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Showdown in Chicago tonight

by Staff Writer / Detroit Red Wings

Chicago - The Red Wings have the best record in the NHL, but it's not because of their play against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Red Wings again look for their first win of the season over their Original Six rival when they visit the struggling Blackhawks on Sunday.

It's only January, but Detroit (31-8-3) has already distanced itself from the rest of the Western Conference with 65 points, holding a double-digit lead over its closet challengers. The win total is the most after 42 games in franchise history.

Their 89 goals allowed are the fewest in the league. That total remained the same after a 3-0 win at Dallas on Saturday afternoon to sweep a home-and-home series with the Stars.

The Red Wings, who are 14-5-2 away from home, are looking for their sixth straight road victory. For that to happen, though, Detroit must beat the Blackhawks (19-18-3) for the first time in five tries this season.

Though three of the four meetings between the teams have been decided by one goal - including one in a shootout - the Red Wings are 0-3-1 versus Chicago after going 7-0-1 in the 2006-07 series.

Detroit, however, might be catching Chicago at the right time. The Blackhawks are trying to avoid a season-high fifth consecutive loss as they return home after being swept on a three-game western road trip.

On Saturday, the Red Wings scored on their first shot of the game and controlled the play the rest of the way. Dan Cleary had a goal with an assist and Dominik Hasek made 22 saves for his 78th career shutout for Detroit, which has outscored its opponents 20-5 in winning its last five away from home.

"It was a very tight game," Cleary said of Saturday's contest. "It was one where you had to take advantage of the opportunities given to you."

Cleary has a goal and an assist in each of his last two games. Leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg added an assist and has three in two contests since missing five with a back injury. Zetterberg has two goals and five assists versus Chicago this season.

Despite Hasek's effort Saturday, Chris Osgood could start Sunday as coach Mike Babcock continues to alternate between the two. Osgood, who is 18-2-1 with a 1.71 goals-against average, lost 3-2 on Nov. 11 in his only start versus Chicago this season.

The Blackhawks fell 2-1 at Anaheim on Friday and should welcome a return to the United Center, where they have won three of their last four.

"It's tough when you know you were in the game and you had some chances." said Chicago rookie Patrick Kane, who tallied an assist in his sixth straight game Friday.

Patrick Sharp scored the only goal for Chicago, which was outscored 15-5 on its road trip and is struggling for offense with forwards Martin Havlat (groin), Jason Williams (groin) and Jonathan Toews (knee) out with injuries.

Sharp, who has a team-high 21 goals, had three goals and an assist as Chicago totaled three short-handed goals in a 5-3 win at Detroit on Nov. 17 - the teams' most recent meeting.

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