The Detroit Red Wings
look like the NHL’s best team again.
Detroit spent the last few weeks losing defenseman and games — at one point, they were without four of their top defensemen and had dropped 10 of 11 games. But the Wings are starting to get healthy again, and they’re beginning to resemble the team that dominated the League for the first four months of the season.
Defenseman Brian Rafalski
, who had missed eight games with a groin injury, became the second of the four injured defenseman to return to the lineup — and he made an immediate impact, scoring a goal as the Wings beat the St. Louis Blues 4-1
on Wednesday night to open a five-game homestand at Joe Louis Arena. It was the Wings’ second straight victory after their three-week drought.
Detroit now has 94 points on the season, increasing its lead in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy to seven points over Dallas, which lost at home to Phoenix.
“We have to get playing well again, the way we were earlier,” coach Mike Babcock said after the Wings avoided their first five-game losing streak at home since 1986.
The Blues, who played the opener of a nine-game road trip that will keep them away from Scottrade Center for three weeks, lost for the seventh time in eight games.
''They're a good team, obviously, leading the conference,'' St. Louis coach Andy Murray said. ''You have to play a better game consistently than we did.”
For the Wings, who rely on their defense to start the attack, the absence of Rafalski, Nicklas Lidstrom
, Chris Chelios
and Niklas Kronvall has been devastating. Kronvall returned last Friday, while Lidstrom is expected to return on Sunday and Chelios might be back not long after that.
'Finally to have these two guys back, it really helps our defense,'' said Detroit goalie Dominik Hasek, who faced only 19 shots. ''Not only defense, but I would say, once we get to the puck, they can skate with the puck, they can move the puck very quickly and give it to the forwards. It looked like we didn't spend as much time in our zone. One of the reasons was because we moved the puck much, much faster than before.''
Babcock agreed that getting Kronvall and now Rafalski back into the lineup — with Lidstrom’s return from a knee sprain on the horizon — makes a big difference to his team.
“With the type of team we have, if we can move the puck from the back end, it makes life a lot easier for us, and that’s what’s happening,” he said.
Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk opened the scoring 5:28 into the game when he steered in a rebound from the bottom of the left circle.
Eric Johnson’s power-play goal tied it with 1:33 left in the opening period. His wrist shot from the right point was deflected out of mid-air off of Hasek and into the net by Detroit defenseman Andreas Lilja.
Johan Franzen put the Wings ahead to stay at 9:48 of the second period when he drove to the net and knocked in his own rebound while on his knees. Rafalski gave the Wings some breathing room at 6:11 of the third period when he fired a wrist shot from the high slot past Manny Legace. Datsyuk hit the empty net with 1:31 remaining.
“I was real impressed with how hard the guys played,” Babcock said. “We haven’t been that good, so it’s good to see the guys coming back. We’re excited to be getting Nick (Lidstrom) back and excited about getting a group going and feel good about ourselves.”
Hasek finished with 18 saves. Babcock has said he’ll play about two-thirds of the Wings’ remaining games to get ready for the playoffs.
“He has to continue to get better and better for us to have a chance at playoff time,” Babcock said of the six-time Vezina Trophy winner. “It’s good that he got a rest and now he can get rolling. The last two games he let in the first shot. Tonight he did a good job.”
Hurricanes 6, Thrashers 3 | Video
Eric Staal loves Atlanta.
Staal, the MVP of the All-Star Game at Philips Arena on Jan. 27, scored two goals and added an assist in his first visit to Atlanta since then as Carolina moved closer to locking up the Southeast Division title and the Thrashers fell further out of the playoff chase.
Staal now has seven goals and 17 points in 13 regular-season games at Atlanta.
''Personally, I have had some pretty good games in this building,'' he said. ''We needed to come in here and do a job. We need to make sure we stayed ahead of them.''
Neither goal took a lot of work. Staal gave Carolina a 5-2 lead less than four minutes into third period when his wraparound attempt bounced off the chest of Atlanta defenseman Garnet Exelby and into the net.
''That was a weird play,'' Staal said, ''but I'll take it.''
Thrashers coach Don Waddell, who thought the play should've been played dead, was furious with the officiating.
''We're battling and fighting for our lives,'' he said. ''You get a call like that and it's very disappointing.''
