DETROIT – Stringing together winning streaks is typically commonplace in Hockeytown – except for the last 31 days.
But on Wednesday, the Red Wings started a familiar trend, winning for the second consecutive time in more than a month, kicking off a season-high, five-game homestand with a 4-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues at Joe Louis Arena.
Scoring even-strength goals has also been hard to come by for the Wings lately. But against the Blues, Detroit managed to break the recent spell, scoring three times during five-on-five situations.
Detroit now has 94 points on the season, increasing its lead in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy by seven points over Dallas, who loss, 2-1, to Phoenix Wednesday night.
“I was real impressed with how hard the guys played,” Wings coach Mike 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.”
February wasn’t very kind to the Wings, who were decimated by injuries, especially along the blue line with four key contributors, including Lidstrom (knee) sitting out. They finished the month with a lowly 4-8-2 record, but good news has been on the horizon with the return of two defensemen.
Niklas Kronwall returned last Friday and Wednesday Brian Rafalski was back in the lineup and scored his first goal in more than a month, giving the Wings a 3-1 edge in the third period. He had missed eight games with a groin injury.
Lidstrom is expected to be back in action when the Wings host Nashville on Sunday. It's not clear when Chris Chelios (leg) will be back.
With the Wings in control, the game got chippy toward the end. Tomas Kopecky was drilled by Blues defenseman Jeff Woywitka, and needed to be helped from the ice by the Wings’ training staff. Rafalski came to Kopecky’s defense and got into a minor scrap with Lee Stempniak.
The Red Wings (44-18-6) grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first period when Pavel Datsyuk scored his first of two goals in the game. Blues goalie Manny Legace made the first save on Kopecky’s blast from the left circle. The puck ricocheted off the Blues’ goalie directly to Datsyuk, who wristed a shot from just above the goal line on the right side. Datsyuk added an empty net goal late.
Dominik Hasek won his second straight start for the first time since early February, stopping 18 shots on Wednesday. Hasek, who missed six games last month with a hip flexor injury, made 22 saves in the Wings’ 4-2 win at Buffalo on Sunday.
“He has to continue to get better and better for us to have a chance at playoff time,” said Babcock 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.”
St. Louis (29-28-10) sent the game into the first intermission tied at 1-1 when they scored just the second power play goal in the last 19 periods. With Datsyuk in the penalty box for tripping, Stempniak redirected Erik Johnson’s shot from the right point through Hasek.
Wednesday’s game marked the first game of a franchise-long, nine-game road trip for the Blues, who will likely miss the playoffs for the third straight season.
Detroit went up a goal, 2-1, in the second period when Johan Franzen fought his way in front of the net, fended off a hit from defenseman Eric Brewer and batted the puck past Legace.
"Those are the types of goals you have to score at playoff time," Babcock said. "You have to take the punishment and get to the net, and that was good to see."
Through two periods, the Red Wings had an advantage in puck-possession and held a 23-13 lead in shots on goal. Detroit finished with a 32-19 edge in shots.
“Obviously with the type of team we have, if we can move the puck from the backend it makes life a lot easier for us, and that’s what’s happened,” Babcock said.
Rafalski gave the Wings some insurance in the third before Datsyuk scored with less than two-minutes left. Aaron Downey earned his second assist of the season when he shuffled a pass that sent Rafalski into the Blues’ zone.
1 - 0 DET
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 DET
3 - 1 DET
4 - 1 DET