DALLAS - This is how ridiculously good the Detroit Red Wings are playing: They lose the NHL's top scorer this post-season and their regular-season scoring leader steps up with the first hat trick of his entire career while one of his linemates scores a demoralizing short-handed goal.
Pavel Datsyuk scored twice in the first period and again with 2:41 left, and Henrik Zetterberg added two assists and the short-hander, sending Detroit past the Dallas Stars 5-2 Monday night for a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.
Jiri Hudler also scored for the Wings, while Nicklas Grossman and Mike Richards replied for the Stars.
The Red Wings won their ninth straight playoff game, the best streak in a single season in their franchise's proud history. It's also the longest in the NHL since Montreal won 11 in a row on its way to winning the Stanley Cup in 1993.
More importantly, this victory sends Detroit into Game 4 on Wednesday night with a chance to skate into the Cup finals for the fourth time in 11 seasons.
"There's a lot of experience in here," centre Kris Draper said. "We're not getting caught up in the little things. We have a chance to eliminate a great hockey team. We have to get focused and be ready to play a great game Wednesday night."
As promised, Detroit players came out more focused on the scoreboard than settling a score with Dallas forward Mike Ribeiro for his two-handed baseball swing of his stick into the chest of Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood as Game 2 ended. Ribeiro was ticked off that Osgood popped him in the chops with the handle of his stick. The league fined both players, but neither was suspended.
Instead, the early energy came from Dallas being home for the first time since a four-overtime victory against San Jose that ended the previous round. The Stars responded with strong play early, but couldn't get the puck past Osgood. Then Datsyuk beat Dallas goalie Marty Turco midway through the opening period - and again later in the period, just 37 seconds after the Stars tied it.
Dallas tied it at 2 on a goal that actually was a pass redirected by a defenceman's skate. The Red Wings shrugged it off, though, going back ahead for good when Jiri Hudler corralled a long outlet pass from Niklas Kronvall, skated right at Turco and beat him with a backhanded shot. The Stars had a good chance to tie it yet again when they got a power play 18 seconds into the third period, but Zetterberg wound up being the one to score.
Then Datsyuk capped the scoring, ringing up a hat trick for the first time in 73 playoff games and 518 total NHL games. Funny thing is, he's gotten into the habit of scoring a lot in the playoff games he scores in; he's had multiple goals in four of the last five post-season games in which he's scored.
"His lowest level is really high," Zetterberg said. "He plays real good for us night-in and night-out. You know you can really trust him because he will play good offence and good defence for us every time he is out there."
The production from the Zetterberg-Datsyuk line also included an assist from the third member, Tomas Holmstrom. It sure helped make up for Johan Franzen's absence due to concussion-like symptoms. This was the second straight game without Franzen, who has scored 27 goals in his last 27 games, including 12 this post-season.
"It shows we have a lot of depth," Zetterberg said. "We have four lines that really can play in all situations. The longer the game goes, the more advantage for us it is."
Of course, it also helped that Osgood stopped 16 shots. He's now 9-0 this post-season.
"It was a little anxious out there," Osgood said. "We weathered some storms early."
Now Dallas is facing the long odds of trying to wipe out an 0-3 deficit, something that's happening only three times in NHL history. A more tangible goal might be taking the lead - something the Stars have yet to do this series.
"We tried to clean up the execution but it wasn't there," said Mike Modano, who set up Dallas' first goal. "Breakdowns here and there you can't afford against those guys. You pretty much need to play a mistake-free game."
Turco fell to 2-4-3 against Detroit at home and 2-13-5 against the Red Wings overall. He blamed himself for the team getting stomped.
"I don't feel I've given our guys enough of a chance to win," Turco said. "But it's a seven-game series so we'll see what happens."
Dallas was missing all-around star Jere Lehtinen from its top line because of a leg injury. Steve Ott filled in most of the time, but Modano took over for a shift in the first period and it ended with Grossman scoring his first career playoff goal. Richards was the beneficiary on the Stars' quirky second goal, the one meant to be a centring pass.
Ribeiro took just one shot in 24:30 and went 0-for-2 on faceoffs.
Notes: Modano went to the dressing room with 2:48 left in the second period, but returned after intermission. Stars captain Brenden Morrow went in after twisting his arm on a hard hit midway through the third, but he also returned. ... Detroit has led after the first period in 11 of its 13 playoff games. ... Richards' goal was his first in seven games, even though he leads the team in shots this post-season. ... The Red Wings won 11 straight post-season games over the 1952 and '53 post-seasons, then matched it in 1998 and '99. ... Morrow and his wife, the daughter of Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau, had twins Sunday, a boy and a girl.