After Ilya Kovalchuk’s 43rd goal of the season with 7:43 remaining made it 5-3, Staal hit the empty net with 1:19 remaining — even though goaltender Johan Hedberg had yet to reach the Thrashers’ bench. The Hurricanes improved to 25-10-4 when Staal has a point and 20-5-3 when he scores a goal.
Scott Walker, Ryan Bayda, Joe Corvo and Erik Cole had the first four goals for the Hurricanes, who have won two straight and eight of 11. The Hurricanes, who began the game having lost five of eight on the road, now have 75 points, tops in the Southeast Division.
''Every two points are important,'' Cole said. ''It doesn't matter whether it's a division game or not. We didn't have a great second period, but we came back pretty strong in the third period.''
Chris Thorburn and Eric Christensen scored for the Thrashers, who’ve dropped eight in a row and are next-to-last in the Eastern Conference with 65 points. Thorburn gave the Thrashers an early lead, but Walker and Bayda scored before the end of the period, in which Carolina had a 14-3 margin in shots on goal.
"We got a good start,” Hedberg said. “We were up 1-0. For some reason we got away from things we're supposed to do. If we keep doing this to ourselves it's going to be a long end of the season."
Coyotes 2, Stars 1 | Video
|Phoenix captain Shane Doan scored his 20th goal of the season to help lead the Coyotes past the Dallas Stars, 2-1.
Phoenix is another team that won’t go away. The Coyotes got 20 saves from red-hot goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to win at Dallas and move within three points of a playoff berth in the West.
Rookie Peter Mueller and captain Shane Doan each got his 20th goal of the season to give the Coyotes 73 points, three behind Colorado and Nashville, which are tied for the last two playoff spots. Phoenix hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002.
Bryzgalov came into the game with a 1.30 goals-against average in his last four games. His goaltending has kept Phoenix afloat while its offense has struggled. The Coyotes have just 10 goals in their past seven games, yet are 3-3-1 during that span.
''Our goaltending has to be strong if we're going to make the playoffs,'' said Doan, who has four goals and 10 points in five games against Dallas this season. ''Bryzgalov has given us a chance. Our goaltending has been strong all year. That's why we're in this position.''
The Coyotes continued to struggle to generate offense — they took only 17 shots on goal after getting just 17 in a loss to Calgary on Saturday. But this time, they capitalized on some early scoring chances.
Joel Perrault picked up a loose puck behind the net and hit a cutting Mueller, who beat Marty Turco at 9:26 of the first. Doan made it 2-0 just 59 seconds into the second period when he took a pass from Radim Vrbata and beat Turco from 10 feet.
Brad Winchester knocked the rebound off Toby Petersen's shot past Bryzgalov at 17:38, but the Stars couldn’t generate much offense the rest of the way. Bryzgalov preserved the win in the final seconds by stopping Jere Lehtinen from in close.
“Basically, we got outworked tonight,” Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas said. “We didn’t match their work ethic. Most times, if you don’t match the other team’s work ethic, you won’t win.”
It was the second straight loss for the Stars after a 7-4 victory last Thursday in the Stars’ debut for deadline-day acquisition Brad Richards. He was held pointless for the second straight game after getting five assists in his first game for Dallas.
''The last two games have been frustrating,'' Dallas captain Brenden Morrow said. ''We haven't had the intensity to win these hard hockey games.''
Blackhawks 3, Ducks 0 | Video
Chicago’s playoff hopes got a boost from an unlikely source. Rookie goalie Corey Crawford stopped 19 shots to earn his first NHL victory and shutout as Chicago ended Anaheim’s six-game winning streak and pulled within four points of a playoff berth in the West.
"I wanted to go out and do my best," said Crawford, who had played just 44 minutes in relief this season before Wednesday. "I never expected this. They had no second chances. The guys played awesome in front of me and I could see the puck real well."
The Hawks got power-play goals from Dustin Byfuglien and Cam Barker and an empty-netter by Patrick Sharp to end a five-game losing streak to the defending Stanley Cup champions.
With starter Nikolai Khabibulin out with back spasms, Crawford got his second NHL start because coach Denis Savard wanted to give Patrick Lalime a night off after six straight starts, including Tuesday’s 4-2 win at Minnesota. Crawford learned two days ago that he would start against Anaheim.
