals and seven assists in Detroit's past nine games. He scored just one goal in his first 45 games. Pavel Datsyuk has put together three straight multi-point games, totaling three goals and three assists.

While Crosby was shut down against Ottawa, Malkin extended his points streak to six games, with six goals and five assists over that span. Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar has three multi-point efforts in the last five games, accounting for a goal and five assists.

Injury Report:
The Wings are finally starting to get healthy, as only Johan Franzen (knee), Tomas Holmstrom (foot) and Andreas Lilja (post-concussion symptoms) remain out of the lineup. … Chris Kunitz (abdomen) and Eric Godard (groin) have long-term injuries for the Penguins, while Tyler Kennedy and Alex Goligoski are day-to-day with undisclosed ailments.

Stat Pack: Out of the 13 games between these teams in the past two Finals, 10 were decided by either one or two goals. Detroit won the only exceptions: 5-0 in Game 5 in 2009, 4-0 in Game 1 in 2008 and 3-0 in Game 2 in 2008.
Puck Drop:
The most recent images created by these now bitter rivals are of Maxime Talbot scoring a pair of goals, Marc-Andre Fleury making a last-second, Cup-clinching save and Crosby hoisting the most storied trophy in all of sports high over his head after Pittsburgh's Game 7 victory on June 12, 2009. This one figures to be anything but your standard regular-season contest.

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