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DETROIT -- Between 1996 and 2002, the Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche developed an intense rivalry, staging five epic playoff battles with the winners going on to win three Stanley Cups.
Since then, the rivalry has turned into a mismatch.
Detroit (38-10-4) goes for its sixth straight win while looking for its 11th victory in 13 games against Colorado when it hosts the Avalanche on Friday.
Colorado beat the Red Wings in the teams' initial playoff meeting in 1996, going on to win the Stanley Cup. The teams split their other four postseason series, with Detroit toppling the Avalanche in the 1997 and 2002 Western Conference finals on its way to a pair of championships.
Since the 2002 playoffs, the Red Wings are 13-4-1 against Colorado, 10-1-1 in their last 12 games.
The Red Wings again look like a prime Cup contender, and with 80 points they lead the West by 17 over San Jose and Dallas. The Avalanche (27-20-4) are part of the extremely tight playoff race in the rest of the conference, which features 10 teams separated by just eight points.
Detroit has won at least five straight for the third time this season after notching a 3-2 win against Phoenix on Wednesday.
The trailed the Coyotes 2-1 after two periods but got a pair of goals in the final 20 minutes to notch their league-best 20th home win.
"There's going to be no easy games the second half because all these teams are fighting for the playoffs," Detroit goalie Chris Osgood said. "Every single time we play it's going to be like this now."
|Dominik Hasek started both of Detroit's meetings with Colorado this season, adding to his eight-game winning streak against them. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)|
The Red Wings got a boost against the Coyotes with the return of leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg. After missing two games with a back injury, Zetterberg scored the game's initial goal - his 29th of the season.
Pavel Datsyuk, who has 61 points - one behind Zetterberg - assisted on all three goals against Phoenix, his fourth three-assist effort of the season.
Though Osgood leads the NHL with a 1.88 goals-against average, Dominik Hasek will likely get the start against Colorado, and with good reason. He's won eight straight starts against the Avalanche, posting a 1.24 GAA.
Hasek has started both of Detroit's games against Colorado this season - a 19-save effort in a 1-0 win on Jan. 8 and a 22-save effort in a 4-2 victory on Dec. 27.
The Avalanche haven't won or lost more than four straight games this season, but the significant difference-maker for the team has been the location of its games. Colorado is 18-8-1 on home ice but just 9-12-3 away from the Pepsi Center.
Yet recently, just the opposite has been true. The Avalanche have won three straight on the road but went 2-2-1 during their recent five-game homestand. They capped it off, however, with a 6-3 win against Chicago on Wednesday, scoring three first-period goals.
"I think (this) was the best first period that we have had all season," said right wing Marek Svatos, who had two goals and an assist. "We came out flying ... and I think that is what we have to bring every night. If we had a first period like that every game, we would be very tough to beat."
Colorado has been facing a rash of injuries. Ryan Smyth (broken ankle) and Joe Sakic (hernia surgery) may be out until March, and leading scorer Paul Stastny (appendectomy) will likely miss another two weeks.
Some more bad news may have come from the win against the Blackhawks. Goaltender Jose Theodore left with back spasms, leaving his status against Detroit unclear.
Backup Peter Budaj, who is 14-8-2 this season, is 2-2-1 with a 3.14 GAA in his career against Detroit.
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