''He played a heck of a game for us,'' Savard said. ''He knew this game was coming up a couple of days ago. It was important for him to prepare so he could be relaxed. He looked relaxed to me.''
Chicago outshot Anaheim 14-3 in the first period and took a 1-0 lead when Byfuglien knocked the rebound of Barker’s shot past Jean-Sebastien Giguere at 7:07.
The Blackhawks failed to score during a seven-minute power play — including two minutes at 5-on-3 — that began in the last minute of the first period.
Crawford faced only a handful of routine shots until late in the second period. He made a shoulder save on Scott Niedermayer's shot from the slot with 2:20 left. During a Ducks power play, Crawford stopped Teemu Selanne's initial shot and got a piece of Ryan Getzlaf 's rebound attempt from close range with about five seconds remaining.
Barker was credited a power-play goal at 9:01 of the third when his from the right point went past Giguere with Byfuglien screening the goaltender.
"It was nice to get that second goal and give us some breathing room,” Crawford said.
Sharp was credited with a goal with 1:31 left when he was hooked from behind by Chris Pronger while trying to shoot at an empty Anaheim net with Giguere on the bench for an extra attacker.
Giguere made 25 saves as the Ducks lost for just the second time in 13 games (11-2).
''We didn't play very well, it's as simple as that,'' Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. ''They had more energy that we did and their execution was to a higher level. Our offensive players for whatever reason tonight didn't have much going.''
Even the return of All-Star defenseman Pronger, who missed two games with a broken jaw, didn't make a difference for the Ducks.
''We didn't play to our level,'' said Pronger, who wore a face shield. ''When we don't to that, teams beat us. We did get some traffic in front, but (Crawford) was able to see everything, and they were able to box us out.''
Sharks 3, Senators 2, OT | Video
|San Jose captain Patrick Marleau scored his second goal of the game at 3:05 of overtime, as the surging Sharks defeated the Ottawa Senators, 3-2 for their seventh straight win.
San Jose is the NHL’s hottest team as the season heads into the final month. The Sharks made it seven straight wins when Patrick Marleau scored his second goal of the game at 3:05 of overtime.
San Jose made up ground in the Pacific Division on Dallas and Anaheim, which both lost Wednesday night. The Sharks moved into second place in the division, one point ahead of the Ducks, and closed within three points of the first-place Stars.
“We knew we could pick up some ground,” said Marleau, who has scored three goals in two games. “We’ve got to have everybody going.”
After Jonathan Cheechoo forced OT by scoring with 2:46 remaining in regulation, Marleau got the game-winner when Joe Pavelski centered the puck from behind the net and the Sharks captain nudged it past Martin Gerber for his 13th of the season.
“I didn’t know right away,” Marleau said of the game-winner. I just shot it, and I saw Pav go crazy.”
The Senators, who got two goals from Jason Spezza but twice couldn’t hold a one-goal lead in the third period, did get one point and moved into first place in the Northeast Division despite losing for the fifth time in six games. Ottawa and Montreal each have 81 points, but the Senators have one more victory — though the Canadiens have a game in hand.
"You have that kind of lead and you should be able to bring it home. That's disappointing," said Gerber, who made 27 saves.
With captain Daniel Alfredsson sidelined with sore ribs, the Senators struggled to generate offense — they managed just 19 shots at Evgeni Nabokov. But Spezza gave them a 1-0 lead at 11:23 of the second period when he converted a feed from Dany Heatley after Chris Kelly forced a turnover in the San Jose zone.
“We tried to stick with it,” Marleau said. “We didn’t come out too well.”
Marleau tied it 58 seconds into the third period with a power-play goal when he one-timed Brian Campbell’s pass behind Gerber. But Spezza put the Sens back in front with 7:10 remaining when he deflected Cory Stillman’s shot past Nabokov.
Cheechoo tied it when he deflected Joe Thornton's centering pass into the net for his 21st goal of the season and 16th in his last 23 games.
"I thought we played well defensively and we did a good job shutting down a strong team," Ottawa coach Bryan Murray said. "I thought we played a solid game. We just weren't able to hold the lead."
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.