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Wings set franchise record with 15 straight home wins

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT – It was one of those matchups that begged for a contrarian's point of view.

When you looked at the statistics, the Buffalo Sabres had no business beating the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night at Joe Louis Arena. Everything was tilted in the Wings' favor, and yet there was still a feeling like Buffalo might somehow pull off an upset win.

"It's scary isn't it?" Detroit coach Mike Babcock said after Monday's morning skate, when Detroit's 14-game home winning streak was compared with the eight-game road skid the Sabres carried into the contest. "You can look at what you did over the last 15 or what they did … to me, that doesn't make any difference. The onus on us is to play a real good game. You've got to find a way to win."

And that's exactly what Detroit did in a 5-0 blowout win, which turned out to be a lot scarier for the Sabres (19-21-5) – whose frustrations boiled over in the locker room afterward.

Down the hall, the Red Wings (29-15-1) celebrated the new franchise record they set by winning a 15th straight game on home ice and improving to 18-2-1 overall this season at Joe Louis Arena.

"It's something special," said Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who scored a goal for the first time in nine games and finished with a plus-3 rating for the game. "The last time it was done was back in the mid-’60s, 1965, I believe. It's a special record, especially with all the great teams that we've had here over the years, over the last two decades going back to the '90s when we had some great teams and the early 2000s, too. We had some solid teams. It's a special moment to do this in the middle of the season."

Evidently, they didn't worry too much about the contrarian’s point of view.

"I think we're being more aggressive (at home)," Lidstrom said. "I think we're going after the puck a little bit more and going after other teams a little bit more, too. That's been paying off for us. For whatever reason, we've been playing more relaxed here at home, too."

That showed early in this latest home victory, in which it took the Wings just 5:20 to take a 1-0 lead on Henrik Zetterberg's first goal in 14 games – ninth of the season. After that, they turned what had been a pleasant homecoming for Sabres goalie Ryan Miller into a nightmare.

Detroit scored four more goals on Miller in a span of 6:21 between the end of the first and start of the second to build a 5-0 lead and prompt Miller's early departure from the game in favor of backup Jhonas Enroth – leading the frustrated Miller to reportedly shatter his stick in the hallway between the bench and locker room.

"It's embarrassing," said Miller, whose younger brother, Drew Miller, is a Red Wings forward and set up the goal that ultimately got his brother pulled. "I got family, friends … everybody came to watch Drew and I play and, you know, at least they got to watch Drew perform."

The goals that led to Miller's early exit were scored four minutes into the second by Todd Bertuzzi and Darren Helm and were separated by just 13 seconds – with Helm's tap-in from the low slot set up by Drew Miller's pretty pass.

"I have to play the game and make plays," Drew Miller said. "That's how it goes. It's unfortunate that (Ryan) got pulled. It's a tough game. But I think he'll bounce back and he'll be fine."

That sequence compounded a disastrous end to the first period for the Sabres – who fell behind by three goals in the last two minutes of the period on another set of back-to-back markers scored by Johan Franzen and Lidstrom just 1:32 apart.

Lidstrom's came with just 17 seconds left before the horn sounded and suddenly it felt like Detroit was dominating the game.

"It was a shot in the gut at the end of the first period," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's not easy to stomach when you put that in. Those few minutes that we give up those opportunities … even the late one. Even if you come out (down) 2-0 you come out feeling better about yourself."

Instead, they went into the locker room at the first intermission down by three despite playing solidly for a good portion of the first 20 minutes. The shots count was even at 11 apiece after one period, but the Wings pounced on almost every Buffalo mistake and put the puck in the net.

Meanwhile, Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard -- who earned his fifth shutout -- came up with a couple of key saves in the first to keep the Sabres at bay, including one that deflected off his mask shot backhanded by Drew Stafford from the low slot.

Howard wound up making 27 saves and picked up his League-leading 27th win, while Miller's record fell to 11-13-2 and his goals-against average jumped from 2.97 to 3.12.

Zetterberg got it started by wristing a shot from the left circle over Miller's shoulder to the far side. Pavel Datsyuk made another phenomenal pass to set up Franzen with a breakaway that made it 2-0 before an uncovered Lidstrom swooped in from the back side of a play to bat home a loose rebound.

Just like that, Detroit had a three-goal lead and the feeling shifted from Buffalo maybe pulling off an upset to wondering how bad the final score would be. It didn't take long into the second to find out. Datsyuk made another nice feed to set up Bertuzzi's ninth goal – scored when he wheeled around for a backhand shot off his own rebound from the low slot and the puck got under Miller's pad.

Detroit's Miller set up the next goal. Racing down the right wing on a 2-on-1 after the ensuing faceoff, Miller carried the puck into the Buffalo zone and threaded a pass from the right circle between defenseman Tyler Myers' legs that found Helm's stick in the low slot for a tip that found the back of the net for a 5-0 lead.

That quickly, Detroit had all but sewn up the franchise record for consecutive home wins, which was originally set at 14 in 1965. Detroit has also outscored its opponents on home ice in its 15 straight victories by a count of 67-21.

Buffalo, meanwhile, has the League's lowest goal output in road games (36) and hasn't won away from HSBC Arena in nine straight games – last winning in another team's building on Dec. 3 in Nashville.
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